Striking a chord: Student discusses traveling to play marimba

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Striking a chord: Student discusses traveling to play marimba

If you see John Gaal, a senior orchestral instrument performance major, the first thing you might notice is his hands.

He has four pronounced calluses: one each on the palms and knuckles of both hands that have developed from his marimba mallets rubbing against his skin during countless hours of practice and performance.

Students witnessed one of Gaal’s performances in chapel last semester and probably remember (as President Pettit said) the “Under the Sea”-esque rendition of “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee.”

Gaal is a percussion focused music major—one of the only ones on campus— which makes him and his work load very different from most other music majors.

For one, rather than being excellent at one instrument, Gaal must be proficient on a whole host of instruments.

And two, percussion players are some of the few performers who may only have one note to play during an entire show. Gaal could be completely motionless for a performance save for one triangle ring at the very end.

This may be one of the only times you won’t see Gaal moving: it becomes very apparent within minutes of meeting him, that he is rarely inactive.

“I don’t like to wait,” Gaal said. And wait he doesn’t. Along with the normal music major load (practice hours, rehearsals and performance) Gaal also actively participates in two world class music groups: The Cavalier Drum & Bugle Corps and the Music City Mystique.

Their website describes the Cavaliers as “one of the most successful drum and bugle corps in history, winning 20 national championships” and the group “performs at more than 30 competitions across the U.S. and for more than 100,000 fans.”

Gaal personally has played with the Cavaliers at Lucas Oil Stadium which has a capacity for 70,000 people. Camps, performances and rehearsals with the Cavaliers usually occupy most of Gaal’s summer “vacation” time.

On top of his regular schoolwork, Gaal dedicates a large chunk of his time during the semester to the Music City Mystique, which its website describes as “a world-renowned theatrical percussion ensemble and a seven-time world champion.”

During nearly every  weekend, when most students would be relaxing, working on homework or hanging out with friends, Gaal most likely isn’t even in South Carolina.

MCM is based in Nashville, Tennessee, but it also travels, meaning Gaal spends a considerable amount of time traveling around to wherever the group is performing.

The rest of the weekend time is spent rehearsing for shows such as the championship program the group is currently working on called “In Bloom,” a performance that combines light, music and movement.

Although Gaal’s weekends are hectic, he still makes time for church. He uses podcasts to listen while traveling and does his best to attend evening and midweek services.

Gaal and his approximately 40 other group members have been rehearsing for their championship piece since December.

Gaal estimates that the group has spent (ignoring the sizable amount of time Gaal has practiced his part alone) over 272 hours rehearsing.

As of the writing of this article, the championship was a week away and required Gaal to miss a week of classes, meaning he had to get a week ahead on homework.   

Gaal already possessed a strong interest in music, but his particular love for percussion and drum corps came from Youtube where he could view recordings of the best groups performing.

“I watched this group called the Phantom Regiment do an awesome performance called ‘Spartacus,’” Gaal said.

And now, Gaal competes with the Cavaliers against the very group that got him interested in drumline performance in the first place.

In addition to the musical benefits of performing with these two groups (such as making connections, performance experience and future school/job opportunities), Gaal said that being a part of  the Cavaliers and MCM has also helped him to develop his team work, his relationships and his Christian testimony.

“I get to have positive influence on this whole sphere of people that few other people will get the chance to influence,” Gaal said.   

Gaal will be showcasing his percussion skills during his senior recital April 23 at
4 p.m. in Stratton Hall.

“This recital will showcase a wide variety of percussion instruments,” Gaal said. “And hopefully it’ll be an exhilarating performance.”

Gaal said the last percussion recital at BJU was over 10 years ago, so he thinks students won’t want to miss out on a rare concert opportunity.