Local drumming school continues to grow

Local drumming school continues to grow

Over the last six years, EPIC Percussion, a drumming school in Williamsport, has been teaching kids how to play drums, producing talented musicians in the region.

Generally, EPIC Percussion’s students range in age from fourth grade through adults, with most in sixth to 12th grade. EPIC teaches kids to play drums, read music, write music, learn mallet percussion, all their scales, how to play four mallets, hand drumming and various styles from around the world.

“What we do is kind of unique,” said Marc Garside, founder of EPIC Percussion. “We are not seeking to be an alternative or to compete against school music programs. We want to enhance it and give them skills that will help them excel in all ways that they participate in music.”

“At the beginning I recruited a few students and just taught lessons out of the house,” he said. “Within a few months, that was becoming problematic because I had too many students. Then Ryan Pritchard, and soon after Mike Wrench, got involved and helped me expand the business.”

Competitions and concerts

This spring, EPIC started a competitive drumline comprised of students between fourth and eighth grade. The EPIC Cadets recently just finished their first competitive season. The group of 20 students competed in their first ever regional championship and won first place. “The crowd went crazy for them,” Garside said.

“To my knowledge it’s the first group like that in this age range to exist, regionally at least,” Garside said. “They’ve competed in shows in Pennsylvania and New York, and for one week this season they had the highest score of any group in New York!”

Each year, EPIC performs their Christmas concert, where all of their students perform ensemble pieces and solos. Throughout the year, EPIC also holds smaller concerts that are similar to recitals, for a few students at a time.

The students also play for First Friday events in downtown Williamsport trying new things to change it up, he said.

A passion for drumming

Originally from Sunbury, Garside started EPIC Percussion, now located in the lower level of Trinity Church on West Fourth Street, after spending several years working in other jobs after he graduated from Susquehanna University. Drums were always on his mind. When he wasn’t working, he was teaching a drum line, writing music, practicing or studying videos and recordings.

He started playing drums when he was 15 and he got his first drum set for his 16th birthday.

“I started out on saxophone in middle school,” he said. “I actually lied to my mom and told her I was going to jazz band practices when I was actually going to drum line practices because she didn’t want me to play drums.”

Garside’s original influence was Patsy Vankirk, who taught him at Shikellamy High School. In college, he studied under Greg Alico, and in drum corps under Kevin Murphy, Rob Fergusson, Gary Gill, Terry Bieler and Terrell Smith.

After high school, Garside auditioned for a Drum Corps International group called Capital Regiment and made it, playing tenor drums. Garside later taught Shikellamy’s marching band for several years, writing the music and running the percussion section. The marching band enjoyed much success, often finishing in the top three in drums at TOB’s Atlantic Coast Championships.

“After a few years, Ryan Pritchard asked me to come and teach the indoor drum line at Williamsport High School with him,” Garside said. “We immediately had a lot of success with that group, and I also met my future wife teaching that season who was, and still is, the middle school band director. The amazing Mrs. Laura Garside! After that, I moved up here and started teaching drums for the Marching Millionaires.”

Growth and development

The drumming school currently has about 50 students and is still growing with seven instructors who specialize in percussion and teach their students styles and techniques. EPIC students come from the region including Jersey Shore, Williamsport, South Williamsport, Montoursville, Loyalsock, Danville and Mifflinburg.

EPIC helps students prepare for PMEA auditions and they have several students who auditioned for and made the White Sabers, who will perform and compete all over the Northeast this summer and at DCA World Championships in Williamsport on Labor Day weekend.

EPIC also writes music and drills for several drum corps, indoor groups and high school marching bands. This year they are providing instructors or show design elements for the White Sabers, the Reading Buccaneers Drum, Bugle Corps and South County, Williamsport, Westfield, Loyalsock, Bloomsburg, Montoursville, Hamilton West and Tyrone high schools.

One unique thing that EPIC provides their students is a path to use what they learn as students, giving them a way to teach future generations and write music once they graduate — and even getting paid to do it.

Grant Butters, a Williamsport alumni and former student of Garside and Pritchard, is a show designer and took his high school indoor group, South County, to Dayton, Ohio, where they made World Class Finals, making them one of the 15 best high school drum lines in the world.

‘Drumming brought them together’

One of the things Garside loves in the fall is seeing the students in all the high school marching bands when they appear at the same shows, cheering on them and their staff.

“While they do compete with each other, we cheer them on and support all of them as much as they allow us to. We believe that a rising tide lifts all ships, so the healthier music is in our region the better it is for everyone,” he said. “There are kids from different schools who wouldn’t even know each other, but drumming brought them together.”

Garside’s hope is that the school has helped to teach the students to believe in themselves and have the confidence to challenge themselves to work hard and pursue excellence in whatever they decide to do.

“They all won’t be professional drummers, and that’s absolutely fine because that’s not what this is about,” he said. “We are very forward with them and their parents that this isn’t about entertaining them, and it’s not always fun.”

But he said that it doesn’t mean they don’t laugh and have fun on the way though the most important thing for the school has nothing to do with drumming. Garside said the school has had students who were shy, had varying levels of anxiety and confidence and different learning abilities.

“It’s about teaching kids the process of achieving excellence,” Garside said. “If they learn that, they can apply it to anything they pursue.”

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