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How the EHS Percussion Ensemble Got Its Groove

As a freshman at Episcopal, Tim DeCampo ’14 was one of only two percussionists in the EHS orchestra. The School owned few percussion instruments, with most of them squeezed into random spaces in the orchestra room. “I definitely remember it as sparse,” DeCampo says.

Today, the EHS percussion ensemble — nearly a dozen students strong — commands its own practice room, with some 75 instruments set up in tidy rows or stowed neatly in cupboards, ranging from a tiny metal triangle that could fit in a toddler’s hands to handsome wood marimbas that look like museum pieces. In March, the ensemble, which typically performs as part of the EHS orchestra, had its first solo concert.

What’s happened since DeCampo was an EHS percussion pioneer is a story about how music, a charismatic teacher, and a drive for excellence have made the ensemble one of the most close-knit groups on campus.

Chris Rose, Episcopal’s adjunct percussion instructor, arrived at Episcopal the same year as DeCampo. Trained as a classical percussionist at Rice University, Rose had worked for the pop crooner Andy Williams before joining what he calls “one of the greatest bands in the world” — the D.C.-based U.S. Marine Band, known as “the President’s Own.” He came to EHS to teach in 2010, hoping to “pay it forward” after years of learning from others.

DeCampo, who grew up in Morehead City, North Carolina, clicked with Rose. “For someone coming from a small town, taking lessons with a member of the president's Marine band was a cool opportunity,” DeCampo says. Rose and Mark Carter, chair of the arts department, urged him to apply for a college music scholarship — “I thought I had no chance,” DeCampo says — and eventually helped him land one at Wake Forest.

Rose sets a casual, light tone in class. Students call him Chris, and they’ve nicknamed some of their instruments — Hercules, Dragon, Russian. Still, Rose demands that they reach for excellence: “We make it clear to them that this is serious, and these lessons are important. Everybody thinks they can play drums, but they realize when they come in here that there’s a lot of skill to it. We’re not just banging on stuff and playing loud. There’s a discipline and a technique.”

Mike Yang ’20 has played piano since he was 3 but arrived in Rose’s class hoping to branch out. Now, he says, “I love all the instruments in that room.” His favorite is the marimba because he loves the way it sounds. “I know,” he says sheepishly, “I’ve betrayed the piano.”
Mike says the group is fun but focused. He and other seniors don’t hesitate to call for extra practices at nights or on weekends. Everyone, he says, feels responsible for the group’s performance.

“If I fail on my part, I’ve let the group down,” he adds. “We all feel that way, and we feel responsible for each other. That just brings us closer.”
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