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Hastings native turned Grammy winner makes the trip home

Third Coast Percussion ensemble members (from left to right): Robert Dillon, Sean Connors, David Skidmore and Peter Martin. Photo courtesy of Bucklesweet

As a child, Peter Martin knew that he wanted to make music. That dream began at 4 years old in Hastings, when he took his first piano lesson. The musical seed was planted.

Martin and his family moved away when his father joined the military, but his love of music never faded. He tried various instruments in middle and high school but when it came time to focus in college, percussion had his heart.

"Percussion is unique because it is not defined by a single instrument, and every culture has its own percussion traditions," Martin said.

Martin studied percussion first at Rutgers University, then went on to get both his master's and doctorate degrees at Northwestern University.

Now, Martin is an ensemble member of the Grammy winning group, Third Coast Percussion, a percussion quartet with its homebase in Chicago.

Martin met the other ensemble members David Skidmore, Robert Dillon and Sean Connors, while studying at Northwestern.

"We enjoyed playing music together, and we were curious if this was something that we could do professionally," Martin said. "There were no models of what we were trying to do out in the world. There were no full-time professionals that were doing it."

Despite being told that a small percussion ensemble probably wouldn't pan out, the group pushed ahead, playing in small clubs and theaters around Chicago.

It was about five years ago that each member of the band had to make a decision. Third Coast Percussion had grown to the point where they either needed to scale back or give it everything they had.

"Being able to go all-in and do this full-time was a big milestone for all of us. People had told us to go the normal route of playing in an orchestra or teaching. It took us a while to get to where we are today."

Third Coast Percussion grew in popularity, performing at bigger venues and even in Europe. In total, the four men spend 150 days of the year on tour.

In 2017, the group picked up a Grammy for Best Small Chamber Music Small Ensemble, an award that had never been won by a percussion ensemble.

The ensemble will be playing in St. Paul at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday, Dec. 9. The performance, Liquid Music, will feature new works by American composer Philip Glass and British singer-songwriter Devonté Hynes, also known as Blood Orange.

Although touring and playing at some of the biggest venues in the country is all part of the fun, the members Third Coast Percussion love to give back and do educational presentations for schools.

"For every performance, we schedule a couple of youth educational performances or presentations. It's a big part of what we do. Some of our very first gigs were educational," Martin said.

All four of the ensemble members have backgrounds in teaching at various institutions. Martin was an assistant professor and served as the director of percussion studies at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., leaving after the group decided to make Third Coast Percussion their full-time jobs.

For the first time, Martin will be coming back to his hometown with the group to do a performance for lucky students at Hastings Middle School.

"I am very excited to be back in Minnesota and to be doing our first educational presentation in Hastings," Martin said. "Hastings was a part of my childhood, so it'll be fun to go back."

Tickets are still available for the show at 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9 at the Ordway in St. Paul. Adults cost $30. Children and students are free to attend. Tickets can be purchased at www.ordway.org.

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