Spotlight: UI instructor leads Iowa percussion

BY RILEY UBBEN | MARCH 25, 2011 7:20 AM

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With two mallets in each hand, Dan Moore gently strikes the wooden keys of his marimba, each note flowing effortlessly into the next. His students watch every move and soon follow his lead.

Moore, the percussion instructor at the UI and head of Iowa Percussion, is in a unique position.

“It was very much an honor to be the second percussion teacher in the history of the [University of Iowa],” he said. “That’s a pretty cool legacy to be a part of.”

Moore replaced the program’s first professor, Thomas L. Davis, in 1996. Davis was one of the first college percussion teachers in the country, and when he was hired in 1958, the university established Iowa Percussion.

The ensemble uses many different instruments, from the African drums played by hand to the reshaped 55-gallon oil drums known as steel pans.

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Moore and his students borrow from a myriad of cultural influences, and they have even had the opportunity to learn about Chinese drumming firsthand by participating in a music exchange with a school in Beijing.

“[We] traveled to Beijing in 2006 and played Western music, but we learned Chinese music, also,” the 52-year-old said. “The year before that, they had sent a professor from Beijing here to show us how to Chinese stuff, too, so that was pretty cool.”

The ensemble’s reputation for great performances and internationally distributed albums have afforded it many collaborations. The group has played with many big-name artists including Mike

Mainieri, a well-known musician in the jazz community, as well as Johnny Rabb, with whom the ensemble teamed up to put on a concert of techno-percussion music.

Moore recalls a collaboration with Robert Moran involving percussion and popcorn being particularly theatrical.

“You take the popcorn popper and put it out on the floor, and the machine heats up, and everybody wears big sunglasses with music lines across them,” the Longview, Texas-native said. “When the popcorn pops, you play the music that goes across your glasses.”

The instructor is always ready to get in on the action, often playing among his students, rather than conducting, if that’s what the piece calls for.

“We always enjoy when he plays,” said Justin Ullestad, a senior in the ensemble. “You can learn even when you’re doing the performance from him, because he’s that talented.”

Moore takes the same hands-on approach during lessons and practices. A few minutes spent in his classroom reveals good-natured joking and a positive learning environment that percussion major

Christine Augspurger says is a result of a high level of mutual respect.

“He’s invaluable as a teacher and a resource as someone who’s been in the world of percussion for so long,” she said. “You can listen to him give the same talk every year, and you’ll get something new out of it every time.”

Moore said Iowa Percussion’s prominence in the music community promises a bright future.

“People hear about what we’re doing, and they see our CDs out, and all of sudden, a composer is like ‘Hey, you want to play my piece?’ ” he said. “We don’t have to look too hard to find music to play.”

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