Sam Schmetterer, principal percussionist
Born in Chicago and current resident of Quincy, Sam Schmetterer is the NEP’s principal percussionist, and has played with the orchestra since 2010. Our violinist and board member Charles Lin sat down with him this week to chat about Radiohead, Iceland, and his fondness for his didgeridoo.
CL: How did your musical journey begin, let me guess, a drum set for the holidays?
SS: I actually started on the piano in third grade because my best friend’s mother was a piano teacher. Then I started playing percussion in a band in fourth grade, and have been playing every since. I did my undergraduate at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, then I completed my Master in Conducting at American Band College – Sam Houston State University in Ashland, Oregon.
CL: When you are not performing with the NEP, what are you up to?
SS: I teach music at Duxbury Middle School and High School, where I teach beginning instrumental lessons, band, orchestra, percussion, and steel drums. I often perform with the Brookline Symphony Orchestra, Boston Civic Symphony, and Quincy Symphony. I am also a director of MIT’s Gamelan Galak Tika, which is a Balinese musical ensemble that performs throughout New England.
CL: What is your fondest NEP memory?
SS: Britten’s War Requiem at Boston’s Cathedral of Holy Cross in 2012. It is such an iconic masterpiece of the 20th Century, combining full orchestra, chamber orchestra, adult chorus, children’s chorus, organ, and vocal soloists. The anti-war text took on special significance when we performed it at the cathedral.
CL: Aside from your adventures on stage with the NEP, I heard you had quite an adventure in Iceland? You weren’t playing with Björk, were you?
SS: I was in Iceland this past February. Everything is covered in ice and snow, which made driving through the country one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. All I could see was white, and the only way I knew I was still on the road was reflective poles on the sides. I didn’t meet Björk, but got to experience some of Iceland’s amazing natural features: northern lights, waterfalls, and geothermal pools.
CL: Did I hear that you’ve also been in 7 movies, tell me more, how did that happen?
SS: When I’m not teaching in the summer, I’ll work as an extra on movies that are filming around Boston. It’s a lot of fun, and I’ve gotten to film scenes with Melissa McCarthy and the Rock. I was also in Spotlight, which won the Oscar for Best Picture.
CL: Okay getting back to music, I have to ask what is a didgeridoo and how did you come to own one?
SS: During college I studied abroad in Australia, where I learned to play the didgeridoo, which is an Aboriginal wind instrument that can create some pretty unique sounds. In the summer I teach classes where students can learn to play and make their own didgeridoo!
CL: So now for the important question – what is your go-to Karaoke song?
SS: I would have to say “Creep” by Radiohead. They are one of my favorite bands because of how they continue to push the boundaries of rock music. I’ve seen them live three times over the past decade, and their Madison Square Garden show last July was the first time they played “Creep” in over 10 years!
CL: Finally, we’ve got NEP’s first concert of the 40th anniversary season coming up on October 29 at the Tsai Performance Center. What piece are you most looking forward to performing?
SS: I am really excited to play the xylophone part on the piece Xylophonic! But also Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra is one of the most important pieces of the last century, and really features everyone in the orchestra. I’ve been studying the score, and I’m amazed at how Bartok combines folk songs with all these advanced compositional techniques.