The beat goes on for teen playing in symphony

Published 12:00 pm Saturday, May 4, 2019

By Beth Cook

Salisbury Symphony

When you think of a member of the Salisbury Symphony, what comes to mind?

An accomplished musician who has spent years studying and practicing to become a polished performer?

Of course.

A seasoned professional capable of playing difficult and challenging musical compositions?


A 16-year-old high school sophomore?

Wait. What? Are you kidding?

Well, you need to meet Samuel Otten.

Samuel played in the percussion section with the Salisbury Symphony on April 27 in Lexington, and he will be with the symphony again Saturday night in Keppel Auditorium at Catawba College.

One of the section percussionists said this about Samuel: “I have had the pleasure of playing beside Samuel on several occasions. He is a talented musician, a sharp student and a wonderful young man. He handled his music assignments well and, when some unexpected challenges came our way, he rose to the occasion and gracefully handled some last-minute additions. He has been an asset to the orchestra this week and we are happy to have him with us.”

Samuel’s high school band director, Emily McNeil at East Rowan, had this to say: “Samuel Otten is a very hard-working percussionist who leads all percussion sections of the East Rowan band program. His professionalism and passion for performing make him a great leader and contributor to all of our ensembles.

“Samuel served as the percussion captain of the Mustang Regiment Marching Band, is section leader of the East Rowan Wind Ensemble, and plays drum set in the Mustang Jazz Band. Samuel was selected as the timpanist for the Rowan All-County Band and was also selected as the drum set player for the Rowan All-County Jazz Band.

“In addition to the hard work Samuel puts into the East Rowan band program, he is also working as an intern to the Erwin Middle School sixth-grade band where he assists percussionists who are just starting to learn to play. Samuel is a member of the Tri-M Music Honor Society at East Rowan High School. I’m so excited that he has the opportunity to perform with the Salisbury Symphony, and I know he will put a great deal of passion and dedication toward rehearsals as well as the performances.”

How does a high school student end up in a symphonic percussion section?

Salisbury Symphony Conductor David Hagy explains: “Each season when only one piece requires an extra player, I will at times ask our high school directors if they have a very talented and responsible player of the instrument needed. This season, I’ve used both trumpet player Abe Long from West Rowan High School and percussionist Samuel Otten from East Rowan High School. It’s great fun to look back at the percussion section and see Sam playing the duck call in the ‘Pops Hoedown.’”

Samuel is involved in other music areas, as well. He is the bass guitarist for the Youth Worship Band and drummer for the Adult Worship Band at Prospect Baptist Church, and he sings with the Outloud Youth Choir.

“I’m so grateful that I’ve been given the opportunities to play music, but I wouldn’t have been able to get here without God,” Samuel says. “I love playing music and hope that I can keep playing for the rest of my life.”

His mother, Monica, who is the church’s music director, echoes Samuel’s sentiments: “We are so grateful to God for the musical talents and abilities that he has given to Samuel, thankful for those that have provided guidance and opportunities for him to grow musically and excited to see what God has in store for his future.”