So you want my job in the arts: percussionist and music lecturer

Vincent Perry once drove a bus through the streets of Queensland to pay his TAFE fees. He is now an accomplished percussionist with the Darwin Symphony Orchestra and a lecturer in contemporary music at Charles Darwin University in CDU’s thriving new Academy of Arts.

After completing his PhD (on the history of the Motown Record Label), Perry discovered his passion for teaching and has spent the last 10 years in the tertiary sector teaching music history and mentoring young musicians. He moved to Darwin six months ago to join CDU, serving students in the Northern Territory and those who come from elsewhere to study. As well as teaching and playing in the Darwin Symphony Orchestra, Perry plays in numerous bands and is a supporter of Darwin’s music scene, which he says is unlike any other city, especially in the drier and cooler months.

ArtsHub catches up with Vincent Perry to ask him about balancing his work as a practicing musician with being an educator and academic.

How would you describe what you do to someone at a party?

Have you ever seen the movie School of Rock (2003)? As a speaker, I’m essentially the living embodiment of Jack Black’s moniker Mr. Schnibley! As a percussionist, I would describe myself as the “Swiss Army Knife” of the Darwin music scene. I play all genres of music including rock, pop, R&B, jazz, soul, folk, country, electronic, dance, classical and orchestral.

How did you start your career?

I started my music career on Anzac Day 1996 while playing for my primary school marching band, and I haven’t stopped playing music since. Professionally speaking, my first experience of performing with contemporary bands was in my first year at TAFE Queensland, back in 2005. That year I started playing with a local jazz quartet on the streets of Fortitude Valley on Friday and Saturday nights. I made enough money to pay my rent, pay my TAFE tuition and have enough left over for a cheap cafe breakfast and a bus ride home with my drums! From these humble beginnings, I went on to forge a professional career in music and also completed a doctorate in music.

In a nutshell, what was your PhD thesis?

I focused on the Motown Record Company and wrote a thesis and produced an accompanying album for my Ph.D. The thesis explores the history, songwriting, production and ensemble processes at Motown during the Detroit years (1959 – 1971). And the album was “Brisbane’s answer to Motown”. A collection of Brisbane musicians, led by myself, formed a Motown-inspired band, wrote original Motown-inspired songs, recreated a basement recording studio and produced eight tracks that used 60s and 70s-style production techniques .

What is an average day or week?

In a word: random! One day I’m playing drums and singing for a Dixieland jazz band, the next I’m playing congas with the Darwin Symphony Orchestra on Sunrise program at 6 a.m., then the following week I could play drums for local country artist Tracy Bunn. Most recently I even played the bass drum in the Darwin Anzac Parade! My musical commitments are varied and often arbitrary, but this is one of the main reasons I love my chosen career and industry.

What is the most common misconception about being a percussionist and/or music educator?

Great question! We’ll start with being a percussionist. The most common misconception about being a percussionist (or drummer) is that I’m just “someone who hangs out with real musicians.” Rude and absolutely unfair! As a percussionist I am expected to play multiple instruments at a professional level including drum set, crash cymbals, tambourine, triangle, timpani, mallet percussion (glockenspiel, xylophone, marimba, vibraphone), wind chimes, hand percussion (bongos and congas ) and the list goes on and on.

As a music teacher, people (mainly my students) assume that I have listened to and played every song ever composed. I just don’t have it! One of the best parts of my role as a teacher is being introduced to new music or obscure music that I have discovered.

Read: Why I studied… MA in Contemporary Art at VCA

If you were interviewing someone for your job, what skills and qualities would you look for?

Anyone considering pursuing a career in the music profession must be passionate. It all starts with this. Everything. Next, I will look for people who are resilient because the industry is harsh, rough and draws criticism from a wide range of people in society who either don’t understand and/or don’t respect the performing arts industry. Finally, I’m always looking for selfless musicians who want to serve the music. Everyone wants to be the star, but every star needs a committed group to support them. Serve the song. Always!

What’s the best thing happening in your field right now?

We’re entering the dry season in Darwin right now, so there are lots of amazing music festivals and events coming up. I will be playing with Sarah Baxter at the Nightcliff Seabreeze festival in May. I would also highly recommend that if you are considering studying music, you consider enrolling in CUA30920 Certificate III in Music and CUA40920 Certificate IV in Music, where students learn a range of skills including performance music and how to write and create songs, as well as the music business and industry in the Northern Territory and Australia. We’ve just launched our Art Academy at CDU, so there’s no better time to enroll on an art course than now.

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