John H. Beck: The Snare that Auditioned 1,618 Students

SKF NOTE: What a great project for a videographer: Chronicling John H. Beck’s stories as he “whittles down” the memorabilia in his music studio.

Drumming up, sorting out the stuff of a lifetime
Jim Memmott 3:09 p.m. EST January 27, 2015


History is made up of stuff. Letters, books, pictures, snare drums, stuff.

“For some reason, I never threw anything away,” says John H. Beck as he looks at his history, his stuff.

It’s all there in his full-almost-to-the-brim studio in the Anderson Alley Artists building…in Rochester. It’s cataloged, counted and cared for, but, really, Beck suggests, some things have to go.

For the moment, the studio holds materials from when Beck, who is 81, started playing the drums in bar bands as a 13-year-old in Lewisburg, Pa.

In 1951, he arrived at the Eastman School, with the ultimate goal of being…a younger Gene Krupa. “Once I got to Eastman, …I got hooked on classics,” he says.

In 1959, Beck came back to Eastman [School]…as a teacher of percussion, …for 49 years. [H]e also was a percussionist and timpanist for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra for 44 years.

[N]o wonder that his studio is overflowing….

“Almost everything in here has a story,” Beck says….

Beck points out a snare drum. It’s a Rogers Dyna-Sonic…. …Beck used that drum to audition 1,618 students for admission to Eastman.

“They were the major drummers of their towns,” Beck says. [B]ut of those who auditioned, only 258 were accepted.

His students include Steve Gadd….

“I didn’t really teach him,” Beck says with a smile. “I just guided him.”

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