Today we’d like to introduce you to James Beauton.
James, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Once I discovered percussion I was hooked. Well, I should say once I discovered what percussion could be, I was hooked. I started my percussion education in the fifth grade in a music class band. It wasn’t until high school that my interests were peaked when I discovered Drum Corps International (essentially a professional marching band). This gave me just what my formative self-needed–the opportunity to achieve goals through hard work and determination.
You had to be stubborn to memorize and learn performance pieces in a weekend, manage your time well, and handle the physical labor that came with the activity. But since I’m a stubborn jackass, it came naturally to me! So I didn’t stop. My determination and single-mindedness when it came to achieving my percussion goals propelled me through high school and then eventually college.
Little did I know following percussion landed me into one of the most significant artistic families of the 20th century. As the composer, John Cage once wrote, “Percussion music is a revolution”. However by the time that I came to percussion, that revolution had been tempered by institutional standardization, virtuosic expectations, and an embedded corporate involvement the original composers of percussion music attempted to circumvent.
Early in my life, playing percussion was a fun, enjoyable way to make music–I wanted to explore the avenues of capitalizing this enjoyment to foster a sustainable career as a percussionist. As my studies continued my curiosity peaked; the more I learned about the history of my instrument the more passionate I became about continuing its legacy. I began to understand my part in reviving the integrity of percussion’s revolutionary beginnings and pushing against the commodification of this medium. This staunch approach has shaped me into the musician that I am today.
Given the fact that I was raised with classical music, percussion music (or the way I defined it for myself) didn’t warrant enough musical opportunities to satiate my artistic output. I enjoyed Tchaikovsky and Debussy far too much to limit my musical output to the composers of the 20th century. Fortunately, after years of me putting my stubbornness to work, I was awarded a conducting position at UC San Diego which has since allowed for the cultivation of that part of my musical desire. And here I am today, percussing and conducting to my heart’s content.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It’s honestly been anything but smooth. But what path worth following is? A lot of the struggles with my work comes with how new percussion is to the institution of music.
Since this instrument was born to challenge the institution, there are obvious challenges to only being able to study and pursue it in academia. It’s like George Washington writing the Declaration of Independence in Buckingham Palace.
At tea time! But institutions have the academic resources, space, and expertise to fully explore and study this instrument. And that’s just because of the complicated context that percussion comes with. Think about it, percussion isn’t one instrument – it’s a plurality. Literally infinite. And the only way to experience that plurality is through the academic institution.
So I followed my interests into attending college and garnering success and accomplishment through a Bachelors of Arts and Master of Music degrees in Percussion Performance. While there is definitely a struggle to stay true to percussion’s deviant roots in a university setting, I have appreciated the opportunities that the institutions allow to continue my work.
Where do you see your industry going over the next 5-10 years? Any big shifts, changes, trends, etc?
I believe in our musical community and its perseverance, despite our current political climate and its odd aversion to the arts and education. There are numerous organizations at various levels tirelessly working to continue the legacy of the arts in this country, and I’m certain things will only improve. I hope that we can begin to move away from reliance on philanthropy, and start to see more organizations rely on their communities to support them.
If there are going to be any big shifts or changes in the arts it’s going to happen at the grassroots level. It’s going to come from a combination of individuals deciding to support art and music in their community and the increase of artists working to make situations more appealing and available outside of the oftentimes insular community of the arts.
David Espiritu, Erik Jepsen, Lyndsay Bloom, Matthew Feldman