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A New Memoir Takes You Inside The World Of An Orchestral Percussionist

Patti Niemi has penned a memoir about her life as an orchestral percussionist.

The path to landing a full-time position as an orchestral musician can be a rocky and competitive climb.  As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, one successful percussion player says it's all about staying with it, and  "Sticking It Out," which is the title of a new memoir by Patti Niemi.

Radio script: 

Music: Porgy and Bess

Susan Lewis:  Percussionists such as Patti Niemi know the beginning of Porgy and Bess as a classic  excerpt – played at auditions.

Patti Niemi:  You do it over and over. And you get this idea that everything has to be perfect, every time.

Author Patti Niemi

SL:  A member of  the percussion section of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra since 1992, Niemi  chronicles how she got there in her book, Sticking it Out. From playing drums at age 10, onto percussion in high school, Eastman, Juilliard, and the New World Symphony.  She paints colorful pictures — whether  of  practicing at the bottom of a grimy stairwell or standing at the back of the orchestra on one of her first gigs, listening, counting, and waiting,

PN:  The waiting is the worst part. When you’re doing, you’re being physical, you’re performing, you’re concentrating, action is involved. But when you’re waiting, all you’re thinking about is what could go wrong. And that’s another source of anxiety. We can’t hide...you can’t take back a cymbal crash.

SL:  It was a life of practicing, listening,  auditioning, competing with best friends, coping with rejection.

PN:  If you‘re able to recognize that failure is not failure, they’re just potholes… there’s no such thing as failure until you give up. That’s what kept me going, I wanted to play in an orchestra. 

SL: And the best part, now that she’s part of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra?

PN:  Being surrounded by that sound, and knowing you’re a part of it, its an amazing feeling. Making that noise is really joyful.

SL: Patti Niemi’s book, Sticking it Out, is available from ECW Press. 

Patti Niemi talks with WRTI's Susan Lewis about her path to becoming an orchestral percussionist, and about why she wrote her book, STICKING IT OUT.


Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.