9 Questions for a Percussionist

9 Questions for Brandon Ilaw

1. Where are you from?
I’ve lived in the mountains of north New Jersey my whole life, but I’ve called myself a Bostonian for the past four years while I did my undergraduate there.

2. What instruments do you play?
I’m a percussion major at Juilliard, but I was classically trained as a pianist since age four, and picked up violin, cello, bass, guitar, and a few others in between!

3. When was the last time you left the country?
Last semester in November, I traveled to Eindhoven, The Netherlands.

4. What was it for?
It was for the TROMP International Percussion Competition. I had the pleasure of staying with a host family there for two weeks while I competed.

5. What is the loudest instrument you have ever played?
We definitely have a lot of those as percussionists, but one of the first things that comes to mind is playing the Mahler box with the Juilliard Orchestra for Christopher Rouse’s “The Infernal Machine.”

6. What makes classical percussion entertaining and rewarding to practice?
Personally, one of the things that drew me to percussion was the wide variety of instruments that we have to practice. I always loved picking up new instruments and techniques, and percussion allowed me to do just that. Even though I’m still developing the intricate and advanced techniques of marimba or snare drum, it’s equally rewarding to pick up an instrument I’ve never played before (like tabla or bodhran) and learn that musical language as well.

7. What is your most memorable musical experience?
I used to play at a hospital in Massachusetts every Friday afternoon. I would bring a marimba up there and play in the lobby and geriatric psych ward. A lot of the patients would come out to listen to me perform anything from Bach to jazz standards, and it was really touching to hear some of the patients sing along with me while I played tunes like “Over the Rainbow.” They also explained that they would never really have any visitors, and that they always looked forward to my performances. It was a truly wonderful reminder to see the power of music outside of the concert hall.

8. Do you do anything else besides percussion?
I’ve unfortunately developed a habit of frequenting the gym in the early hours of the morning to counteract my ice cream addiction. I also really enjoy songwriting and dabbling with my recording and my acoustic guitar.

9. What's it like to be a percussionist at Juilliard?
Honestly, I couldn’t imagine going to school with a better group of people. The percussion studio is like a second family to me, and with such a wide range of personalities, there never really is a dull moment. From celebrating longstanding traditions like Cookie Friday to spontaneous drum circles while striking gear after a concert, I’m happy to call all of the percussionists at Juilliard my friends who have given me nothing but support since I’ve been here.

Family Time (Wrapping Up No. 2)

Lee Jeon