Arts & Culture

Chicago percussion group bringing sweet treats for Hancher's virtual Valentine's weekend

Third Coast Percussion members employ a variety of instruments, including a conch shell, in their performances. The Chic
Third Coast Percussion members employ a variety of instruments, including a conch shell, in their performances. The Chicago-based ensemble will share their love for music over Valentine’s weekend, by performing a Hancher family-friendly concert online Saturday afternoon, and hosting The Hancher Youth & Family Talent Show Finale online Sunday afternoon. (Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame)

In between the East Coast and West Coast lies the Third Coast — the Great Lakes — where a band of percussionists marches to the beat of lots of different drums.

From the shores of Lake Michigan comes Third Coast Percussion, a quartet of Northwestern University alums, teachers and percussionists on a mission to “inspire and educate through the creation of exciting and unexpected musical experiences.” That involves using lots of bells and whistles, from drums traditionally found in bands and symphonies to conch shells and other traditional instruments used in cultures around the world.

The Grammy-winning group has whipped up a Valentine’s treat for all ages with a pair of Hancher online events this weekend. First up is “Think Outside the Drum,” an interactive concert prerecorded in the ensemble’s Chicago studio, followed by a live Q&A with the musicians on Saturday afternoon. Then on Sunday’s afternoon, they’re hosting Hancher’s Youth & Family Talent Show Finale, celebrating young artists in the area, and adding one of their own recorded numbers.

The year’s sweetest weekend is the perfect time for this pairing, percussionist, composer and executive director David Skidmore, 38, said by phone from his Chicago home on Friday afternoon, where he was “buried under two feet of snow.”

“These two shows are really good examples of our love of bringing people together to enjoy music and creativity,” he said, “and they’re designed for everyone, from the music aficionado to someone who knows nothing about music.

“We’re making an homage to (Valentine’s Day),” he added. “The main thing we’re celebrating, especially on the 14th, is our love of music and creativity.

“Valentine’s Day is about celebrating love, and a lot of times, people think about romantic love. And that’s great too, but The Hancher Youth & Family Talent Show is all about the love of creativity and people making the most of things.


“We’re all in this position where we’re spending a lot of time at home, and if your family’s at home, you’re spending a lot of time with your family. The whole event is about celebrating that — the great things about that. There are challenges about that, too, but this is about celebrating the really, in some ways, wonderful time we all are in, where we get all the family time we could ever ask for,” he said with a laugh and a nod toward his 2-year-old daughter, who will make a guest appearance in one of the videos.

Third Coast Percussion originally was slated to perform its first concert on the Hancher stage in May, but the Iowa City auditorium’s doors remain closed because of the pandemic.

When lockdown marching orders were issued far and wide last spring, the percussionists didn’t miss a beat. They already were prepared to pivot online.

“We were really fortunate, because we had already invested in some video cameras and other equipment that we had purchased for use in live shows,” Skidmore said. “But the equipment is the same equipment used for livestreaming. We had our last live in-person concert on March 13 in a suburb of Chicago. We were jokingly calling it ‘the last concert in America.’

“We were backstage before that concert, and we said we’ve got to learn how to livestream, because we knew that we would want to continue performing for audiences and reaching audiences, and it was just very clear that the only way to do that would be digitally, for the foreseeable future.”

Among their three staff members, one had some audio engineering experience, so he spent the weekend teaching himself how to manage livestreaming. On March 20, the musicians gave their first livestream concert. They’ve given more than 20 since then, along with “dozens” of educational all-ages shows online. They’ve also recorded music to share on their YouTube channel or with presenting organizations at home and abroad.

“We’ve been making the most of it,” Skidmore said. “There are so many disadvantages, but the advantages are great, too. We’ve reached audience members in places that we’ve never been on tour, and frankly, have never imagined being on tour. We’ve had audience members from Saudi Arabia and Palestine (to) South Africa and Ukraine — just really all over the world — on all six inhabited continents.

“Of course, we miss the in-person interaction and the energy of a live audience a lot, but right now, one can either embrace what is possible or not. If you’re aren’t willing to, that’s totally understandable and totally respectable, but for us, continuing to reach an audience and create community with our music is the most important thing.”


And this weekend isn’t the only time Hancher audiences can see these musicians in action. Skidmore said they’re also cooking up a formal online concert for the spring, with details yet to come.

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Hancher presents Third Coast Percussion: “Think Outside the Drum”

When: 2 p.m. Saturday

Where: Online

Cost: Free, registration required at

Artist website:

The Hancher Youth & Family Talent Show Finale

What: An online celebration of young artists in the community, hosted by Third Coast Percussion

When: 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: Online

Cost: Free, registration required at

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