Drum Corps International
Pat Petrillo's musical journey

Pat Petrillo's musical journey

by Dave Wilson

It may seem like a long musical journey from New Brunswick, N.J., through drum corps stints with the Garfield Cadets and the Bridgemen in the 1970s and 1980s all the way to Moscow with pop diva Patti LaBelle, but for professional drummer Pat Petrillo, it's all part of the rhythm of life. Petrillo, who is currently headed off to tour Italy with another diva, Gloria Gaynor, began his drumming career at a young age.

I will survive: Pat Petrillo (right) with Gloria Gaynor
"I started in a small parade corps from my hometown of New Brunswick, N.J., when I was about 10. Then I kept moving up to different corps. The Saints from 1974-1977, the Garfield Cadets in 1978 and 1979, and finally the Bridgemen from 1980-1983. I then taught in 1984," Petrillo said in an e-mail interview. After earning a music degree from Morehead State University, Petrillo joined the acclaimed Drummer's Collective in New York City, a hand-on musical learning center. "Our full-time programs offer students a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in the study of their instrument in an exciting and supportive environment," according to the Collective's Web site. Petrillo joined the Collective's staff in 1987 (and he still teaches there three or four days a week), created several percussion instructional videos, and soon got the call of his life.
"My first "break" came when I started playing the Broadway show "A Chorus Line." One of my teachers at Drummer's Collective asked me if I wanted to sub for him, so I got in that way," Petrillo said. From there, the work for Petrillo never stopped. He says that Broadway shows are the toughest to execute -- and they're the most similar to a drum corps show. "The most challenging is a Broadway show situation, because the demands on performance are similar to drum corps, in so far as making things happen on cue, in time, accurate, etc. I've done numerous shows since "A Chorus Line," including "Grease," "Footloose," "Saturday Night Fever" and "Dreamgirls." Lest you think Petrillo's professional work is all darkened pit gigs, he's experienced the high life of the music business as well. "Touring with Patti LaBelle was a fun, since it was my first taste of "the business" from a treatment standpoint -- limos, food, first-class hotels, you know, a roadie! My current gig with Gloria Gaynor is a lot of fun, traveling to exotic places like Moscow, Bali, Vietnam, and Italy -- a lot of nice hotels, and top-shelf accommodations." Musically, Petrillo is inspired by a wide range of people. "I am inspired by all the drumming greats, especially Steve Gadd, Peter Erskine, and anyone who is out there making great music. Working with great bass players is always fun. I work a lot with Scott Ambush (Spyro Gyra), and have worked with Graham Maybe, and Gerald Veasley, to name a few. I am also inspired by the great Gospel musicians out there, praising with their playing," Petrillo said. Despite the variety of assignments he has taken on, Petrillo is most proud of the percussion instructional videos he's made. "Musically, my proudest moment is my instructional video (soon to be DVD) "Complete Drum Workout", which combines teaching and playing skills. It's available at any store, or at patpetrillo.com." Not surprisingly, the time offstage is the hardest part of being a professional drummer, according to Petrillo. "(The toughest part is) Paying the bills -- and keeping up with the business, calls, e-mails, scheduling! Lord, that's tough. Touring is hard on the family too, but usually I am only out about 10 days at a time," Petrillo said. The things Petrillo learned during his drum corps career have helped him professionally as well. "I think the responsibility, the work ethic that was instilled at an early age (helps me as a professional). Learning parts by memory has helped, when I have to learn a two-hour plus live show," Petrillo said. To those who want to play professionally as a career, Petrillo says, "It's just about meeting musicians, networking and working hard. Also, drum corps drumming is a separate entity from "real-world" drumming. Get the intangibles from drum corps -- the discipline, technique, work ethic, etc. Then go pursue your dreams. If you want to be musician, dancer, etc., go do it. And practice," Petrillo said.

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