Student musicians learn from master

LAKEWOOD RANCH — If you’re a hot-shot marching band drummer, either you have a Bret Kuhn model snare drumstick or you probably want one.

Kuhn, for those who don’t live and breathe percussion, is the former percussion arranger of the world champion Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps.

He has rock star status among percussion fans worldwide, said Cathy Howze, co-president of the Lakewood Ranch High School band booster association, which snared Kuhn for the first Yamaha Sounds of Summer Percussion Camp at Lakewood Ranch High School.

The two-day camp, which cost $65, began Wednesday and has room for more students at half price beginning at 9 a.m. today, Howze said.

“When we picked Mr. Kuhn up at the airport at 11:30 p.m. the other night we were amazed that he engaged the high school band members who were with me, and my husband, in lively conversation despite the length of his trip,” Howze said. “The kids were in awe. He’s got the same clout as Brian Johnson of AC-DC, or maybe more.”

The roughly 80 campers, who play snare, tenor and bass drum, marimba, xylophone and keyboards are from Lakewood Ranch High, Braden River High, Manatee High, Haile Middle, Nolan Middle, Sarasota Military Academy and Sarasota High.

They also came from Wharton High School in the Tampa area, Astronaut High in Titusville, and Melbourne High, as well as Eau Gallie High and Johnson Middle of Brevard County, all schools on the east coast of Florida.

Kuhn, who is straightforward and funny, started by going over hand positions on the drumstick.

“I always have a short list of things I want them to do well,” Kuhn said during a lunch break. “I’m concerned about stroke style. Both days we will reinforce that. Getting the strokes down is 95 percent of the battle.”

Kuhn loves to use analogies. He told the students to think of the drumstick as a toddler’s teeter-totter, and he stressed that adjusting the pressure in the fingers is crucial to getting the right sound when the drumstick’s bead, or striking piece, meets the drum.

“I remind them of how they slid back on their seat to control their buddy on the other end of the teeter-totter,” Kuhn said. “Then, I tell them to imagine that the bead is like their buddy on a teeter-totter. They seem to remember that. I’m a silly guy.”

Kuhn also stressed that too many marching bands get hung up on how they look and don’t pay enough attention to how they sound.

“I liked what he said,” said Elena Ainscough, a sophomore-to-be at Lakewood Ranch High. “He feels it doesn’t matter if you look stupid out there because what matters is what you are bringing.”

Xander Chawi, a Manatee High School junior-to-be and section leader of the school’s drum-line, said he learned from Kuhn.

“I never had anyone tell me about finger placement,” Chawi said. “I have this bad habit of having a chicken-wing right arm. I think now I’ll remember to keep it inside.”

During the camp, which was sponsored by the instrument company Yamaha, for which Kuhn does clinics, and by a Bradenton music store called Keyboards and More, four other teachers worked with the campers.

The other instructors were Bobby Blum, Doug Moser of the University of South Florida, Dan Johnson and former Mustang Ron Lambert, who is now at Southeast High School.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 708-7917.