ETSU percussion instructor ending career with a bang

Jessica Fuller • Apr 15, 2018 at 4:28 PM

After 33 years of teaching percussion at East Tennessee State University, Rande Sanderbeck is teaching his last semester at the university before retiring. 

But his colleagues aren’t letting him leave without a bang. 

The ETSU Wind Ensemble and Concert Band’s spring concert, “Musical Conclusions,” is an homage to Sanderbeck’s retirement. The program will end with “Concertino for Four Percussion and Winds,” a 15-minute movement by David Gillingham. The closing piece features four percussion parts, which will be performed by Sanderbeck and three of his former students — Chris Smithson, who is Sullivan Central High School’s band director, Dan McGuire, Science Hill’s “Hilltopper” Marching Band director, and Logan Ball, marching percussion director at ETSU. 

The program will begin at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Science Hill High School auditorium.

Wind Ensemble Director Christian Zembower said he chose the piece because it was on the program when he came to the program 12 years ago. He said he saw its inclusion as a bookend to Sanderbeck’s 33 years with the program. 

Zembower said the 12-year gap in performing the concertino is due to a few challenges the piece brings to the table. 

“The four percussion parts are nail-biting hard, and it’s just the challenge you have all this extra equipment and what we have to do is we have to reorganize the band,” he said. 

When Sanderbeck came to ETSU in 1985, he had a challenge. The percussion department was almost non-existent, Zembower said, and Sanderbeck, fresh off receiving his master’s degree at West Virginia University, was tasked with building a department from the ground up. 

At the end of his career as an instructor, Sanderbeck has taught hundreds of percussion students in the region, including some who have gone on to be music teachers themselves. Since he took the position, he has graduated anywhere from one to three percussion students per year. 

“He started with no one, and in the 12 years I’ve been here, it’s the strongest studios with retention, graduation rates and with proficiency and talent,” Zembower said. 

Sanderbeck said he started out wanting to play in a band and be a rock star. After graduating with a music education degree at WVU, he began touring the country with different bands. He decided teaching was the way he wanted to go. He went back to WVU to get his Master of Music degree, then on to ETSU in 1985. 

His first task was to recruit students for a program without a reputation. But with a lot of patience and school visits, he’s built a network throughout the years, and a legacy for the percussion studio at ETSU. 

“It’s hard to recruit people for something that doesn’t exist or isn’t very good, so I had to change it and develop it into something people can be proud of and want to be a part of,” Sanderbeck said.

“To see the success of your students you see the success of yourself.” 



Johnson City Press Videos