At age 23, Brett Paschal is an accomplished marimbist and a published composer.
Today, he graduates from Eastern Washington University, one of nearly 2,500 students getting degrees.
To Paschal, music is like language. The beats and notes are words. Rhythms and melodies, the sentences.
“It’s always been fun for me,” said Paschal. “It’s never ever been work.”
Paschal exudes a passion for music that shows how education can bring out the best in eager, talented students.
Music resonates within him like the beat of a gong. Complex sequences are imprinted in his mind.
During practice this week, he picked up four mallets, two in each hand, and started playing a 6-foot-long marimba with its flat wooden keys ranging from bass to treble.
“We can do Bach,” he said, showing off a sample of the great composer’s work.
“We can do Japanese-style music,” he said next, filling the rehearsal room with the sounds of the Orient.
Then came the softer sound of a church-like hymn. “There are many pretty things written for the marimba, like chorales,” he said.
And finally, the flavor of a salsa. “We do a lot of Hispanic-sounding music,” Paschal said.
“I just love this instrument.”
In the world of music, Paschal is a percussionist, someone who plays the drums and tambourine, but also more difficult instruments like the marimba, xylophone and vibraphone. He is specializing in the latter.
Adopted as a baby, Paschal said he is part Blackfeet Indian. He was drawn to music early, started drumming at age 7 and for years played with the Percussionaut Patriots group.
“My parents never made me practice,” he said.
Instead, his parents, Brian and Dori Paschal, arranged private lessons with one of Spokane’s top percussionists, EWU music professor Martin Zyskowski, who plays in the Spokane Symphony.
After graduating from Central Valley High School, Paschal enrolled at Eastern so he could continue studying under Zyskowski.
Now, he is finishing with two bachelor’s degrees, one in music composition and the other in percussion performance.
During his senior recital this week, he performed nearly 90 minutes of music he composed himself.
One of his works, “The Creation,” was published by an Ohio firm and is intended as musical accompaniment to a reading from the Book of Genesis.
“He is truly a remarkable talent,” Zyskowski said.
Not only is he developing strong technical skill as a concert performer, Paschal is learning the deeper ability to express mood and feeling through music, Zyskowski said.
At Eastern, Paschal got a taste of the basics of some 300 different percussion instruments, including a collection of African drums obtained by the university through its connection with professors at a sister university in Ghana.
Part of studying percussion is learning its primal significance to human culture such as the use of drums for tribal dancing and celebrations.
“How can you play an instrument without knowing the mindset of the people who invented it?” he said.
In July, Paschal and his wife, Anita, are moving to Knoxville, Tenn., where Paschal will become a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Tennessee and a performer in the Knoxville Symphonic Orchestra.
His goal is to earn a doctoral degree and teach music at a college or university.
Already, his career is studded with awards. He won a Chase Youth Award for creativity in 1991. He took four first-place awards in state competitions in high school, and won the young artist division in Spokane’s Allied Arts Festival.
Two years ago, he came in fourth place in a national competition.
“Once I start playing, I’m in my own little world,” said Paschal.
But one of the joys of music, he said, is to find that groove with other musicians where each individual instrument becomes part of a whole.
“You are talking together,” he said.
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