Welcome back to Uncharted, an Uproxx original series highlighting the best artists you haven’t heard of, yet. With the support of our friends at Honda, we are following some of the best emerging talent as they follow their dreams and make great music.
Joshua Jones is probably practicing right now.
The 24-year-old aspiring percussionist and Chicago native — with an almost obsessive attitude toward getting better at his craft — has spent years filling any downtime he can find with stick control exercises. It’s the kind of devotion that has no off switch.
“I am extremely obsessed with my technique,” Jones tells us. “I could take my pad anywhere and play. I’d be on the bus or the ‘L’ and sit in the back so nobody would get pissed…The cool thing is you can play to anything.”
When all the other kids were out playing, Jones was inside playing… spoons, plates, coat hangers, whatever he could get his hands on. His obsessive technique drills largely began in the 8th grade, when he was pushed to do bigger things by two teachers at an inner-city music program he attended.
“We would have these meetings. And in one of them, they sat me down and kept saying how talented I am. They said I would be able to actually do this for a living and get a job playing for an orchestra,” Jones says.
“Of course, I was this 8th grade, snot-nosed kid, so they had to tell me three separate times.” After that, the lessons got “harder,” Jones says with a laugh.
The classes, combined with the roughly 10,000 hours of practice he cobbled together over the years, might just start paying off. Jones is currently an intern at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and is within striking distance of a full-time slot.
But to achieve it, Jones is going to have to stare down some mighty long odds. There are only 117 symphonies offering full-time slots in the United States — and spaces typically only come open when a musician retires or dies. Meaning? The chance of making his dream living a reality as an orchestral percussionist is in the hands of… fate?
“It can get pretty dry,” he said.”Especially this year… there were only two orchestra openings.”
In that high-pressure environment, it would be fair to expect Joshua to become a stiff-necked player whose obsession with technique causes him to fret over every little detail. But while classical music as a whole might have a reputation for tightness, Jones says he has no interest in becoming merely an excellent technical player.
“A lot of musicians compare learning technique to learning a new language. The more you know about it, the easier it is to let go of it and know what’s going to come out of your hands,” he says. “I try to be as fluent as possible, but some people take it too far and never apply what they’ve learned in a musical sense.”
Joshua says these types of musicians “play for the pleasure of someone else” and their resulting music “doesn’t express something naturally or honestly…it doesn’t sound organic.”
Tightly-wound musicians can still offer stiff competition, of course. Luckily for Jones, he’s compelled to succeed by a lot more than the pressure of two of his former teachers. Though those initial lessons shuffled him along, Jones has started walking on his own — thanks to his desire to show kids attending music programs (like the one he attended) that it is possible to make it.
“I want to make more of a difference for young people. And playing in an orchestra, it validates you [to the kids who are still learning],” Jones explains. “No one really teaches the way I do things, not in the form that I do it. Nobody teaches how to listen to a room and know what your instruments are going to sound like. I want to be a good resource and teach that.”
And, under all that, Joshua is driven by the same underlying fascination that moves all percussionists.
“I love that tactile physical feeling, that vibration that comes from hitting something,” he said. “I just love hitting stuff.”
To hear some of Joshua Jones’ original music — and even buy some — check out his website.