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I will always remember the time when I fell in love with percussion. It was at my sister’s middle school Jazz Band concert and seven-year-old me was sitting in the balcony of the school auditorium with my mom next to me. My sister played trumpet in the band and at the time, I had been taking private lessons for piano at Merit School of Music. So, as I sat there listening to jazz music resonating through my body, I couldn’t help but focus on the drummer. (I probably should’ve been paying more attention to my sister!) I was amazed that one person could be doing so much with their limbs. Little seven-year-old me couldn’t understand how one hand can have a constant groove on the ride cymbal, while the other hand is on the snare, while the left and right foot are supported with the bass drum and hi-hat. I couldn’t help but bop my head to the groove of the drums. I didn’t understand how it could all be done, but all I knew was that I wanted to do what he was doing.

Aleo childAfter I reached the age of nine, I had the opportunity to attend an Intro to Band Instruments class at Merit. There I was able to try the clarinet, flute, trumpet, trombone, and saxophone, but my heart was still set on percussion. And so, I dropped the piano and picked up drumsticks. From that point forward, I began taking percussion lessons at Merit. I started on a drum pad and a small bell kit to first learn the technique of a stroke, which excited me every week. Fast forward nine years where I am at the stage of working to master Bach on marimba, 4-mallet technique, snare drum etudes, and timpani excerpts whilst preparing for auditions to conservatories.

And now, I want to take this opportunity to write about two teachers who have shaped me into the musician and person I am today: Brandon Podjasek and Steven Gooden.

Aleo marimbaMr. Podjasek has been one of my biggest supporters since day one of my journey as a percussionist. In my younger years, I had a tendency to put immense pressure on myself. There would be some weeks where I would come into my lessons in tears because of how hard I was on myself. In these moments, Mr. Podjasek was always there to listen and offer steps in bettering the situation without judgment or disappointment. His ability to relate and put me back on track is something I will always be appreciative of. He would share stories of how every one progresses at their own pace and how to be patient and confident in yourself and your abilities. I needed a teacher like this in those years, and I still believe that without his kindness, I may not have continued with music. Now that I am older and have progressed through these moments, I now believe in my craft and potential as I head into important auditions and performances. And don’t get me wrong, I understand that there won’t be teachers like Mr. Podjasek everywhere I go, but the foundation has been built so I can successfully learn from other teaching styles.

Aleo on timpaniMr. Gooden is someone who has always been in my corner since my early days. I still remember Tuesday nights at Intermediate Band with him conducting. I always had so much fun playing percussion in this ensemble. He inspired and motivated me to strive for my very best and to always SUBDIVIDE. Later on, I would also play in his ensemble Symphonic Band in the Merit Conservatory program. Something I appreciated is that every concert had a theme that would take you through an imaginary world using the pieces he programmed. Our performances would be super powerful and contributed to my love for performing on stage. Now, I am in the Merit Philharmonic with him as my conductor once again. Recently, he taught me an invaluable lesson on the importance of how you carry yourself. Your body language and attitude matter in how you come across to other people, even if it is not your intention. Overall, he has helped shift my mindset on seeing things as an opportunity rather than an obligation: I GET to record my pre-screenings for college rather than I HAVE to record, or I GET to attend a rehearsal with the conductor of the Lyric Opera rather than I HAVE to attend. Alterations like this are subtle, but go a long way in truly being able to experience something and see it as a positive. So, as you can see, he has been there at various stages in my development and has always kept it real with me and with that, I am eternally grateful.

Thank you so much Mr. Podjasek and Mr. Gooden for all the support throughout the years. I appreciate all the lessons you have taught, especially at such a young age. I will always remember them!


Photos Provided by Aleo

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