So you want my arts job: Percussionist and Music Lecturer

From playing drums and singing in a Dixieland band, to teaching music students at Charles Darwin University, Vincent Perry's work week is never dull.
Vincent Perry, Lecturer in Contemporary Music at Charles Darwin University.

Vincent Perry once busked on the streets of Queensland to pay his TAFE fees. Now he’s an accomplished percussionist with the Darwin Symphony Orchestra and a lecturer in Contemporary Music at Charles Darwin University in the blossoming new CDU Academy of the Arts.

After completing his PhD (on the history of the Motown Record Label), Perry found his passion for teaching and he’s spent the past 10 years in the tertiary sector, teaching the history of music and nurturing young musicians. He moved to Darwin six months ago to join CDU, serving students in the Northern Territory and those who come from elsewhere to study. As well as teaching and performing in the Darwin Symphony Orchestra, Perry plays in multiple bands and is a supporter of the Darwin music scene, which he says is unlike any other city, especially in the dryer, cooler months.

ArtsHub catches up with Vincent Perry to ask about combining his work as a practising musician with being an educator and academic.

How would you describe what you do to someone at a party?

Have you ever watched the film School of Rock (2003)? As a lecturer, I am essentially the living embodiment of Jack Black’s alias Mr Schneebly! As a percussionist, I would describe myself as the ‘Swiss Army Knife’ of Darwin’s music scene. I play every genre of music, including rock, pop, R&B, jazz, soul, folk, country, electronic, dance, classical and orchestral.

How did you get started in your career?

I started my music career on Anzac Day 1996, while performing for my primary school marching band, and I haven’t stopped playing music since. Professionally speaking, my first experience of performing in contemporary bands was during my first year at TAFE Queensland, way back in 2005. That same year I started busking with a local jazz quartet on the streets of Fortitude Valley on Friday and Saturday nights. I made enough money to pay my rent, pay for TAFE tuition costs, and have enough left over for a cheap café breakfast and bus ride home with my drum gear! From those humble beginnings, I’ve gone on to forge a professional career in music and also complete a PhD in music.

In a nutshell, what was your PhD thesis?

I focused on the Motown Record Company and wrote a thesis and produced an accompanying album for my doctoral study. The thesis investigated the history, songwriting, production and ensemble processes at Motown during the Detroit years (1959 – 1971). And the album was a ‘Brisbane answer to Motown’. A collection of Brisbane musicians led by me formed a Motown-inspired band, wrote original songs inspired by Motown, recreated a basement recording studio, and produced eight tracks that utilised 1960s and ’70s-style recording production techniques. 

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What’s an average day or week like?

In a word: random! One day, I’m playing drums and singing for a Dixieland jazz band, the next I’m playing a conga with the Darwin Symphony Orchestra on the Sunrise program at 6am in the morning, then the next week I could be playing drums for local country artist, Tracey Bunn. Just recently I’ve even played bass drum in the Darwin Anzac Day Parade! My musical commitments are varied and often random, but that’s one the main reasons I love my chosen career and industry.

What’s the most common misconception about being a percussionist and/or music lecturer?

Great question! We’ll start with being a percussionist. The most common misconception about being a percussionist (or a drummer) is that I am simply ‘someone who hangs out with real musicians’. Harsh and totally unfair! As a percussionist, I am expected to play a multitude of instruments to professional level, including drum kit, crash cymbals, tambourine, triangle, timpani, mallet percussion (glockenspiel, xylophone, marimba, vibraphone), tubular bells, hand percussion (bongos and congas) and the list goes on and on.

As a music lecturer, people (mainly my students), assume that I have listened to and have played every song ever composed. I simply haven’t! One of the best parts of my role as an educator is being introduced to new music or obscure music that I have discovered.

Read: Why I studied… Master of Contemporary Art at VCA

If you were interviewing someone for your job, what skills and qualities would you look for?

Anyone who is considering pursuing a career in any music job must be passionate. Everything starts with that. Everything. Next, I’d be looking for people who are resilient, because the industry is harsh, cut-throat and attracts criticism from a wide range of people in society who either don’t understand and/or respect the performing arts industry. Last, I’m always on the lookout for selfless musicians who want to serve music. Everyone wants to be the star, but every star needs a committed band to back them. Serve the song. Always!

Vincent Perry, percussionist and music lecturer. Image supplied.

What’s the best thing happening in your field at the moment?

Right now, in Darwin, we are coming into the dry season, so there are lot of amazing musical festivals and events about to take place. I’ll be performing with Sarah Baxter at the Nightcliff Seabreeze Festival in May. Also, I highly recommend that if you are thinking about studying music, consider enrolling in a CUA30920 Certificate III in Music and CUA40920 Certificate IV in Music where students learn a range of skills including performance music and how to write and create songs, as well as about the music business and industry in the Northern Territory and Australia. We’ve just launched our Academy of the Arts at CDU, so there’s no better time to enrol in an arts course than right now.

First published 1 May 2023.

Rochelle Siemienowicz is the ArtsHub Group's Education and Career Editor. She was previously a journalist for Screenhub and is a writer, film critic and cultural commentator with a PhD in Australian cinema. She was the co-host of Australia's longest-running film podcast 'Hell is for Hyphenates' and has written a memoir, Fallen, published by Affirm Press. Her second book, Double Happiness, a novel, will be published by Midnight Sun in 2024. Instagram: @Rochelle_Rochelle Twitter: @Milan2Pinsk