“Music captured my attention when I was six and has never let go.”

I started with a color-coded keyboard and picked out songs from a little book. The next year, in second grade, one of the kids brought a drum to school for “show and tell.” I thought it was just the coolest thing I had ever seen. In fact, it seemed so cool I was afraid to go near it.

The following year, I asked for a drum set for Christmas. It was $19 from a Sears catalog. I loved it so much that, pretty quickly, I wore out the drum heads!

When I was in the fourth or fifth grade I wanted to take drum lessons. My mom took me to a local music store to sign me up. Later, I had a chance to have a lesson with the school band director. I took my drum practice pad to the lesson and at the end of the session I asked him if there would be any chance I could play with the band someday, which I wanted to do so badly. “What about today?” he said. I was so thrilled!

The first time that I became super frustrated with the challenges of playing music was when I was in 7th grade. That year, I started playing the marimba. I had never read pitches before, only rhythms, so this was very difficult at first. Even though it was hard and I became frustrated, I didn’t want to quit! My parents were definitely my greatest cheerleaders and my band director was so encouraging. Besides all the extra time he spent helping me with my music, he stressed how important it was to always do my best and have pride in my accomplishments.

My music education taught me to always keep trying. Learning is very gradual and full of challenges. Playing well is hard work, but well worth the effort. Eventually, I got through the challenges that were a part of learning the marimba and I was very proud of what I had accomplished.

Soon after that, I began to feel that I wanted to pursue a music career, so I asked a guidance counselor how it might be possible to play percussion professionally. It’s been many years of learning and hard work since then, but it’s been a great experience all the way!

About 10 years ago, I started a percussion scholarship program that teaches core percussion skills to a very talented and motivated group of Chicago school kids. I remind them that they’ll often feel frustrated when they work on their technique or start rehearsing more complex music, just like I learned when I was their age. I tell them that getting frustrated is normal, but you need to keep trying.

There aren’t any shortcuts. Just keep working on a little something all the time and you’ll end up meeting your goals after a while. You’re not alone, and it does get easier.

Be Awestruck and Aspire

"When I first heard the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, it was awesome. I never dreamed I would ever be in such an orchestra. Learning is very gradual and full of challenges. I had many wonderful and influential teachers and I draw on their advice all the time, every day. My music education taught me to always keep trying. Playing well is hard work, but well worth the effort. You can do it!"

Learn more about the Percussion Scholarship Program on the Chicago Symphony Orchestra website.

One of Patsy’s favorite pieces to perform is the Symphony Number 10 by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. Listen to this piece on iTunes and watch an awesome clip of students from the Percussion Scholarship Program playing an arrangement of this piece on YouTube.

Patsy Dash was appointed to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s percussion section by Sir Georg Solti in 1986, when she was just 24 years old.

Patsy started her percussion studies at the age of nine and received a diploma with honors and a certificate of merit from the Eastman School of Music’s Preparatory Department (Rochester, NY). She earned her bachelor of music degree, with distinction, from Eastman in 1983. Her teachers included John Beck, Ruth Cahn, Allen Otte, Richard Jensen, and Doug Howard.

Orchestral and performance experience
In college, Patsy performed as an extra with both the Rochester Philharmonic and the Cincinnati Symphony orchestras. Before joining the CSO, she was principal percussionist at the Philharmonic Orchestra of Florida. Patsy has performed with the Chicago Chamber Musicians, the Chicago Pro Musica, the CSO Trombone Ensemble, the Ensemble Intercontemporain of Paris, and in numerous CSO chamber music concerts at Symphony Center.

Of note
In 1995, Patsy launched the CSO’s Percussion Scholarship Program (PSP). PSP offers intensive, individual, weekly percussion instruction on a full scholarship basis to select Chicago students in grades 3 through 12. Directing the program with Patsy is her husband, Douglass Waddell, a percussionist with the Lyric Opera Orchestra. The students have performed extensively at Orchestra Hall, twice at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention, and at the Midwest Band and Orchestra Conference.