Jauvon Gilliam ’01 came to Butler on a full piano scholarship. He left a timpanist—and a darn good one.
In the years since he graduated with a degree in arts administration, he went on to perform with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra for seven years and, for the past five-plus years, as the principal timpanist for the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, DC. He’s also performed with the symphony orchestras in Cleveland, San Francisco, Detroit, and Indianapolis, as well as the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.
“I feel like I have the best job in the world—I get paid to beat stuff,” he said with a laugh. “I get paid to bang on drums.”
Gilliam had played a little bit of drums and percussion in youth orchestra while in high school, but it wasn’t until his sophomore year at Butler when he met Percussion Artist in Residence Jon Crabiel that he thought about timpani.
“We had a three-minute conversation,” Gilliam recalled, “and he said, ‘You know, you can make money playing drums.’ I said, ‘Really?’”
He talked it over with his piano teacher/academic advisor, Steve Roberson, who told Gilliam to follow his heart. Two days later, he changed his major to devote full time to timpani.
From his piano training, Gilliam already knew how to make music. What he needed was a proficient teacher who could instruct him in technique. He found that in Crabiel.
After a year of Crabiel’s tutelage, he was playing at a national percussion convention.
“I cannot give him enough praise,” Gilliam said. I’ve called him a hundred times and said, ‘Dude, I love you, thank you, because I couldn’t have done it without you.’”
Professors Crabiel, Roberson, and Dan Bolin, he said, “were like father figures to me. Even thinking of it now, I wish I could give all three of them a hug because I couldn’t have done it without them.”