Plainfield Band Director Opens Doors to Drum Studio
A marching band or drum corps performance involves many moving parts: dozens of instruments, props, performers and choreography. The perfect blend for a flawless performance can be complicated, but that’s exactly what Derrick Shannon is trained to do. He not only writes all the elements of these performances, but he puts them together in a show that moves the audience and showcases the music.
Shannon’s business, Percussive Soundscapes, features every aspect of music Shannon is passionate about writing, performing, and teaching. He is a freelance writer of marching arts shows, working with clients all around the nation. These services include custom arrangements for band and winter percussion ensembles, sometimes traveling to work with his clients, other times working via computer. He started the business five years ago and has been busy drumming up business ever since.
While that sounds like a full-time job, it’s hardly half of what Shannon does. He’s probably best known for his local position as the Director for Percussive Arts at Plainfield Community Schools, helping to bring the band from not making state finals to winning a national championship in his first year with the program in 2018.
But he’d never take all the credit himself.
“It’s really a combination of a lot of things, the biggest one being the infrastructure they already have,” Shannon says.
He lauded the current band director Michael Carpenter for always doing what was best for the kids as well as Scott Johnson, who takes care of administrative details.
“I just had to come in and design a show that would help them be successful,” he says. “They do the dirty work and the hard work. I’m lucky to have them.”
Shannon didn’t just happen upon his talent. He started young and worked hard while also giving a lot of credit to people he connected with along the way.
His first memories of music began in the fifth-grade band. He actually began with the trumpet because that’s the one instrument his family-owned, his sister having played before him.
Shannon distinctly remembers walking into class one day and seeing the percussionists, thinking they were so cool.
That was when he decided to take matters into his own hands.
“I fibbed a little bit,” he said, laughing. “I told my mom I was having a hard time breathing when I played the trumpet. So she said we could go to the band director to switch instruments.”
It’s a fond moment Shannon thinks back on, but he acknowledges how that small moment changed the trajectory of his life.
“It was a crazy pivotal moment,” he said.
He was one of only two percussionists in a small school district growing up. Between junior high and high school, he begged his parents to allow him to participate in Drum Corps, a musical marching unit with brass, percussion, and color guard that is not affiliated with a school or college. Participants travel and compete throughout the country, rehearsing and competing together for months at a time. Fourteen years old was uncharacteristically young for participating in drum corps, but Shannon was able to convince his parents to allow him to take part. Because of his early start, he participated for seven years.
“That experience is probably the biggest part of what made me, me,” Shannon says. “I saw so much of the country. I saw a lot of things and met a lot of people. All those experiences and connections I made through Drum corps are ones I still use to this day.”
Shannon received his Bachelors in Music Education at the VanderCook College of Music and his Master’s in Music Technology at Indiana University-Purdue University of Indianapolis. He was a band director in Goshen, and that experience was his first go-round with writing a marching program. Even then, his name drew one of his oldest students from another city.
Benjamin Taubert first took an interest in band as an eighth-grader in South Bend, Indiana. Eventually, he told his parents it was his passion, he really wanted to learn to do it well. His parents had a lengthy background in the field as teachers of band and color guard, so they began to research teachers and programs.
“We wanted to give Ben the best percussion education we could give him,” Ben’s mother Michelle said. “And Derrick’s name kept coming up.”
They relocated their family to Goshen so that Ben could learn under Shannon throughout high school. And the change was beneficial on multiple levels, not just for Ben’s band experience.
“Yes, there is a very high-quality percussion education that he brings to my son,” Michelle says. “But he is just a humungous mentor for everyone he becomes involved with. He’s real. He’s always there for his students. He’s amazing.”
Ben graduated in 2018 and is studying Music Education with a percussion emphasis at Ball State University. He still plays for Shannon, and his sister also joined the visual ensemble in Shannon’s Veritas group.
“His care and compassion for not only his craft but his professional relationships as well is very special,” Michelle says. “The world needs more people like that.”
Shannon credits his interest and experience in writing to his high school band director. Shannon came into his freshman year with all his drum corps experience and made suggestions for the band based on what he had learned. When Shannon told his band director that the high school’s program was old and outdated, his director’s response, “Ok. Go rewrite.”
Shannon did just that during his junior year. He was then able to write a program for his senior year. The hobby and talent blasted into a career.
The different drum companies he met over the years in Drum Corps endorse Shannon’s current endeavors, which not surprisingly involves more than his freelance work and his position at Plainfield. Shannon is also the Creative Director and Battery Arranger for the non-profit he started, 317 Performing Arts, which supports the independent world group Veritas, and he is the Percussion Coordinator and Battery Arranger for the Blue Knights, a world-class junior drum and bugle corps.
If that sounds like a lot, then just know that’s still not all. In early January, Shannon opened the doors to his new studio, Percussive Soundscapes Drum Academy. The academy is under the umbrella of his business, and it’s his way of giving back to the community.
“The premise is that we want anyone who wants to, to be able to drum,” Shannon said. Classes start at two years old all the way up through elementary intermediate and private lessons. Shannon was a middle school band director for years, and he draws from that experience, always having been inspired by their energy and youth.
“They’ll do anything you tell them to,” Shannon says. “We have fun, learn basic concepts, and follow beats.”
Aside from fun, Shannon deeply believes in the powerful effect of music and drumming on the brain. Regardless of whether it becomes a profession, Shannon tells his students if they can do everything he asks of them in class, parts of real-life become easier.
“We hold them to a very high standard,” Shannon said. “Just like any other sport or dance ensemble, the discipline and practice helps prepare kids for the future.”
Drumming is for everyone, Shannon insists, even (maybe even especially) for senior citizens and those with special needs. In fact, one of his goals is to start a group specifically for special needs students. Parents are typically skeptic, but Shannon says it’s awesome to see the student’s eyes light up.
Shannon would love to have some of his kids traveling and performing at places like senior citizens homes, getting youth involved with the older generations. He plans to put together a show for the end of every semester of classes that the community can come see.
“We’ll have a big performance,” Shannon says. “This is something different in comparison with other studios in general. It will have the production value of all the performances I’ve had in my life, including video, lights, etc.”
Shannon currently resides in Plainfield with his wife Kayla and their two daughters Miyah and Olivia. While his schedule takes him all over the place, he loves to spend time at home with his girls and of course, teach them drumming.
For more information on Shannon’s studio and lessons, visit his website at psdrumacademy.com.