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Max Smith ’16

Percussionist hopes to strike it big on world stage

Max Smith

Max Smith ’16 is a percussionist. Not a garage-band drummer, but a world-class percussionist. In fact, as a skilled marimba player, he is currently rehearsing with the Tates Creek Indoor Ensemble 28 hours every weekend to prepare for an international competition April 10.

“You practice so much,” Smith explained. “It’s like a fulltime job between Friday and Sunday. Saturdays are usually 17-hour days.  It’s wild.”

If you’re not a drum corps enthusiast, you may not be familiar with the Winter Guard International (WGI) World Championships, an indoor competition that takes place this year on April 10-12 in Dayton, Ohio. Sometimes referred to as “percussion theater” or the “Sport of the Arts,” these competitions combine elements of music performance, marching, and theater.

Its popularity has surged. Last year's WGI Championships drew 11,000 participants over two weekends, including nearly 300 color guards and 200 percussion ensembles from 40 states and 5 countries.

Watch a performance of the Tates Creek Indoor Ensemble.

“It’s blowing up right now,” Smith said. “It’s very visual, very theatrical.”

The Tates Creek Indoor Ensemble, which includes 42 high school and college students between the ages of 17 and 23, will compete against ensembles from 19 states, Japan, and Thailand in the “Percussion Independent World” competition class. It takes more than 10 staff members, including a visual designer and an audio technician, to perfect the group’s tightly choreographed performance art.

Perhaps it was exposure to that side of the music industry that led Smith to choose a music technology major at Transylvania.

For Smith, discovering his musical path was a matter of trial and error. “My first experience was when I was five, going on six. My parents put me in piano lessons and I hated it. I was never really into music until about six years later when I got into drumming. Not for a good reason. I thought it was cool. You know, I was eleven. But as I got into it, I really started to love it. It almost became an obsession,” said the Sellersburg, Ind., native.

For a second summer, Smith has been hired by Carroll County High School in Carrollton, Ky., to teach percussion at band camp. “Max has been a great percussion instructor for the Carroll County marching band program," said Carroll County Band Director Scott Brawner. "The students enjoy working with him and learned a great deal last year.”

So, where will this passion lead Smith after Transylvania? “It’s not so much a question of career for me,” said Smith. “If I can make money doing what I love, more power to me. But it’s never been about that. It’s, when I look back on my life, would I rather be doing something I love every day?”

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