Percussion students teach middle schoolers the beat


Every Wednesday, 6 Norwin High School students make their way down to the band room to set up for a percussion ensemble piece called Panthera Pardus. However, they are not arranging the instruments for themselves, but for the middle school students that they teach. 

For the first time in many years, 7th and 8th graders had the opportunity to sign up for a middle school percussion ensemble. Once a week, this ensemble presents students with the opportunity to play on instruments that the middle school does not own.  Overall, 17 middle schoolers signed up along with 6 high school percussion students who went through an interview process to be able to teach these students.

Assistant band director and percussion specialist, Brandon Kandrack organized the percussion ensemble. 

“I decided to start a middle school percussion ensemble this year because I felt like there was a need for a performance outlet for the middle school percussionists,” said Brandon Kandrack. “While they [middle school students] had the opportunity to do an after school Wind Ensemble; it wasn’t anything that got them to play all the various instruments at the high school. So I thought it would be a cool opportunity for them to play here. I think it’s a great idea to show them what they’re going to do at high school.”

The instruments at the high school allow all 17 of middle  school students to play one piece of music at the same time. While the high school owns 6 marimbas, the middle school only recently purchased its first one. The availability of the instruments at the high school is what makes this an opportunity for middle school percussion students.

“I think that they are excited about playing music and that any opportunity that they get to do something that’s different, is intriguing to them,” Kandrack said. “That once they heard this was a thing, they wanted to be a part of it, and I honestly didn’t have to do that much arm twisting, they wanted to come and do this. So, it’s actually more kids than I thought it was going to be this first year.”

The Middle School Percussion Ensemble also offers the opportunity for high school students to gain teaching experience. When he was organizing the ensemble, Kandrack not only wanted to give an opportunity for the middle school students but also provide high school members with a chance to grow their teaching skills. 

“I mostly float around and help correct the middle schoolers on small things,” said junior Lucas Mordaunt, a teaching assistant at the high school. “You know, just to give advice and make sure they’re doing what they need to be doing. We also set up and make sure everything is ready for them when they get here. They’re progressing a lot. I’m really happy with how much progress they’ve made.” 

“I think looking back on my own experience as a younger student, there were always older people with more experience that I looked up to and wanted to be like when I got older,” Kandrack said. “So I thought that would be something that’s perfect for these middle school students. To see these high school students that are not only really talented musicians but also just like super nice people.”

So I thought that would be something that’s perfect for these middle school students. To see these high school students that are not only really talented musicians but also just like super nice people.

— Brandon Kandrack, assistant band director

One such teacher is RJ Marcoz, a senior in the band. He plans to go to Kent State to major in music education.

“It’s a lot different than helping out one of my high school peers or some younger kids that I do on the side,” said Marcoz about his experience helping out with middle school ensemble.  “They all have different struggles and they all have different strengths and weaknesses. You always have to be accountable, if you see something, you have to try and help and fix it. There’s so much going on and there’s so many people there in that setting.” 

After rehearsing for several months, rehearsals are coming to a close with their first concert, April 30. The percussion ensemble rehearsals will be coming to a close. 

“They’re doing really well, at first it was just like train wreck city everywhere, timing was everywhere, there was just nothing, but now that we have a few rehearsals under our belt and that we’ve been rehearsing for around two months now I feel like they’ve made tremendous progress,” said Marcoz. “I think they are starting to have a sense of time, a sense of what a percussion ensemble should sound like. This is probably the first time that all of them have done a real percussion ensemble piece and they get to do it inside of the high school facility.”


The middle schoolers have two performances on April 30 and May 4. They will perform a hand drum piece at the Western PA Percussion Ensemble Symposium on April 30 and will perform both of their pieces on May 4 at a joint concert with the high school. At the Western PA Symposium, Middle School and high school members and other percussion ensemble groups from Western Pennsylvania will participate at Norwin High School in the auditorium.

“I saw the need for some sort of event, in Western Pennsylvania,” Kandrack said. “Back in the spring of 2020 there was going to be an event hosted in Pittsburgh that brought area percussion ensembles together to perform for each other. It obviously got canceled with the pandemic and no one had really stepped up in the area to do something like that this year. I thought that this is a great year to announce that performance is back in western Pennsylvania.”

In order to host a Symposium, Kandrack had been working on bringing Percussion Ensembles together for months.

“[Getting these percussion Ensembles together was a] little more challenging than I thought it was going to be,” Kandrack said. “I thought I had a lot of contacts in Western Pennsylvania and the surrounding area with various directors, and I did, but I found that there were a whole lot more percussion ensemble performances going on in other areas that I didn’t even know about. So I learned about a lot of different styles of groups that were out there, and the more I kept looking for people, the more I kept finding even more people that had groups.”

Kandrack found two Taiko groups that will be performing at the Symposium as well as a steel band. Duquesne University and Youngstown University will also be participating in the performance.

 “It was actually a little easier than I thought to find the groups, the challenging part was finding people who were available. I mean there’s no good weekend to do this type of event,” Kandrack commented. “Saturday, April 30 worked really well for us, but I found that it didn’t work as well for a lot of other people. There were schools that had proms and different things like that, concerts at other places. So it’s a challenge to get people to come here, but I’m really excited about the lineup of groups that we have. It’s a great variety of different groups so I’m excited for the students to get to see that and I’m excited to see them myself.”

The middle school percussion ensemble will open the Symposium with a performance at 11:00 am on April 30, while the high school percussion ensemble will close out the performance at 3:45 pm.