Instrument Talk Levelling up with Laurence Reese - NZ Music Month Feature
Levelling up with Laurence Reese - NZ Music Month Feature
New Zealand Music Month is an amazing annual event that celebrates local music and musicians. For KBB Music we see this as the perfect time to celebrate making music and encouraging Kiwis to take their musical talents to the next level!
In the spirit of levelling up your music, through this month we are also profiling the amazing staff of KBB Music. These are the incredible helpers you will meet at our stores who have also have vibrant musical backgrounds. Through the process of a quick-fire interview, we were interested in finding out how they levelled up their music journey and the instruments they recommend to budding Kiwi musicians.
“You can tell a story with a set of drums, and I feel privileged I get to do that every day”.
American-born timpanist and percussionist Laurence Reese is a graduate of The Juilliard School in New York and The Royal College of Music in London.
Growing up in the Northeast of the United States, Laurence’s inherited his parent’s deep love of jazz and big band music - with the likes of Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich and Cozy Cole becoming his childhood heroes.
At just 5 years old, his next-door neighbour introduced him to the snare drum and he became hooked.
Laurence’s first drum was a Wooden Premier, before graduating to a Frankenstein hybrid kit made of whatever drums could be assembled into a 'kit' and a couple of cymbals when I turned 8.
By age 13 and earning money from delivering newspapers after school, I saved enough to buy myself a new set of Rogers drums.
I would often put on my parents' LPs of big band tunes and try to play along! I was awful, but the love of the genre stuck.
As well as being the Section Principal Timpanist of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO) since 1998, Laurence has performed all over the world.
He has performed in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia as a principal timpanist with such ensembles; The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, The Washington Chamber Symphony, The Hallé Orchestra, The Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, The Israel Philharmonic, The Philly Pops Orchestra, and The London Philharmonic Orchestra. He has played under such esteemed conductors as Vladimir Ashkenazy, Leonard Bernstein, Osmo Vanska, Eric Leinsdorf, Mariss Jansons, Leonard Slatkin, Vasily Petrenko and David Zinman, to name a few!
During his tenure in the NZSO, Laurence has played on over 70 commercial recordings on the Sony, Rattle, Naxos, and EMI labels, with total sales of over one million records.
Alongside the NZSO, he has also recorded musical soundtracks for over 20 feature films, including Oscar-winning The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lovely Bones, and the final two Hobbit films.
Get to know Laurence a little better!
Thinking back on your musical journey, what were the breakthrough moments that made you the musician you are today?
Memorable moments that helped steer or inspire me would be the first time I heard a symphony orchestra as an 8-year-old. The experience of the power of a live orchestra gave me an actual physical sensation in my gut.
Perhaps more pivotal would be seeing the original Star Wars movie on the big screen as a 14-year-old adolescent.
I was immersed in the jazz world but hearing John William's iconic soundtrack to that movie changed the course of my life. I suddenly wanted to learn all about the amazing percussion and timpani sounds I heard in that movie music. I went back to the cinema every day for a week to watch Star Wars over and over again.
It was more a discovery of the music than it was of the film itself. Three years ago, the NZSO performed that same original soundtrack for a screening of Star Wars: A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back to large crowds in Auckland and Wellington. That was a hugely significant time for me because it brought to full circle my performing journey from original inspiration to professional musician still loving playing the drums that the film inspired.
If you like to play a musical instrument, play it. You don't have to be great. You just have to play. Music allows us to express what words alone can't. Allow yourself to discover a new voice and way of communicating that is from the heart, universal and timeless.
I have been so very lucky to have the life I have because of music. Because of a drum. There is no dress rehearsal for life. THIS is the drum solo, so let's play it!
Now thinking about your gear: what is the one instrument that you will never part with?
As the cherry on the cake, my parents got me my first Zildjian Cymbal to go with that Rogers kit. Happily, I still have that Zildjian and will never part with it!
What instrument would you recommend to other musicians?
Start with a drumkit, any standard 4 or 5 piece kit will do.
It is a great introduction to the wonderful world of rhythm and music making. Everybody always needs a drummer! And growing up in the States, Ludwig has always held a place dear to my heart as a drummer. Ludwig provided kits to so many of my favourite drummers over the ages.
My second recommendation would be the piano.
It is the foundation and gateway to so many forms of musical expression. I had lessons as a teen but took it more seriously at Uni (because it was a required course)! But as a percussionist, I found my melodic expressions were more fulfilled on the vibraphone and marimba. Again, Musser was the gold standard when I was a student, and they continue to offer world-class percussion mallet instruments.
As a gigging drummer in the States, I had the Musser Traveller vibraphone. It was extremely portable, robust, and sounded great. I'm sorry I sold it. But at least the NZSO has Musser's top-of-the-line, 3-octave Pro Vibraphone if I ever need to have a noodle on a set of vibes!
Keep up to date with the exciting things that are happening with Laurence on Instagram and the NZOS through their website, or check them out on Facebook to keep in the loop with the exciting things they’re getting up to.