Sean McWilliams is studying percussion performance and music education at West Chester University with Dr. Ralph Sorrentino and David Nelson. Sean has spent time in multiple percussive idioms: timpanist with The Cadets in 2016 and 2017, and attending the Cloyd Duff Timpani Masterclass in 2018 and the Sewanee Summer Music Festival in 2019 and 2021. Sean has also participated in extracurricular performance opportunities such as the PASIC All-Star Collegiate Percussion Ensemble in 2019 and the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra, and he taught at the Symphony in C Summer Music Camps as a teaching artist. Sean serves as a member of the PAS University Student Committee.
R!S: How do you find new pieces that you are interested in playing? What factors do you consider when seeking out and/or choosing new solo or chamber repertoire?
Sean McWilliams: I listen to a lot of recordings on YouTube as well as Naxos. A lot of times, I like to get really nerdy with it and look up my favorite composers’ discographies, searching for their other pieces that may catch my eye. I like to consider the composer’s background, style, musical language, and more often than not, I’ll notice if other percussionists are finding their music to be “hip” and investigate for myself.
R!S: What changes about the way you play a piece as you “live” with it for a while? Do you typically perform a piece once or multiple times?
SM: Most pieces I play are only played once or maybe twice. I often will get a test run where I play for my peers in studio class, although sometimes there are pieces I get much more of mileage out of. For most pieces, the more I play and have them in my hands, the more enjoyment I experience and the more “authentically” I feel I can portray the musical ideas.
R!S: How involved and in what ways is your instructor involved in your repertoire selection?
SM: I usually seek out my professors’ opinions on pieces I am interested in learning. If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that I am still and always will be learning. Although I may enjoy a piece, it may not always be the best choice from a strategic or pedagogical standpoint (e.g., graduate school auditions, competitions, community performances vs. school performances, etc.).
R!S: Do you finish every piece that you start to learn? If not, why not? If a piece seems like a poor fit or you struggle unusually with a piece, how do you proceed? Do you “bail” on the selection, or what changes do you make to allow yourself to complete it?
SM: I tend to finish most pieces that I begin learning. The only reason I’ve stopped learning a piece is if I no longer had the opportunity to perform that piece. If I ever encounter a technical issue or musical issue, I make a point to overcome that obstacle through the direct help of a mentor, teacher, or peer.
R!S: What is one particularly favorite piece of repertoire you’ve performed and why?
SM: During my second year studying at West Chester University, a quartet of sophomores formed and played “Ku-Ka-Ilimoku” by Christopher Rouse. We had a sectional once a week at 8:00 a.m., which meant an even earlier setup time due to this piece’s large setup. The work and development throughout the semester led to a great performance at our percussion ensemble concert. That satisfaction and experiencing it with some of my closest friends is something I will remember for the rest of my life!