Expanding his horizons
Brian Kempson of Manchester got his first drum set when he was 1, and he’s been
drumming ever since.
“I was always beating on pots and pans – anything I could get my hands on,” he
says. “My dad decided it would be better if I had real drums to beat on.”
The rising senior music major says although he played drums in church and the
school band while growing up, he never learned music theory or how to read music.
That quickly changed when he began his studies at LaGrange.
“I was told I’d have to know how to read music, and I said, ‘Okaaay,” he says.
“But Dr. Toni Anderson (Coordinator of the music program) and Ken Passmore (Music
Instructor) took me under their wings and got me up to where I needed to be. I
really owe them for that.”
He also quickly realized that he didn’t know much about percussion, especially
"I had only played one instrument before I got here,” he says. “But now I’ve been
exposed to so many different kinds.”
A 2012 concert by the percussion group Nexus made a real impression on Brian.
“It was so inspiring to see how they’ve mastered every instrument imaginable,”
he says. “It’s great that they get to travel all over the world to perform and
see new things, new instruments, new music and to learn. I hope I will be able
to do that someday.”
Meanwhile, Brian has been taking advantage of every opportunity offered him at
“I played for (the musical) ‘Dames at Sea,’ which was something totally new to
me,” he says. “I also play at churches, for a pop group and with the jazz ensemble.
I’ve really had a chance to broaden my horizons.”
Perhaps his favorite activity has been his involvement with the school’s percussion
“I started with it my freshman year, the same year I believe it started. At first
we only had about four people.”
The new group performed a 30-minute concert at the end of that first year, and
it was so popular that they were asked to give another the following year.
Since then, the ensemble has steadily grown – as has its instruments. Last year,
brothers Dan and Austin Cook funded a purchase of new equipment in memory of their
“That gift has drawn in a lot more people,” he says. “Now we are at 12 or 13 people
in the ensemble.”
This spring, Brian was involved in a special tribute to the Cooks.
“Our big percussion concert this year was something we did to thank the Cooks
for their donation,” he says. “They loved it, and it was a great way to let them
know how much we appreciate everything they did for us.”
Brian says he is grateful for the many opportunities he’s been given to grow,
musically and socially.
“Coming from a small town where everybody knew everybody else, everybody was the
same,” he says. “There wasn’t an opportunity to learn social skills. But coming
here and meeting all these different people got me out of my shell.”
Brian says joining a fraternity was key in developing his ability to interact
“I’m a pretty quiet guy, so it’s always been a little hard for me to go up and
start talking to other people,” he says. “But my fraternity brothers helped me
get over that. LaGrange has really helped me broaden my outlook on a lot
of different things.”
As he prepares to enter his senior year, Brian already has begun planning his
“It’s going to be my dream recital, on steroids,” he says with a laugh. “I want
to focus on American rhythms like jazz and ragtime – a lot of jazz and ragtime.”
The young musician says he still has a lot to learn, admitting there are times
he loses his place in the music when he is performing.
“I get so caught up in the sounds I am making that I lose track of where I am,”
And therein lies his greatest lesson, he says.
“Ken Passmore has taught me how important discipline is,” he says. “That was one
thing he told me when I came here.
He said I was very talented, but I needed discipline to harness my talent. He
was so right. That’s something I’m still working on.”