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Q&A with music graduate student Benji Cantrell


Benji Cantrell as photographed by Elizabeth Dreher '14

Maybe you have seen him directing a jazz combo, now it is time to see William “Benji” Cantrell perform in his graduate percussion recital. In his final moments as a student before becoming an adjunct professor, we got to know Benji and asked him about percussion, jazz and inspiration.

1. Where are you from originally?

A. I grew up in Coeburn, Va.; a tiny town near the Kentucky border.

2. What is your major and minor?

A. Master of Arts in Music, Percussion Performance Specialty

3. What bands are you the assistant director of?

A. RU Percussion Ensemble; RU Jazz Bands

4. How did you get your job as assistant director?

A. It's a part of my graduate teaching assistantship in the percussion studio and jazz department.

5. How would you describe the style of music played by each band?

A. The percussion studio plays chamber music, which is where you have a group of two to eight players without a conductor. The type of music is widely varied in feel, tempo, and instrumentation. Most of the pieces we play are contemporary and some can be smooth and emotional, while others can be aggressive and groove-oriented.

There are two types of jazz ensemble: big band and combo. The big band is composed of around 16 to 20 players, consisting of a conductor, wind players, and a rhythm section. We play music that was written in the present as well as music that was composed throughout the 20th century, going all the way back to the dance music of the 1920's. The jazz combo consists of three to seven players with a rhythm section, wind players, and sometimes vocalists. They mostly play standards that have made their way through the decades to today. With fewer players, there's more opportunity for the individuals to shine through. Jazz is a truly American invention that came from the melting pot of all of the different cultures that existed during the last century.

6. What instruments do you play?

A. Professionally, my area of expertise is percussion. My specialty is drum set.

7. How many recitals have you been in?

A. This will be my third solo recital since entering college.

8. How are you going to prepare for the recital coming up?

A. The recitals that music students and faculty put on take months to prepare. It's not only practicing for so many hours a day, but a lot of thought and time have to go into acquiring the right equipment, placement on stage, and even how and when to move it off. Planning gets really interesting when there are other musicians playing in the recital. For instance, I have an 11-person funk band closing the show. It's a full production.

9. What or whom do you get your musical inspiration from?

A. My inspiration comes from the people that I work and play music with as well as the students that I teach. I've also been extremely lucky to study with some really world-class musicians. My undergraduate professor, Dr. Brian Mason at Morehead State University in Kentucky, is not just a great musician and leader in the profession, but an all-around great role model as well. Dr. Robert Sanderl, here at Radford University, is a professional in the truest sense of the word. Not only is he a top-level performer in all areas of percussion, but I believe he's the model for what a college professor should be. I wouldn't be getting my master's degree here at RU if it weren’t for him.

10. What are your plans after you graduate?

A. I've accepted an adjunct music position at UVA's College at Wise and plan to bring a more contemporary look at music education in the southwestern VA area.

Recital info:

When: April 26, 2014
Where: 5:30 p.m.
Time: Performance Hall in the Covington Center

Apr 21, 2014
Sabrina Anderson

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