Alumni Q&A: Doing What Drums Naturally
Nov. 5, 2020
SHSU Media Contact: Emily Binetti
By Jackie Swan
Tamara Williams received her bachelor’s degree in music education from Sam Houston State University in 2010. During her undergraduate experience, she participated in every SHSU performing ensemble: wind ensemble (principal percussionist), symphony orchestra (principal percussionist), drumline (captain), percussion ensemble, new music projects, and steel band, in addition to performing with a metal band and playing drums for a singer-songwriter.
After receiving her master’s degree in music performance from The University of Arizona (’13) she began a career in music education, and is currently a band director with an emphasis in percussion at a title one middle school in Houston.
In addition to teaching, Williams plays in four blues bands in the Houston area, all led by internationally known artists: Diunna Greenleaf and Blue Mercy, Tweed Smith & The Internationals, Trudy Lynn and Steve Krase. She is also a contract percussionist with rising pop artist Sugar Joiko, and principal percussionist of The Woodlands Symphony.
Recently highlighted in the “Featured Artist Spotlight” by The Percussive Arts Society Diversity Alliance, she is a “Mark of Excellence” national percussion ensemble winner and “Music for All” national winner.
No stranger to overcoming adversity, Williams prides herself on channeling her determination to her students.
“I am a woman working in the male-dominated field of percussion, I am of mixed race (black and white), I grew up in suburbia with dark skin, and I am an out-lesbian thriving in the Bible Belt,” she said. “I am an extremely active, performing percussionist/drummer, known to display skillful musicianship and honest playfulness in a wide range of musical styles.”
Now, as she continues to rise in the world of percussion, Williams shares her experience with Today@Sam.
T@S: How did you develop an interest in percussion?
TW: My father drummed in school and took me to his old college football games. I got to sit in the drumline section of a HBCU band. He played with the gospel choir at church as well. He always pulled reverse psychology on me as a child and jokingly told me, “Nah, girls can’t play drums,” and since then, I’ve shown him!
T@S: What is something from your experience at SHSU that has stuck with you?
TW: The opportunities. The School of Music is filled with professors who create opportunities for the deserving. My percussion professor, Dr. John Lane challenged my playing, my mindset, and my grit. He encouraged me to dabble in all things, and helped keep me on track as I tried to balance every performing ensemble. My most difficult semester, I was enrolled in three large performing ensembles, private lessons, preparing my senior recital, two percussion ensembles, and premiering new music works, all while maintaining a private lesson studio and somehow getting my ED classes in. During that whole time, Lane never let up on me. He never let me use the excuse of being too busy or overwhelmed. He helped me formulate a plan to not only survive, but enjoy the ride.
The full experience that the School of Music offered me has truly helped me succeed in my careers. Dr. Matthew McInturf expected consistent perfection, Dr. Carol Smith allowed my unique form of expression, Dr. Michael Bankhead let me see that the sky was the limit over what we could achieve. And with their powers combined, they produced little ol’ me.
T@S: Is there a specific moment from your teaching experience that's been the most memorable?
TW: Anytime I have changed the mindset of a student for the better. Today’s children are the generation of instant satisfaction, short attention spans, and ever-changing trends. I’ve seen many students give up after failing once. My most memorable moments are when I see a student realize that they are capable of anything they put their mind toward. I love watching them crash-and-burn, dust themselves off, and keep at it with a smile.
One moment was my time at a middle school in Spring ISD, when I told my students of my dream to have a middle school band memorize and play college-level music at a national festival. I taught these students as beginners and knew they were more than capable of taking on the challenge. We rehearsed before school, after school, and even a few weekends. What was wild about this was no one got burnt out. The more we rehearsed the more the kids got into it. When it came time to perform at the festival, my kids nailed it and left that stage with the biggest smiles. So proud!
T@S: If you could give a piece of advice to someone starting out with percussion, what would it be?
TW: If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, you’re doing it wrong. Don't take yourself or criticisms too seriously- it’ll destroy your passion. If you are willing to learn and better yourself, you’re on the right track.
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