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Ian Gibson keeps SSO on the right beat

Ian Gibson loves making noise. As a percussionist, he'll use whatever he has around him to tap out a beat, and make it sound good. Not only does he enjoy making music, he also has a passion for sharing the skill.
Ian Gibson is the principal percussionist at the Sudbury Symphony Orchestra. He took some time from his schedule at the orchestra, and teaching at the post-secondary level, for a conversation with Northern Life. Supplied photo.

Ian Gibson loves making noise.

As a percussionist, he'll use whatever he has around him to tap out a beat, and make it sound good. Not only does he enjoy making music, he also has a passion for sharing the skill.

Since he moved to Sudbury in 2006, he has taught at Laurentian University and Cambrian College. He also serves as the principal percussionist with the Sudbury Symphony Orchestra.

Gibson recently took time from his busy rehearsing and teaching schedule to talk to Northern Life about the life of a professional musician, with some help from the SSO's executive director Dawn Cattapan.

Northern Life: Explain your role with the SSO.
Ian Gibson: I ensure the concerts run smoothly, in terms of having the right equipment and personnel.
Dawn Cattapan: (Principal musicians) are the principal point of contact, making sure we have the right things to make the right sound. He takes care of pulling all that together. 

NL: How much percussion is there in a typical symphony show?
IG: It varies depending on the show. (More traditional) shows could be myself playing the timpani. In a movie show, we could need six people. We would have our wall of instruments across the back.

NL: What's a timpani?
IG: It's basically a giant copper bowl with a skin stretched across it. It has the “bwwwwwong” sound ... like George of the Jungle.

NL: The SSO is putting a lot of emphasis bringing orchestra music to audiences that have never experienced it. How does you and your percussion section contribute?
IG: Percussion is probably the most accessible instrument. I have a nephew who just turned two, who loves banging pots and pans together. It's one of the easiest ways we can introduce music.

NL: What does it take to play music at this level?
IG: Lots of dedication. With percussion, its not like you play one instrument. I have to do that across three, four and five instruments. I have an entire store I need to practise on. It can change week by week on what I need to work on.

NL: What attracted you to percussion?
IG: My dad played in pipe bands. He was a bass drummer. I always wanted to do that. I woke up one day in Grade 7 and said 'I want to play the drums.'

NL: Did you start out with rock star dreams?
IG: (Laughs) No. I went to the classical stuff, then the drum set.

NL: What are some of the oddest instruments you have played?
IG: I had to play two rocks for a percussion piece in school. Now, I'm learning a piece with clay pots. (Other things include) chains, bird calls and a sledge hammer.

NL: What advice to do you have for people considering a career in music?
IG: Do it. I tell my students all the time 'We get to do something we enjoy — we make music.' You might not have the Ferrari, but you'll be happy with what you're doing.

NL: What are your plans as a musician?
IG: I have a percussion duo with a buddy in New York City. We plan on touring and doing some recording. I'm already teaching workshops cross-country, but I'd like to get international playing experience.

NL: What do you do when you're not doing music? Does that even exist?
IG: Sometimes. You never really get away from music. It's always there. But I like hiking, canoeing, kayaking, (spending time with my) wife, cooking and watching TV.

NL: Do you air-drum along to the radio?
IG: Always.

NL: If not music, what would you do?
IG: A long-haul trucker. I love driving. My wife and I play with a pipe band in Mississauga. The first year I had my truck, I put on 70,000 kilometers.

NL: Off the stage, where else do you find yourself making music?

IG: I can pretty much entertain myself anywhere.

NL: Where's the line between your passion and your job?
IG: It's tough. You have to balance family with what you want to play. Recently I had the chance to go to New York City, but unfortunately I couldn't. Still, I'm lucky. (My wife) Rachel is involved in music as well.

NL: Musically, who do you look up to?
IG: I don't necessarily have any one specific individual. There are lots of things I like. It's whoever can find the right sound at the right time.

NL: What attributes and characteristics make you good at what you do?
IG: Multitasking. That's a big one. And there's a slight sense of ego — you have to be a strong sort of person, especially in an orchestra. You have to feel confident you can nail that part.

NL: As a teacher, what do you like to see in students?

IG: If they have a desire to learn, that's the most important thing. As long as they're willing to practise and they're open to it, that makes a good student.

NL: If you were on a desert island, what one piece of music would you like to have?
IG: Pink Floyd — the album with Dark Side of the Moon on it.

NL: What else would you want on that island?

IG: I can make drum sticks. Some curry powder would be good for food.

NL: What's on your iPod lately?

IG: Imogen Heap, Lake Street Drive, Mumford and Sons. I will admit I have some strange Cds — I didn't always have good music taste.

NL: Name one thing you couldn't live without.
IG: It's going to sound hoaky and cheesy, but my wife.

NL: She's a musician too. Can you bounce ideas off her?
IG: Yea, we're both good sounding boards for each other. We both think very similar.

NL: Do you have any pre-performance rituals?

IG: It changes because I still haven't found what I like.

NL: When you're not in rehearsals, what are you doing?
IG: Sitting on the couch with my cats, maybe going to Jak's Diner. Probably trying to have relaxing down time.

NL: Favourite video game?
IG: Call of Duty. I don't do the online stuff.

NL: What's the first thing you do in the morning?
IG: I get a coffee, and say hi to the cat who greets me at the door.

NL: The SSO is working hard to make orchestra music more accessible. Where do you think it fits in?
IG: It fits everywhere — it's programming the right project for the right venue. It's all about programming. There's always something you can play.

The next Sudbury Symphony Orchestra production is March 2.

For more information about Great Classics: A Romantic Journey, visit