Carroll County Times

Carroll drummers keeping beat for country stars, symphonies, university marching bands

Following a concert before more than 15,000, Adam Silverman and his band mates got a surprise just before walking into their Manhattan hotel.

Former National Basketball Association standout Charles Barkley stuck his head outside the window of a nearby bar and invited the musicians to join him for food and drinks.

At first, Silverman thought the Weight Watchers spokesman, TNT basketball analyst and 11-time NBA All-Star was kidding.

Barkley wasn't. He wanted to hang out with people who make their living playing music.

For Silverman, a Westminster High graduate, it was simply another door opened by years of refining his percussion playing ability.

Silverman is the touring percussionist for former "America Idol" runner-up Lauren Alaina. He dined with Barkley after Alaina performed as an opening act for Jason Aldean. Silverman has a photo of the encounter on his iPhone to prove it.

Silverman is one of nearly two-dozen Carroll County natives who make their living playing drums.

At least four percussionists, Silverman included, are Nashville-based performers. Carroll County natives teach percussion at universities and colleges along the East Coast and are featured players at symphonies all over the world.

In the last two years, a Westminster High graduate performed at the Super Bowl, the Grammy Awards and before millions of viewers on "American Idol."

After being motivated by private instructors and public school teachers early on, the percussionists arrived at the high school level in waves.

They were often pushed by their fellow classmates. Many studied percussion in college.

And now, in venues throughout the country, they are living out their dreams that started in Carroll classrooms.

"My teachers helped me get there, whether I knew it or not," said Matt Billingslea, a Nashville-based percussionist and Westminster High graduate who toured with Lady Antebellum. "In terms of motivation, early on, it was just a simple wanting to be a rock star."

Private studies

A first-floor rehearsal room in McDaniel College's Levine Hall was crammed with 50 audience members.

They came to see a jazz ensemble perform world music. Most were there to see Jon Seligman, an adjunct lecturer in McDaniel College's music department, play percussion.

Seligman is one of the private music teachers percussionists credited with helping motivate them and refine their crafts before they headed into the professional world.

In addition to teaching, Seligman is always playing in the area, which makes it easy for his students to see what is possible.

"He expected nothing less than for me to be perfect," said Silverman, a McDaniel College graduate who studied with Seligman. "He changed my whole path."

Seligman is at least familiar with most of the prominent percussionists from Carroll. If he didn't teach them directly - and he taught most of those who preferred the jazz style - he knows of them.

Seligman can scan through his cell phone and find contacts for dozens of former students and teachers succeeding today.

He's not the only one. The percussionists found the teachers who would help them in the genres that most interested them. No matter what genre it was, at least one instructor in the county was there to help.

For Nashville freelance percussionist and Westminster High graduate Matt Bohli, the late Larry Glick was among his chief motivators.

Glick was a percussionist and taught privately at Coffey Music in Westminster. He died Dec. 31. But his legacy lives on in students like Bohli.

"He was just a great teacher," Bohli said. "He didn't push you too hard. At the same time, he really kept you focused and kept you on track."


In-school assistance

Bohli grew up playing percussion any chance he could get.

He played in middle school, the high school marching band and the jazz band.

And he never had to look far to get specialized instruction.

As luck would have it, Bohli's middle school instructor, Mike Hirsh, and his high school band director, Mark Lortz, are both percussionists at heart.

Public school instructors must know enough about every instrument in the band to assist students in making the most harmonious sound possible. But it just so happened Hirsh and Lortz are skilled percussionists. They could offer tips. And they did. Constantly.

"If we played something wrong or with poor technique, they would just be like, 'what are you doing?'"

Classmate competition

In middle school, Bohli played drums alongside Cory Streett and Pat Bubert.

Never did he imagine then that all three would be playing professionally now.

Streett is the drummer for popular Baltimore band Pasadena. Bubert plays in the Texas country music circuit.

Bohli was always pushed by other talented performers at Westminster High. The list includes Dan Kirkpatrick, who will start as a professor at Clemson University in the fall, Bubert and Aziz Bernard, the principal percussionist for the Hong Kong Philharmonic. All graduated from 2002-2005.

"I would pick pieces in band that would help focus on the percussion section because I had so many that were good," said Lortz, who is now the marching band director at Stevenson University. "They were being challenged in band class, they were being challenged in marching band on the field and they were being challenged by each other."

Kirkpatrick was cognizant of the talented drummers around him at Westminster High.

"Even back then," he said, "I realized that we just had an incredible group."

While studying percussion at Boston University, Bohli found himself surrounded by Carroll County natives.

Bernard and South Carroll graduate Keith Carrick, the principal percussionist for the Sarasota Orchestra in Florida, both attended Boston University and studied with him.

Even though the drummers are all over the country performing in various genres, they do occasionally run into each other.

During a tour stop in Dayton, Ohio, Silverman socialized with fellow Westminster High graduate Staff Sgt. J.W. Sayre, a percussionist with the United States Air Force Band of Flight at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

While they caught up, they discussed just how fortunate they were to grow up in Carroll County, which has become a hotbed for percussion players.

"I always thought highly of Adam," Sayre said. "He was just a good guy. He actually played in one of my cousin's country bands for a while. It's a small world."