John H. Beck Sr. is highly respected percussion player and composer. He is the percussionist's percussionist. As a performer he has worked in a variety of situations, including the "President's Own" Marine Band (1955-59), Principle Percussionist with the Rochester Philharmonic (1959-62), Principle Timpanist with the Rochester Philharmonic (1962-present), jazz drumset with a variety of artists, including Coleman Hawkins and Hot Lips Page, and solo appearances with the Rochester Philharmonic, Eastman Wind Ensemble, Marine Band, Syracuse Wind Ensemble, and a variety of chamber music organizations.
John Beck has been equally successful as a teacher, having guided scores of percussionists to successful careers. Finally, he has served the Percussive Arts Society (PAS) as Second Vice President (1982-84,) Vice President (1984-86) and President (1987-90), and also served as President of the New York State PAS chapter (1976-82) and the New York State School Music Association (1970-72).
John Beck: ""Percussion education" is a fancy expression for how I really started, which was at age ten with a snare drum lesson given by a neighbor of mine in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, who was really a house painter. He played drums in the local fife and drum corps, in which my father played the fife. The incentive really came from watching that local fife and drum corps, which was quite popular in the 1940s. Also, the high school band, which had been non-existent for many years, was starting up again by a man named Robert Beckman. Ironically, he had been my father's high school band director.
He wanted me to play clarinet but it looked too complicated, so I decided to take drum lessons from Oscar Angstead. My first lesson was on how to hold the sticks. The second lesson was on how to tuck a skin drumhead; he told me that if I didn't know how to tuck a head I wouldn't be able to play the drums because the skins would frequently break. The third lesson was on how to read notes. He gave me thirteen lessons and then he said he didn't know any more."
John Beck has taught many students who have gone on to become leaders in the music world, including orchestral percussionists, such as Chris Lamb, marimbists, such as Leigh Howard Stevens, and drumset players, such as Steve Gadd.
Prior to becoming President of the Percussive Arts Society, John Beck was the state chapter president, and at that time hosted the first PAS International Convention at Eastman in 1976. John is still enjoying teaching and playing and interacting with students: "They keep me alive; I hope I keep them alive. If I don't practice, I can't demonstrate certain things. So I have to keep on top of things both technically and musically. I do like teaching and I do like playing, and I don't think I could do one without the other."