Organization prepares next generation of Black percussionists

By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — Raynor Carroll was a Los Angeles Philharmonic principal percussionist/timpanist for 33 years.

He remembers looking out into the audience over the years and seeing only “older white folks.”

“By my eyes, there wasn’t a good representation of the community,” said Carroll, who retired from the Philharmonic in 2016, after joining as co-principal percussionist/timpanist during the 1983-84 season. “It starts from the top. The conductor, orchestra, administration and the audience. It all needs to represent the community. It’s a problem that’s been there for many years.”

The “problem” as Carroll sees it, is not only the lack of diversity in the Philharmonic’s audiences but also in the orchestra itself.

“I’ve been on the audition committee for the Philharmonic,” said Carroll, who performed under conductors Carlo-Maria Giulini, André Previn, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Leonard Bernstein, Pierre Boulez, Simon Rattle, and Zubin Mehta. “When auditions happened, they had a screen up so they couldn’t see who was playing. But when it gets down to the final round, the screen comes down, and all these other things come into practice.”

For years, Carroll, a Baltimore native who moved to Pasadena with his family at the age of 4, wanted to help other Black percussionists get started in the industry by mentoring them and showing them the ropes.

“I love giving back,” said Carroll, who graduated from Cal State L.A. with a bachelor’s degree in music. “I have a big passion for it. That’s one of the reasons why we started the organization.”

The organization of which Carroll speaks is the Alliance of Black Orchestral Percussionists, one of the only organizations dedicated to fostering growth, networking and career development for Black percussionists.

“Black percussionists are eager to have careers in symphonic orchestras — more now than 20-30 years ago,” said Carroll, who is also founder and owner of Batterie Music, a publishing company specializing in music for the symphonic percussionist. 

The Alliance of Black Orchestral Percussionists provides professional development to young and emerging Black percussionists seeking a career specifically in symphonic percussion.

On May 26-31, the alliance will host its second annual weeklong intensive study, ABOP-in-LA at the Judith and Thomas L. Beckman YOLA Center, 101 S. La Brea Ave. in Inglewood. Several of the organization’s events will be open to the public for the first time, welcoming aspiring Black percussionists and percussion instructors to experience its unwavering commitment to inclusivity, artistic exploration and the advancement of diverse talent within the orchestral community.

There will be workshops, master classes and repertoire reading sessions with a full orchestra led by Charles Dickerson, founder and artistic director of the Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles during which, the protégés play selected excerpts. The immersive experience also includes field trips.  

The week will culminate with a final celebratory recital performed by the protégés that includes group and solo pieces.

When Carroll decided to start an organization to help percussionists of color, he called on his fellow musician friends across the country.

“They all thought it was a fantastic idea,” said Carroll, who made numerous recordings with the Philharmonic and for motion picture soundtracks, with film credits that include “How to Make an American Quilt,” “A Walk in the Clouds,” “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Dead Poets Society.” “We all recognized the void. There are so many issues there.”

Michael Crusoe, who was the principal timpanist of the Seattle Symphony for 37 years, is one of the ABOP founders. Crusoe, who retired from the symphony in 2017, now plays occasionally with the Las Vegas Philharmonic.

“ABOP is important because of the lack of representation of Black musicians in symphony orchestras, especially in the area of percussion,” Crusoe said. “It’s important to develop young Black musicians. It gets back to education.

“Music programs in the inner city don’t emphasize classical,” he added. “When you do have young, Black musicians who go into the field of music, they go into jazz or rap. There are Black musicians in symphonies but not in percussion. We want to raise the consciousness while all of us who are or were principals, are still alive.”

Other founders of the alliance include Tim Adams (principal timpanist with the Pittsburgh Symphony), Douglas Cardwell (principal timpanist with the New Mexico Philharmonic), Josh Jones (principal percussion for the Kansas City Symphony), Jauvon Gilliam (principal timpanist with the National Symphony) and Johnny Lee “Black Godfather” Lane, (director of education for Remo, Inc.) who teaches at Eastern Illinois University.

“We all talked about the resources that were needed,” said Carroll, who was influenced by his mentor Mitch Peters, a principal percussionist and timpanist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. “It takes some financial backing to take private lessons and the instruments. 

“Percussion is different. There are an endless amount of instruments. When auditioning you have to play a concert. There’s the snare drum, mallet instruments and timpani, which is a set of four kettle drums.”

Carroll, who taught timpani and percussion privately and at Cal State Los Angeles and Cal State Long Beach, said access to those instruments is difficult.

“So, we partnered with 12 percussion companies, who gave us instruments,” he said. “There is no one else out there doing this. It’s a shame. There is an opportunity there. We need more to be out there.  

“I want to increase the odds and level the playing field. It’s not happening. Symphony orchestras are like country clubs. Not all, but a lot. It’s a prestigious job. They want to keep to their own.”

Carroll said the alliance is open to anyone.

“If they aren’t aware when listening to a soundtrack that it’s an orchestra, they are probably more interested in something else,” Carroll said. “We’d like to work with musicians who are in middle school, high school and college. If they are in middle school, the more time we have to work with them. Our number one goal is to prepare them for their college audition.”

Carroll said whenever he teaches he sees talent.

“The problem is that they hadn’t been given the guidance and direction they needed,” he said. “During auditions, they want to play what they want to play instead of what they’ve been asked to play. There is a disconnect. You have to play what they ask. Don’t come and say the song they asked you to play doesn’t resonate with you.”

Through comprehensive training and mentorship, the alliance prepares Black percussionists for the concert stage thereby changing the future face of symphonic orchestras nationwide.

Carroll, 66, said classical musicians of color rarely have or see colleagues who look like them.

“ABOP aims to promote social change by increasing the number of highly trained Black percussionists,” he said.

Regardless of age, gender, socio-economic status, or geographic location, the goal of the alliance is to lift Black percussionists through a program of instruction, workshops and performance opportunities.

Carroll said there was “no easy road” when he began his career, but he persisted.

“I started studying in the sixth grade,” Carroll said. “In seventh grade, I started with the beginning band in Pasadena. I loved it. When I was in high school, the orchestra played a piece that resonated with me. I started listening to classical music. Then I heard another piece — Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.”

Carroll said, “It blows you away.”

Carroll’s musical interests don’t lie solely with classical.

“Before I got into classical, I was into R&B,” said Carroll, an avid Los Angeles Rams fan who loves to travel to exotic places. “I was into The Temptations, Sly and the Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix, and jazz. I also played drums in my middle brother’s band. But there was something about classical music.”

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Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at