Hailing from the Netherlands, percussionist and founder of The Percussion Canon talks to us about his influences, goals for the future, and advice for players looking to follow in his footsteps.
What kind of music has influenced you the most?
That is hard to say. I like a lot of different music, metal, baroque, rock, drum ’n bass, opera, contemporary music, pop, the Beatles, Metallica, Scarlatti, Skrillex, Bach, film music, Stravinsky, and more. It is hard for me to say what kind of music has influenced me the most, I think it is a mix of all those different music styles. I can listen to a lot of different styles and periods of music in one day. Sometimes I like to listen to Mahler symphonies, and at other times I can’t stop listening to Snarky Puppy.
Which percussionists do you admire? Why?
Wow, there are a lot of inspiring percussionists out there. From world famous percussionists till less known percussionists. I admire percussionists and musicians because of their craftsmanship, musicality, technique and performance but also personality, character, ability and willingness to help and inspire younger musicians, their way of thinking about making music, and so on.
What is a typical day/week like for you?
Practicing, practicing and practicing. Ow! Also rehearsing, playing concerts, planning my agenda, and sending emails. I don’t have a ‘typical week or day’, every day and every week is different. Sometimes I have to practice a lot, the other weeks I play in an orchestra or ensemble, and another week I’m on tour in Europe or somewhere else and have to travel a lot.
What is your best tip for practicing efficiently?
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. And always practice slow. If you can’t play your piece slow, then you will never be able to play it fast/in tempo properly.
Do you have any pre-performance warmups?
Take 2 snare drum sticks and a drumpad to your dressing room, do exercises like squeezing and stretching your fingers in your fist. Watch your breathing: try to focus on a low heartbeat. Keep calm.
How do you hope to advance the art of percussion in today’s music and culture?
I share my knowledge, experience, expertise, and perceptions as much as possible with colleagues, students and my audience. I combine different kind of styles of music with percussive/percussion music and create cross-overs with (more or less) accessible music, and try to learn from other musicians and critics so I can adapt that in my playing, listening, planning, teaching and other musical experiences.
Can you tell us a bit about your project The Percussion Canon? What it its mission, and what inspired you to start the project?
I developed the project because I want to reach a broader audience for (solo) percussion. For instance: a lot of people don’t know the difference between a vibraphone or marimba. Programmers don’t program for percussion because they know there won’t be a lot of people that will be attending percussion concerts. I find that strange and I see that as a missed opportunity. Next to that, I would like to inform (future) percussion students and other ‘percussion-geeks’ about the repertoire, possibilities, instruments, techniques and so on that is possible with percussion. Percussion repertoire is, compared to violin or piano for instance, really young. Nevertheless, there are a lot of percussion pieces out there. It would be great to have an overview for people who are interested in (new) music and the people who would like to know more about the possibilities with percussion.
You have done an extensive amount of traveling and touring. What helped you get started with your International performing career, and what advice would you give to someone else who is looking to do this?
I am really happy that I’ve already had a lot of opportunities to play concerts all over the world. I don’t have an exact reason how a musician’s career in general forms itself. The most important thing: do what you like and always play for 150%. Making music requires your best, you can’t perform at 80%. You have to believe in what you do, in all the music you make. Try to see opportunities and chances in collaborations, try to create things that really endorse you in the way you are. This will help you start and maintain a great career.
Do you have a favorite city or location that you’ve performed in? Why is that your favorite?
Well, I have to say that the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam has a really special atmosphere and a really nice acoustic to play in. Same for De Doelen in Rotterdam or even de Ziggodome in Amsterdam. This summer I will be performing for the second time in the Shanghai Concert Hall: that will be an amazing experience. I love the great atmosphere, really clear acoustics, and enthusiasm of the full audience.
On the commissions page on your website, it appears you haven’t worked with the same composer twice. Is there any reason for that?
Well, I have worked with a few composers more than once, especially during my studies. I like to work with as many different people as possible. Different input and collaborations give me energy and inspiration. Every person is different musically and characteristically and I find that really interesting.
You already have an extremely full performing and teaching schedule. What do you see as the next step or goal in your career?
I hope to start performing percussion concertos with orchestras all over the world within the next five years.
Learn more about Niek at his website www.niekkleinjan.com and The Percussion Canon at www.thepercussioncanon.com.