15 (or so) Questions with Josh Jones - Principal Percussionist, Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra

15 (or so) Questions with Josh Jones - Principal Percussionist, Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra

The internet and social media can do some pretty incredible things, especially in terms of enabling connections between people and ideas that might not otherwise occur in the everyday physical space we each inhabit. I first heard about Josh Jones over a year and a half ago when a video popped up in my newsfeed. I shared the video, which detailed Josh's incredible musical journey, and went on my way. And then several months ago I started following him on Instagram, my interest piqued by his warm up routines and approach to technique development. On a whim I reached out and asked if he'd be interested in either writing a blog post for Liquidrum (about absolutely anything) or doing an interview-style exchange. We opted for the interview approach, at least for this first offering, and I'm thrilled to share this glimpse into Josh's life below.


TM: You recently won the position of Principal Percussionist of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. Who did you call first to share the good news with?

JJ: My Mom was the first person I called, but I forgot that I did not have international calls included in my cell phone plan. So I Facebook messaged her and the rest of my family instead.

TM: You seem to have a really nice blend of creativity and discipline in the practice room, and in particular with how those two things relate to technique work. How do you develop practice routines that remain fresh, balanced, and continually challenge your growth?

JJ: Part of what informs my practice is knowing how I work as a person. I know what keeps me engaged in school, a conversation, a relationship and in listening and studying music. If I find that something that I am doing is becoming boring or stale, I try to find a new way of looking at or approaching it. Not only that, but always having a new goal in mind when one has been achieved is a way to keep you going and interested. As far as balance, it's important to keep in mind that there is a lot to learn away from the instrument, as Jojo Mayer once said. Music is all about expressing feelings, events, life itself and the world. We cannot hope to achieve this level of expression by only living in a practice room. We have to take time for ourselves, not only for rest purposes, but to remain participants in the ever changing world. As we find more things to express, we challenge ourselves to grow in our ability to execute that expression. It's a road of endless growth and experience.

TM: If you had an infinite amount of time, what other craft/skill/hobby would you spend an inordinate amount of hours developing and enjoying outside of music?

JJ: I would totally spend my time either doing yoga and meditating, or listening to a number of audio books a day.

TM: Sports teams and marching bands have stylized uniforms or jerseys that sometimes represent the geography, culture, and/or perhaps corporate sponsors of their organizations. Do you ever see orchestras going in that direction or is the tuxedo here to stay?

 JJ: For orchestras like the Chicago Symphony and New York Philharmonic, I think the tradition of the tuxedo or tails is pretty set in stone. However, with the appearance of wind ensembles and smaller orchestras in different areas of the country, depending on their philosophy, we have a unique opportunity to interject and present a new example of the orchestra and even classical music to new and existing audiences. It just takes a collective effort and very frequent exposure.

TM: Which stick or mallet do you end up pulling out of your bag more than any other each day?

JJ: My hands tend to have a mind of their own sometimes. They may feel fine using one stick for three months, and then completely hate the stick for six months. The one I always use is a Freer General Orchestral stick, but I have seven pairs of that one stick. They all have different densities, weights, and rebound responses, so depending on the day, I'll use a particular version of that stick.

TM: Favorite 19th century piece?

JJ: Mahler's 2nd Symphony, hands down. I cry every time.

TM: Favorite 20th century piece?

JJ: This might be cheating, but Hans Zimmer's "To Die For" from The Lion King was the piece that made me want to play classical music. I literally would not be in the position I'm in right now without hearing that. But to stay Kosher, Prokofiev's 5th Symphony.

TM: Favorite 21st century piece?

JJ: Also could be cheating: Jojo Mayer's "Mind Wash" from his album Live in Europe. I literally listen to it every day. It will never get old for me. Again, to stay Kosher, John Williams' score from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is a piece I heard for the first time this year, and that's my favorite classical piece so far in this century.

TM: Coffee or tea? Or is caffeine nature's evil?

JJ: I prefer tea. Melissa Tea to be exact. I don't usually need coffee, because of my insane energy level, but I do drink it occasionally.

TM: Beer or wine? 

JJ: Wine, keep it classy. However, my favorite beer is Chicago Route 66 Root Beer, non-alcoholic.

TM: If you had to permanently eliminate an instrument (percussion or non-percussion) from the orchestra, which one would it be?

JJ: This is tough. Actually, no it isn't. Hand claps. I wish I could have an orchestra where I would never have to play hand claps in a piece ever again. Give that part to the audience.

TM: We know Berlioz liked opium a little too much. What other composer, based on their percussion writing, do you think tapped into some questionable substance usage?

JJ: Mahler. It's hard for me to believe that he could write such amazing and intense music, especially after the 5th Symphony, just by sitting at a desk and composing sober. If anything, I think he knew how to tap into his own zone that helped him access that state of being without any help from illegal substances, similar to meditative practices these days.

TM: How early do you show up to the hall before a performance?

JJ: I try to get there 2 hours before. Lots to prepare and I don't like rushing.

TM: Pre-concert warm up routine? 

JJ: I usually do a short yoga stretch to loosen my body up before I play anything, but especially for concerts. Then I have a specific stick control exercise routine that involves the basic stroke types and Moeller strokes. I usually play that along with a playlist I named "Hype".

TM: Complete this sentence — "A life in the orchestra is _____________."

JJ: "gratifying"

TM: Did you play a perfect Porgy at the Calgary audition?

JJ: Note perfect, yes. Musically perfect, not all the way through. They had us change the character and sound of the excerpts as we played with the orchestra, and though I did execute the changes well, sometimes I didn't fully invest my musicality to the performance. I was still happy with the result, but I wished I had been more resilient and consistent in my musical interpretation.

TM: Consider this scenario — you arrive at a dinner party and there are three groups of people having three different conversations. One group is discussing politics, the next is discussing religion, and the last group is discussion sports. Which group/conversation are you most eager to join?

JJ: I'd love to talk about religion actually. I grew up in a religious family and have a pretty unique experience and viewpoint.

TM: Which would you like to avoid like the plague?

JJ: Sports. I don't really care about them enough to study and actively participate, so I would avoid that crowd instantly.


Joshua Jones has been playing drums since the age of two. From accompanying church choirs to performing at Carnegie Hall, he has shared his passion for music with many people. Joshua began taking private lessons through the Chicago Symphony's Percussion Scholarship Program at the age of ten, and he continued his education at DePaul University, the Cleveland Institute of Music, and Carnegie Mellon University. He is currently an orchestra fellow with the Pittsburgh Symphony, but will soon begin working in his new role as Principal Percussionist of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. 

In his spare time Joshua enjoys studying acting and philosophy, watching Japanese anime and trying new foods and restaurants. Currently, he is writing a method book series, as well as teaching private lessons, clinics and masterclasses.

Todd Meehan is the founder of Liquidrum. He currently serves as the Associate Professor of Percussion and Division Director of Instrumental Studies at the Baylor University School of Music. Todd has performed as one half of the Meehan/ Perkins Duo since 2006 and was a founding member of So Percussion.


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