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If you’ve ever watched the National Symphony Orchestra perform, you can’t help but notice Jauvon Gilliam.
He is after all, the man whose thunderous beats on the taut skins of his beloved timpani set the rhythm for one of the premier orchestral bodies in the world — and it’s been that way for more than a dozen years.
Not bad for a kid from Gary, Indiana, whose father carefully guided him into a life of music — and for very good reason.
“My dad had me in music when I was a little kid to keep me safe and to keep me away from some of the other stuff that was around when I was growing up,” he told Fox News.
“And I think it just kind of stuck.”
Indeed, it stuck all right — stuck like new sneakers on hot, fresh asphalt during an Indiana summer.
Gilliam’s skill as a concert pianist launched him into a true musical odyssey, one that would take him to Butler University in Indianapolis on a music scholarship and to performances all over the world.
But as great as that was, once he took up the timpani, he knew he’d found his true orchestral home.
“They can detach from everything else that they’re doing to make the world a better place.”
Unsurprisingly, Gilliam excelled as ever.
He was named principal timpanist of the National Symphony Orchestra in 2009 at age 29.
Since then, he’s played for just about every kind of lawmaker you can think of, not to mention presidents and leaders from around the globe.
“They come here for two-and-a-half hours, they can turn their phone off, they can detach from everything else that they’re doing to make the world a better place,” he said.
Making the world a better place is what drives Gilliam.
When he’s not playing with the NSO, or working around the spectacular Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Gilliam is most likely to be at the University of Maryland.
There, he’s opened a recording studio and instrument rental company to support aspiring artists of all backgrounds. He freely admits that central to his personal mission to inspire is cultivating the work of other Black artists.
“I think for me, it’s about paying it forward,” he said. “It’s about making sure that people that look like me and you have the opportunities that they might not have known that they had otherwise.”
“It’s important for us to make sure that everybody is aware of where we’ve come from and where we’re trying to go.”
Back at the Kennedy Center, Gilliam’s signature brand of timpani sticks seem as much a reflection of his style as it does his discipline.
His is a strong desire to connect what he calls “the outside world” to his world — where the only thing that really matters is the music.
“It’s important for us to make sure that everybody is aware of where we’ve come from and where we’re trying to go,” he said.
“As long as we can communicate and connect with each other, I think that’s the main impetus to get us to move forward.”
And that, it would seem, is a beat that anyone can drum to today.