• Drum Set and Percussion Setups from Musical Theatre and More

Justin Akira Kono - Ragtime

Justin’s setup for Ragtime at the Prairie Lakes Community Center in Des Plaines, Illinois.

“Being heavily involved in musical theater as a player and as a music director for over ten years, people were shocked to hear that I had never seen or heard the music to Ragtime. When I was given the gig, I confess that I thought it would be a lighthearted affair, filled with Joplin style showtunes. You can imagine my surprise when I found out that the story revolved around the oppression of African Americans and Jewish immigrants in America circa 1902, accompanied by lush, soaring orchestrations, the likes one might find in a Disney creation. As a pit percussionist there are two ways to think about such a score: 1) This will be boring because I don’t get to rock out on drum set, or 2) This will be an exciting challenge, putting my drum and percussion chops to the test. I thought the latter.

From the moment I received my music, it was critical to me that I owned all the necessary tools to successfully execute the score’s demands. Like many percussionists out there, I don’t own a set of timpani or a concert bass drum, so I knew I would have to sample these items on a synthesizer and a Roland Hand Sonic 10 respectively. It was evident that careful planning would have to go into my setup to ensure maximum fluidity between instruments. While drum set is common throughout the show, the score calls for plenty of orchestral percussion, including glockenspiel, ratchet, anvil, woodblocks, and of course, triangles. Within the first few pages, I saw that it would be impossible to play triangle for a bar or two and then immediately switch to sticks to cover something else.

Thanks to the internet, I was privy to a tool called the Miller Machine; an ingenious one-handed triangle solution that I literally felt was made just for me. The device is easily mountable (I use mine on an LP Everything Rack) and plays like a dream, whether you flick the built-in beater with your fingertip or tap it with the butt end of a stick. The Miller Machine is far superior in creating an ergonomic implementation of your triangle than simply clamping it to a music stand, requiring you to still spend precious seconds to grab a beater, not to mention the possibility of weighing your stand down if you have a heavy Abel triangle like I do!

There is nothing on the market quite like the Miller Machine. I highly recommend it to everyone, especially gigging pit percussionists. Thank you, Billy Miller, for your marriage of innovation and quality!”

Justin is a member of the Chicago Federation of Musicians Local 10-208 and is also the Music Director at The School of Performing Arts in Naperville, Illinois.

For a detailed description of his gear, be sure to check out Justin’s video tour of this Ragtime setup.