Percussion student takes honors across the globe

MSU grad student channels creativity, garners recognition through percussion instruments.

Far right, Yun Ju Pan plays the marimba and singing piece “Come Get Together” in the final round of the the Australian Marimba Competition in Melbourne.
All the judges and semi-finalists of 2016 Australia Marimba Competition take the stage for a group photo.
Yun Ju Pan plays the marimba and singing piece “Come Get Together” in the final round of the competition.

Yun Ju “Alice” Pan will laugh and tell you she didn’t have the patience for piano. But her accomplishments with the marimba reveal her talent and her devotion to keyboard-driven percussion instruments.

In August 2016, the MSU doctoral student of percussion performance took first place honors in the Australian Marimba Competition.  The annual competition in Melbourne is a hallmark event of the Australian Percussion Academy—a global organization that fosters excellences in percussion education and performance.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Yun Ju Pan says. “From the very first day I arrived in Australia, I heard other competitors and never thought I would win against people who were so very, very good.”

While not a natural competitor, Yun Ju Pan is driven to be a professional performer. She says competing helps her learn how to mentally prepare for performances, and how to improve as a musician. Her recent honors join a long list of accolades. In 2016, she took second prize in the 2016 Brownsville Marimba Competition, and first prize in all three categories of the Taiwan International Percussion Championship (Marimba, Vibraphone, and Chamber). She is the third place winner of the 2013 PASIC Vibraphone Solo Competition, winner of the 2014-2015 MSU Concerto Competition, and recipient of first prize and judges’ special award in the 2015 Taiwan International Percussion Championship. She is also the first competitor to win both first prize and audience’s favorite at the White Lake Solo Competition in 2014.

Born in Taiwan, Yun Ju Pan holds a master of percussion performance from Ithaca College, and a bachelor of performance music art degree from Soochow University. She auditioned for the doctoral program at MSU after hearing a recording that featured Gwen Dease—an MSU associate professor of percussion—playing Bach.

“MSU’s percussion area creates a very supportive environment for students,” says Yun Ju Pan. “They understand that percussion music is very new, and that people are still exploring the possibilities.”

Yun Ju Pan’s recent projects include one that combines percussion music and singing. She also plans to perform and hold clinics at several U.S. universities this fall, and hopes to someday record a CD of solo and ensemble percussion works.

Dease, her primary instructor, says she expects Yun Ju Pan to continue to attract interest in classical and new music circles as an artist who stretches the boundaries of the marimba and percussive instruments.

“Some people only think of percussion as playing drums loud and fast,” says Dease, who is also the chair of the brass and percussion area. “That’s only part of it. Alice shows a different side of percussion. Her performances show how multi-faceted and expressive it can be, which helps the art form grow even more.”

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