Q&A with percussionist Cameron Leach

Cameron Leach is an American percussionist who will perform at Baylor 6 p.m. today in the Glennis McCrary Music Building. Photo Courtesy of Mike Liu

By Madalyn Watson | Arts & Life Editor

The Baylor Lariat had the opportunity to interview the percussionist Cameron Leach and get to know him better before his performance at 6 p.m. today in the Glennis McCrary Music Building.

What kind of solo programs do you perform? Which program will you be performing at Baylor?

So this whole thing is sort of how, as a touring performer, it works. You have these specific program offerings and so each of mine fits in a different venue in different ways. So I have an electronic program called “Elision.” That’s for like performing arts series and places that have tech equipped for that.

And then I have a theater program, which is on my site, but I’ve never actually performed. I’m debuting it in two weeks. That’s for more of an out-there audience, people who are into new art and sort of weird things. Then, I have more traditional thing called “Synthesis,” which is like this combination of all of them.

I’ve got like pieces from “Synthesis,” pieces from “Seven Short Stories,” pieces from “Elision,” but it’s not a set program. So it’s sort of just this mashup of things.

Where and when will you be performing your Seven Short Stories piece for the first time?

It’s at this place called Short North Stage, which is in Columbus, Ohio. There’s a family here that funds all these new music projects. It’s called the Johnstone Fund for New Music. They’ve been very generous over the years. And they usually support my projects very well financially, and they allow me to try new things. This is their series they run. It’s going to be on January 22, which is a Wednesday at 7 p.m. So that’s going to be the first go around, and I still have to learn four of those seven pieces.

How is Seven Short Stories different from your past solo programs and recitals? What makes the program unique?

The funny part about that program is the name is what came first. I was dreaming of things [and] in the summer of 2017, I interned with this group called Third Coast Percussion, this Grammy-winning percussion quartet. Really great guys.

They also were helping me with my own personal like materials, and my recital programming and everything. And they’re like, ‘Yeah, you need a catchy title, you need a program description, you need to have a package.’

So I started just dreaming of titles and “Seven Short Stories” was this alliterative title, I thought was really great. But then I thought, Well, I’ve got to play seven pieces and “Seven Short Stories.” So the length of the recital has to be handled with the seven pieces, so they have to be substantial enough. And, and it’s got to have some sort of subtext to it of theatrics, or text, or literary anything.

That came first and then along the way, I started commissioning new music and paying composers to write for me and I got obsessed with the theatrical percussion, which is this combination of playing and acting, speaking and everything.

The goal was to commission diverse composers, not just straight white males. And to really get new voices out there. Young voices, old voices, and everything in between. I wanted it to be socially conscious, and also politically conscious in terms of the subject material of the pieces.

Some of the pieces are really heavy. Some deal with suicide and toxic masculinity and the military. It’s stuff that I hope to touch on in a respectful way, but also in a way that hits home for people, and it’s going to challenge me as a performer, which I think is the fun part of it. I’m going to have a mic strapped in my face and an earpiece and going to be acting and it’s just stuff that I’ve never really done before.

How long have you been playing musical instruments and performing? What was the first instrument you learned how to play?

I originally started as a saxophonist in 2005. I was a saxophonist for maybe two and a half years Then somewhere along the lines, I switched over to play a little bit of drum set, like self taught drum set in my basement, which was where my dad had this recording studio.

My dad’s an old rocker guitarist. He’s been playing his whole life. So he would have these guys come over and play at our house. And this one guy left his drum set, so I started tinkering on it. Eventually, I just quit saxophone and went over to percussion in the school band.

But first and foremost, I was a drummer, not a percussionist. I eventually learned keyboard percussion at the very end of high school, so that I could get into college. But through and through, I was a drummer, a drum line kid.

How is it different or similar when you’re alone on stage during a solo performance versus performing with another person or a whole group?

You have to know your role. When I’m when I’m a soloist on stage, like I said, I usually play with electronics. Sometimes I don’t, but most of the time I have some sort of other element. But that’s a fixed element where it’s playing back and I’m playing along with it. There’s no interaction and I always know what I’m getting.

When I’m playing with an orchestra, let’s say in a concerto context, I’m soloing out front. It’s a give and take game the whole time.

The responsibility there is to make the ensemble sound good and make yourself sound good, and not make the conductor angry with you, by doing anything drastic or crazy. You have to have this musical communication with everybody on stage. It’s different and you have to respect that balance. Whereas in a solo performance, you can kind of do whatever you want to some degree. You can take even more risks as a soloist, but when you’re with other people, you have to take very calculated risks.