Interview with Joshua Simonds, Executive Director of the Percussive Arts Society, conducted by the Make Music Alliance in May 2022
When was the Percussive Arts Society formed?
The organization just celebrated our 60th anniversary last year. It was founded by 14 people who met at a Midwest clinic and they said we need a society for us, for drummers and percussionists. It started out of the orchestral and academic world, and in 60 years it has grown to include all drummers and percussionists regardless of style or genre. It really is a special place; drummers and percussionists have this bond, there is something that draws us together and PAS is that family network for this community.
What is your mission?
Our primary mission is to support drummers and percussionists across the globe in every area of music, through education, research and performance. We embrace everybody, and we feel that drums and percussion is one of the most accessible instruments in the world, if not the most accessible instrument.
I started at PAS in 2016, and I follow a long line of leaders; many of those people that you see in our Hall of Fame were at one point past presidents or had other responsibilities, it wasn’t an organization that had a staff; for many years it was volunteer run, but now we are probably the largest music organization around, in terms of an individual instrument. As executive director I oversee all of our programs and our staff of ten. We operate a museum in Indianapolis which is one of our major programs, and we have PASIC, our annual conference, which has happened every year since 1976.
Can you tell me a little about your museum?
Rhythm Discovery Center is the name of our museum, it was started in around 2009 when the PAS moved from Oklahoma where we were headquartered to Indianapolis.The City of Indianapolis and Visit Indy, one of our partners, helped relocate us and said hey, you have this amazing organization and conference, but you also have this world class collection, why don’t we build it out, so with their help we founded the Rhythm Discovery Center. It’s an interactive museum; when you go through it you have an opportunity to really learn about many instruments. We have a whole area called “Wood, Metal and Skin”, the three main ways drums and percussion are put together, we have an entire exhibit of drum sets, historic through modern day, and many opportunities for people to play drums. Wherever there is an opportunity for people to play an instrument, we also provide information for them to learn about it so it’s a nice balance between having fun and playing, and learning about what you are playing and seeing historical and one of a kind instruments as well. We have “Groove Space” which is this whole wall of about a hundred different types of percussion, where visitors can try out all different kinds of drums and percussion instruments. We have such great sponsors and supporters, the percussion industry is very kind to us and makes sure that we have instruments available that people can come in and play; it’s a great collaboration between lots of people.
That sounds super fun!
It is super fun, and it is important to note that it is not a children’s museum. Of course kids love it, but we actively try to do programs for adults because we know that adults come in and want to play, but you’re not going to take a stick away from a kid, so we tailor events for all ages.
We have quite a few one of a kind instruments, we are a place that people donate their instruments to because they want to see them preserved forever. We are able to showcase items in the Rhythm Discovery Center, but also we can preserve them in our collection, and have them available for research. We have a team of people who are specialized in our collection and it’s really exciting. Some of our collection is available for viewing online, and it is available to anyone who wants to explore it.