Graduate student masters percussion

Classically-trained percussionist, Thulani Mason hopes to teach music, perform in Japan in future



Graduate student Thulani Mason playing the marimba on Tuesday in Kimbrough Music Hall. He also plays piano, guitar and vibraphone.

BLAINE ROSS, Evergreen reporter

In a hallway lit the by the glow of fluorescent lights, you can almost always see someone in a cramped room housing a single marimba and other percussion equipment. This space is reserved for dedicated marimbists who put in hours of hard work to become great musicians.

Graduate student Thulani Mason, 22, is one of these individuals.

Earning his undergrad in contemporary music performance at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design in Santa Fe, New Mexico, he moved to Pullman last fall. Mason is in the second semester of his music performance graduate degree with an emphasis in jazz.

He plans to pursue a doctorate in his field of study, followed by a career in teaching and performing.

Mason removed the faded black leather cover from the marimba and took out his mallets to play. He pounded away at the wooden shafts that give the marimba its earthy sound and played a beautiful and rhythmic percussion solo. When he finished performing, he set down his mallets and humbly explained that the composition did not have a name, he was just messing around.

Mason comes from a broad musical background. He said his parents played a large role in forming his musicianship. He was homeschooled until the eighth grade during which time his parents decided to begin teaching him and his brothers music.

“My first instrument was the congas,” he said, “and that’s what I played in church at the age of 7, so I was all about rhythm.”

At home, Mason and his brothers learned to read and write music, play guitar, piano and recorder from their mother.

“We started out with that,” Mason said, “and I kept up with guitar, which became my second instrument.”

Classically trained in advanced percussion, Mason was inducted into the Chicago City Orchestra in eighth grade. He said that during this time, he was exposed to a wide range of musical genres.

“When I would come from Saturday rehearsals, on the radio they’d play some jazz songs,” he said. “At the time, I didn’t really know or remember, but I was definitely into jazz and didn’t even know it at the time.”

At WSU, Mason plays in three different groups: WSU Big Band I, the percussion ensemble led by Dave Jarvis, and a trio jazz combo with Dave Snider playing bass and Hunter Thompson on the drum set.

Not only is he an impressive mallet and marimba player, but Mason also plays jazz vibraphone and is a self-taught pianist, singer/songwriter and rapper.

Mason said he doesn’t have much time to rest and relax as a graduate student. Besides his academic obligations such as homework, performing and working as a teacher’s assistant for associate professor Horace Young, he works as a stagehand for the School of Music.

Outside of the realm of music, Mason said he likes to watch anime and is teaching himself Japanese with hopes of performing in Japan in the future.

“It’s really cool and really addicting,” he said, “because the style of the animation and the plot gives off this really mature vibe even though people call them cartoons.”

Mason said compared to his last university, WSU is very different when it comes to approaching the musical arts. He said the university’s research focus provided an interesting challenge.

“At my other school, it was very performance-heavy and I had a lot of liberties with it being a liberal arts school,” he said. “It’s totally different coming here where it’s [centered on] research and scholarship … but I like researching and doing that kind of stuff.”