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  • Melissa Trier Kirk, viola

Doug Waddell: Good Deeds

Doug Waddell with PSG alumni, June 7, 2015

Where do you find Doug Waddell, assistant principal percussionist at Lyric Opera, when he’s not playing glockenspiel, snare drum, xylophone, bass drum, triangle, cymbals, castanets, maracas, tambourine, gongs, chimes, timpani, or wind machine? You will find him glued to his computer, enmeshed in Finale, working on arrangements for the Percussion Scholarship Group (PSG) a program that offers free instruction to exceptionally talented inner city youth grades 4-12.

Doug and his wife, Chicago Symphony percussionist Patricia Dash, started PSG in 1995 as an experimental project for Chicago Public School students.

“Without exception, all of our kids' grades went up” We start with kids the summer before they go into 4th grade. They start in June and have their first major test in August. We may start with 10 and we’ll keep 4 or 5. Then we have another test in February and we lose a couple there. If they don’t pass they’re out. We have to find out if they want to practice! We establish the practice routine right from the start or it’s an uphill struggle, 45 minutes a day, 7 days a week, no exceptions.

We spend a lot of time teaching how to practice. Playing an instrument is hard work! It’s a serious business. Our philosophy is, we’re going to show you how to do it, and it may not always be fun. Without exception, all of our kids' grades went up!

“They learn time management”

The toughest time is between 8th and 9th grade, so many distractions. We drill them to find out when they are wasting time. “When do you get up? What do you do on the bus? When I’ve gone from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., usually I can grab about 2 hours of time they can use. Then I get them to make lists. At this time everyday you’re going to do your 45 minutes of snare drum practice and then you’re going to do your 45 minutes of marimba practice.

“He wouldn’t have gone to college”

We had an African American kid, single mom, bad neighborhood, 8th grade. We had a “call in“ system to get your assignments and he called in and didn’t hang up. He went on for about ten minutes to his friends about this thing he did with white people. Within a couple of months he quit. Fast forward 10 years and Patsy did a concert with the CSO in the prisons and a guard came up, the step dad of DeAndre, the kid who’d quit. He wanted to thank us for what we’d done for him! DeAndre had gotten a full music scholarship to college playing percussion. He would never have gone to college if he hadn’t been involved with PSG. He’s now working for a major corporation.

“A four year full ride”

Joshua Jones is probably the best student we’ve ever had. He was in the program for nine years and served as an assistant to me while in college. He got a four year, free ride to DePaul and right now he’s performing with the Detroit Symphony as part of a African American Orchestra Fellowship Program. We’ve had three at Manhattan School of Music, full ride, three to Harvard, one to Yale, one to Princeton, one to Stanford, Northwestern, and Michigan State. Mr. Waddell’s 2006 graduate Yi Wei performed on the PBS radio show, “From the Top”, was guest soloist with the Chicago Symphony, and graduated from Harvard University. Since the group’s inception, 100% of the PSG graduating classes were enrolled in college and all have received degrees from their respective universities.

As for “From the Top”, we’ve had 11 students appear on the show, a total of 13 different episodes. The National Youth Orchestra holds annual nationwide auditions for four coveted percussion spots. PSG members have won a spot each year!

No wonder Doug is proud.

Check out the PSG 20th anniversary concert video below!

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