Meet the Musician: Percussionist Greg Akagi

In the Terrace Theater Pit

Where did you grow up and where did you go to college?

I grew up in Oregon.  After graduating from high school, I headed east to Oberlin College where I earned my BA in Biology and Music Performance, and a minor in Chemistry.  During my time at Oberlin, I studied percussion with Michael Rosen. For grad school, I went on to study with Tom Freer at Cleveland State University where I earned my master’s degree. 

What is your position in the orchestra and when did you join?

I am the assistant timpanist/section percussion and I’ve been with the orchestra since 2006.

What made you choose percussion at your instrument and what made you want to pursue music as a career?

I started playing the piano with I was 3 years old.  From there I never really thought about another instrument.  Around grade 3, I decided I wanted to play the saxophone (I still do), my parents thought I should play the trumpet … Somehow, I picked the drums and began taking lessons from Roger Allen.  My dreams of playing along with Careless Whisper, Baker Street, and Harden My Heart are still placed on hold.  As far as a career goes, music was just a hobby for me.  But, after attending the Music Academy of the West for a summer and after working in an infectious diseases lab at the University of Michigan, I decided that drums was more fun.  My goal was to find a steady, non-freelance job by the age of 30. 

Most people don't know this about you, but tell us about your cameo in a famous music teacher movie when you were young. What was that like?

 Growing up I was pretty involved in fashion modeling and commercials.  I’ve actually been in 2 movies.  The first one was when I was in the third grade, it’s called “Wee Sing Together.” Doug Rosenthal (2nd trombone in our orchestra), tells me that he used to sing along to the VHS tape of this movie when he was little; which kind of makes me feel a bit old.  Next up was “Mr. Holland’s Opus.”  I was able to play in the 90’s orchestra and got to kick off the opening drum solo for the “American Symphony” with Richard Dreyfuss.  It was good fun, a lot of waiting around, and many extra scenes were cut from the final movie.  I remember specifically filming 2-3 days worth of a prom story line scene that got cut completely.

Greg's First movie role

What has been your favorite concert experience since being in the orchestra?

Boy, this one is very difficult for me to answer.  There have been many concerts, operas, and musicals that I have been fortunate to be a part of.  Off the top of my head, my favorite opera was probably Madame Butterfly or Elektra; leaning more towards all the Strauss we’ve done.  For ballet, this one’s easy – We played Khachaturian's Spartacus with the Bolshoi Ballet (they are so good).  And for musicals, it’s probably “Beautiful” the Carole King musical.  I grew up listening to all her music, so that was a treat to perform. 

Do you have any hobbies outside of the orchestra?

Well, my wife and I have 5 kids at home, so most of our free time is spent preparing for the next day or week.  Doing laundry, making food, helping with homework, or chauffeuring people around takes up a lot of the day.  However, I do enjoy rec league sports like softball and volleyball, which I’ve been playing for 20+ years, and Major League Baseball. The Atlanta Braves are my favorite team and have been since about 1982.  Dale Murphy is my favorite player of all time.  My son and I got to meet him once, so that was a thrill.  A goal of mine is to watch a game at all the MLB stadiums in the country.  So far, I’ve been to 22, with Pittsburgh’s PNC Park or San Francisco’s AT&T Park as my favorites.  Most recently, my family and I attended a game at Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia this past summer.

Meeting Dale Murphy, Atlanta Braves Legend

What are you most looking forward to playing this season?

Anything ballet.  I love it when we get to perform ballet.