Drumsticks fly and buckets ring as they are struck in nearly perfect synchronization with Lucas Oil Stadium looming above.
It’s like a dream for a music-crazed college student, but this dream is a reality for Jon Crabiel, percussion professor and artist-in-residence at Butler University.
“What’s different and fun about the public performances is that there is an interaction between the players,” Crabiel said. “Some is predesigned and practiced, but most is feeding and listening off of each other. The interaction between each other and the Indianapolis community is great.
“Oh, and I get to play buckets.”
The Circle City Bucket Drummers started this year, and the leader of the group is one of Crabiel’s former students. There are eight members, and they rotate to allow five drummers to play at every home Colts game.
All but one member are Butler grads.
Playing buckets before Colts games is just one activity this professor participates in after his teaching hours are complete and his students aren’t around.
Crabiel also serves as an extra musician for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. He’s been with the ISO for 12 years, playing everything from timpani to drum set.
“It’s part of my profession to go and play outside of Butler,” Crabiel said. “I play most weekends and spend eight to 15 hours a week doing a clinic, performing or rehearsing.”
Part of that rehearsal time is spent with the Icarus ensemble, a small jazz group.
Icarus is a collaboration between Crabiel, Gary Walters—an instructor of jazz piano at Butler, also the creator of the group—and three other ISO musicians. The Icarus ensemble plays around Indianapolis, namely at the Jazz Kitchen on North College Avenue.
Crabiel was Walter’s first addition to the group.
“My favorite thing about playing with Jon is the way he creatively plays and manipulates the drums,” Walters said.
The eclectic group plays mostly original music with non-standard jazz instruments, including a bass clarinet, a bassoon and a violin.
“My students see me out quite a bit,” Crabiel said. “I’m always doing what I teach, and they can see it. When they see me out, they’re not really shocked. They’re happy for me.”
All those activities encompass Crabiel’s time away from campus and his students. But when summer rolls around he stays at Butler with a new set of pupils.
Crabiel heads a summer percussion camp for middle and high school students one week each June.
The camp is made up of multiple classes throughout the day and rehearsals and instruction at night.
The camp’s faculty consists of Butler graduates and Butler students. Many teens that attend the camp later become Crabiel’s students at Butler.
In spite of all his off-campus commitments, Crabiel still spends time with students, both former and current. He plays with them in the Bucket Drummers, works with them during the summer and often sees them at his different gigs.
“When we play outside of Butler we are able to be friends as well as music collaborators,” Walters said. “Jon teaches me things, and I’m sure I’ve taught him some things as well, hopefully.”
Everyone knows that professors have lives beyond teaching. But what they might not know is the extreme dedication some have to their profession outside the classroom.
In Crabiel’s case, his priorities are equally centered on his family, profession and students.
“I get to have a relationship with my students,” he said. “They all want to play music and percussion. I get to see them live their dreams and to push them along the way.”