Percussion Professor Keeps in Rhythm with UNCG Music Students

Posted on May 10, 2024

The UNCG Percussion Ensemble performs onstage.
The UNCG Percussion Ensemble performs at the April 2021 world premiere of "CAOS" by Colombian-composer Jhon Ciro.

Percussion students from UNC Greensboro have won prestigious competitions, performed at Carnegie Hall, or gone on to teach at major universities and entertain children in the community. They got their start with a professor who’s learned how to set a tempo they can follow from beginning to end. 

Dr. Eric Willie, assistant professor of percussion, celebrated a decade with UNCG’s School of Music by receiving the annual Board of Governors Excellence in Teaching Award, which was officially given to him during the Spring 2024 Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony. It one additional accolade that speaks to his reputation among students and his peers in academia.

In his letter of recommendation for Willie’s award, University of Alabama’s Percussion Studies Director Andrew Lynge says, “Dr. Willie is a percussion virtuoso, equally exceptional as both an educator and performer.”

Music to the Ears 

The first time Willie taught percussion was at a summer music camp, when his high school band director asked him to help. He was just 16 at the time. Percussion Professor John Parks says he recognized Willie as a rising star while a graduate student at the University of North Texas.

“Dr. Willie’s service to the profession is more than appropriate for this point in his career,” Parks says. “He has been heavily involved at every level of the Percussive Arts Society for many years – adjudication, committee work, as a clinician, conductor – and simply being a percussionist in a university music program demands a high degree of service.”

Dr. Eric Willie in a group shot with the UNCG Percussion Ensemble.
UNCG’s Percussion Ensemble with Dr. Willie on the left.

UNCG hired Willie in 2014, ending a period of instability for its percussion students who had seen three different professors over three years. Willie found a rhythm, establishing a curriculum that students could keep up with from their first year into graduate studies. He says it “allows the student to develop the mastery of their profession with regards to music performance. It also teaches time management and the creation of hierarchies in their task list.”

Along with group sessions, one-on-one lessons help Willie understand each student’s experience and personal goals. He tries to build upon their abilities demonstrated in their first class, moving from simple melodies to more complicated standards through the semesters.

“Dr. Willie has fostered an environment of musical success with individualized student growth,” says Dr. Lamon Lawhorn from Virginia State University, who was the student representative on Willie’s hiring committee at UNCG. “Although he has the curriculum in place for student development, he makes sure that each student becomes aware of their own musical voice and works to mature their craft to the highest level.”

He also teaches the role of percussion across cultures, delving into ceremonies and rituals found around the world. Having had two women as his first instructors, Willie makes sure the program promotes inclusivity.

From Apprehensive to Award-Winning 

Before coming to UNCG, Willie put many years into refining the undergraduate percussion curriculum at Tennessee Tech University. Coming to UNCG brought a new challenge – to create labs for percussion students suitable for a research institution.

“I realized that the UNCG Percussion Ensemble was my lab setting,” says Willie. “Here, the students have the opportunity to work collectively to solve problems, troubleshoot, and hypothesize how to improve their craft, as well as gaining the feeling of becoming part of a larger community.”

Percussion Ensemble’s performance at “CAOS” in April 2021.

UNCG’s Percussion Ensemble has won the Percussive Arts Society International Percussion Ensemble Competition (PASIC) twice under Willie’s direction, the first during his first year. He has also performed at or conducted at ten PASICs. The ensemble got to perform at the coveted International Percussive Arts Society.

Some of his students went on to become soloists who won the American Protégé International Concerto Competition at Carnegie Hall. This summer, one student is in the international steel band panorama competition in St. Lucia. Their performances are not just for other professionals; they’ve brought entertainment to local families through a partnership with the Community Theatre of Greensboro.

Recalling those first days at UNCG, Willie says, “Many students were initially apprehensive. However, I was able to generate a community of like-minded young professionals who developed a peer-learning system that is still in place ten years later.”

Story by Janet Imrick, University Communications 
Photography courtesy of Dr. Eric Willie and Dr. Annie Jeng, College of Visual and Performing Arts

UNCG students play drums and strings in an orchestra.

Harmonize with prestigious professors.


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