The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Percussion Scholarship Program, now in its 25th season, offers weekly percussion instruction on full scholarship to Chicago youth in grades 4-12. CSO percussion Patricia Dash and Lyric Opera Orchestra assistant principal percussion Douglas Waddell founded the program, which is one of many training opportunities offered to young musicians through the Negaunee Music Institute at the CSO. Benefitting from intensive study at a young age with world-class musicians, PSP graduates go on to win scholarships, competitions and offers to attend the country’s most prestigious colleges and conservatories.
In celebration of PSP’s 25th anniversary, we caught up with Josh Jones, who graduated from PSP in 2010 and now works as a professional musician. Jones was principal percussionist for the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra from 2017–2020, and he recently won the audition for the Kansas City Symphony principal percussion chair. He also maintains an active teaching career and is in the process of writing a series of books on percussion technique.
Growing up in Chicago, Jones showed an early affinity for percussion. As a toddler, he “couldn’t stop hitting everything in sight,” which prompted his grandfather to buy him a Mickey Mouse drum set. After starting at age 5 to play drums in church, he took his first percussion lessons with Douglas Waddell when he joined PSP the summer after fourth grade. According to Jones, Waddell’s teaching style was “like a dad” who set high standards for students and their parents.
As he progressed through PSP, Jones transitioned to studying with Patricia Dash, whom he describes as “very sweet.” During his freshman year of high school, he placed second in the CSO Youth Auditions, since renamed the Crain-Maling Foundation CSO Young Artists Competition. His success in the competition landed Jones a scholarship to study for six weeks at the renowned Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan. Eventually, he received scholarship offers from every college where he auditioned, and he opted to attend DePaul University’s School of Music.
In addition to his growth as a performer, Jones traces the beginnings of his teaching career to his time in PSP. “I was always interested in sharing knowledge and helping people get better,” he said. As a PSP student, he coached younger students in proper techniques, composed percussion etudes and created pamphlets of practice materials. He later served as a PSP teaching assistant during his undergraduate years at DePaul. After graduation, he completed a two-year fellowship with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, then returned to Chicago to teach at Sistema Ravinia and the People’s Music School for a year.
A second fellowship with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra was cut short when Jones was appointed principal percussionist for the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. Shortly after moving to Canada, he was diagnosed with cancer and underwent chemotherapy, followed by a major operation in January 2019. Making a remarkable recovery, he returned to work just three months after the surgery, when he performed as soloist in Gareth Farr’s percussion concerto Hikoi. His former teacher, Patricia Dash, said of Jones’ performance, “It was the most incredible thing I have ever seen or heard. … I was just completely blown away. It was sensational.”
A new job is on the horizon for Jones, who won the principal percussion audition for the Kansas City Symphony in March 2020. While many North American orchestras remain closed during the pandemic, Jones continues to practice, teach and maintain an online presence. Over the summer he led a two-week online camp, “Redefining Technique,” for intermediate and advanced players. His website, drummojo.com, documents Jones’ personal practice and performance techniques and offers resources for percussionists.
When asked to sum up the influence of the Percussion Scholarship Program in his life, Jones said, “I literally would not be alive today had I not been in that group.” He explained that without PSP, he would not have pursued music to the level that allowed him to join the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, a job that “put me in a position to have health care to save my life.” Speaking fondly of his PSP teachers, Jones reiterated, “I owe Patsy and Doug my life.”
This powerful statement speaks to the legacy of a program that has impacted hundreds of young Chicagoans over the past 25 years. The support of many generous donors ensures that the Percussion Scholarship Program, as well as the other educational programs of the Negaunee Music Institute, continue to thrive.
To learn more, visit cso.org/psp or contact Dakota Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org or (312) 294-3156.