Before making orchestral percussion my entire life, I wanted to be a jazz guitarist. My parents had bought me an electric guitar for my birthday and I began my studies under a classical guitarist in the city, with whom I learned proper playing technique as well as methods of improvisation and adapting to different musical genres. I picked up percussion as a way of being able to perform in my high school band.
After a year or so of studying both jazz guitar and orchestral percussion, I started asking my teacher what playing in a symphony orchestra was like. He came back the next week with the percussion score to Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, and a recording which we listened to on full blast whilst reading along to the various parts. I was instantly hooked; the wide variety of timbres and sounds from the percussion section as well as the work's dense orchestration and the development of all the themes into a coherent musical storyline had me entirely convinced that I wanted to spend the rest of my life playing in an orchestra's percussion section.
From there I attended the University of Ottawa for an undergraduate degree in performance, which has given me so many opportunities for which I am incredibly grateful to this day. I was invited to play as an extra percussionist in the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra in January of 2013, and from that point onwards I was working extensively in the city as a freelance musician. I eventually got to perform with a multitude of other ensembles including pickup orchestras for tours of Handel's Messiah and Haydn's Creation Oratorio, a Pops orchestra for the Franco-Ontarian Music Festival, a brass and percussion ensemble accompanying singer-songwriter Danny Michel, a chamber orchestra put together for a performance of music from the films of Stanley Kubrick, as well as a handful of appearances with the National Arts Centre Orchestra and one performance with the Beijing Symphony Orchestra during their 2017 Canadian tour.
In the fall of 2017 I moved to Long Beach, California, to study with Ted Atkatz; former principal percussionist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as well as a personal hero of mine from when I started out on the instrument. During my time in Long Beach I got to study under a variety of incredible musicians from the Hollywood studio scene. I immersed myself in orchestral excerpts, sight-reading practice, as well as studying the traditional drumming, dancing and singing of the Ewe people of West Africa. I also became fascinated with the music of Canadian composers, and programmed an entire concert of Canadian works for solo percussion as my graduating recital.
Since returning from California, I have grown my passion for teaching. I've taught percussion masterclasses at both the Ottawa New Horizons Band as well as my former high school, and dedicate a lot of my time between performances to fostering a love of music in my community.
Bob Cole Conservatory
Long Beach, California, USA
University of Ottowa
How would you persuade someone who has never heard ‘classical music’ before to come with you to a concert?
I would tell them about the experience of live music, how it’s almost like watching a film when you see a group of musicians go through the entire spectrum of human emotion in real time and how the physicality of the performance is what really brings the music to life.
What do you do with your time when you’re not playing music?
I’m either cooking something, or biking to get somewhere I need to be. If I’ve got an evening to myself I’ll usually walk to the Mayfair Theatre in my neighbourhood and go see an indie film.
Alec is a member of the 2020-2021 fellowship.