There’s a wonderful milestone in a student’s development, especially in music, where a skill that previously seemed impossible becomes achievable, or even second nature. It’s a moment where a student learns that all barriers and obstacles can be overcome with the right amount of practice and focus. Later in life, students can call upon this experience and apply it to other aspects of their lives, their confidence and problem solving abilities strengthened. Sadly, not all students have the opportunity to experience this transformative process, and this is exactly why the Strike Institute was born.
“Music was the first thing I remember that motivated me in a way that nothing else did,” says Michael Faris, Director of the Strike Institute, “I had elementary, high school and collegiate instructors who all inspired me in different ways and helped show me the way to finding my own creative voice through percussion performance. Music education was the single most important element in my development, and I have many great memories of my formative years with my teachers and the programs I was involved with.”
In 2008, Michael saw that there were few opportunities for St. Louis area percussion students to have the same kind of close mentorship that he found so valuable during his studies. Along with Erin Elstner (Webster University Percussion Instructor), Michael began to develop a percussion summer camp that could give students the same deeply enriching and inspiring experiences that he found so transformative.
Almost a decade later, the Strike Institute is a thriving educational forum that has reached hundreds of students in the St. Louis area through a diverse network of instructors and artists. The Strike Institute camp operates primarily during the summer months and provides a week-long experience where students take part in a range of ensemble courses and have the chance to earn several honors, including the prestigious Rick Holmes/Strike Institute award. The week-long Strike Institute camps culminate in a performance by the students on the final day, as well events such as a Fastest Hands contest and award ceremony. In nine years, Strike has given $25,000 in donated prizes to its award winners.
“These awards are in recognition of the effort and skill presented by the students throughout the week,” says Faris. “We have been very fortunate to have many sponsors provide award prizes such as Mozingo Music and Dixon Drums and Hardware—loyal supporters of the Strike Institute since its inception.”
Like percussion itself, education in any particular field is a skill that requires constant practice and learning to achieve a true level of quality. Over the past ten years Faris and his team have experimented and honed in on the best processes to shepherd their students. Attendees of Strike are typically grouped into ensembles of 10 or less so instructors and mentors can give each student thorough guidance and assessment. In this environment of bespoke, focused learning, students become more familiar and comfortable with their particular ensemble and skill, and that moment of transformation and confidence building is far more likely to occur than it would in larger groups.
For Michael Faris and the other instructors, seeing the students evolve in this way is very rewarding. He continues, “Probably the most satisfying aspect of each year’s Institute is witnessing those students who arrive with little or no self-confidence in a particular area of percussion (mallets, hand-drumming, drumset, etc.) but finish the week completely transformed through the efforts of our phenomenal staff and the student’s own efforts. We receive letters and emails each year from students and parents who indicate that the Strike Institute was the most inspired event they had experienced and eagerly anticipate the next year’s camp.”
The results of Strike and the great feedback from students and parents have been a great momentum builder, and Faris has plans to grow the institute even more in the coming decade. That means moving beyond their word-of-mouth marketing and into a more focused campaign of awareness.
“Our biggest challenge has really been in disseminating the information about Strike effectively so that those students who would like to attend can make that choice,” says Faris. “Finding a way to reach out and communicate about the Strike Institute with more students is extremely important to us. I would like to see the Strike Institute become a ‘go-to’ event for middle and high school students as they seek opportunities at musical growth.”
Faris and his team also have plans to expand their educational programs to collegiate and professional customers who may find value learning from top performers in the field. Faris is currently in talks with Jim Uding of Dixon Drums to develop a drum set focused camp, featuring clinics by artists such as Gregg Bissonette and Tony Pia.
Strike is already an excellent resource that inspires and guides students to invaluable milestones in their development. If all goes according to plan, Strike Institute will be delivering the same experiences to both new generations and more advanced players, and continuing its enrichment of St. Louis area percussionists.