Kit Mills performs for a class of second graders Tuesday at Oak Harbor Elementary. The professional percussionist is doing workshops and performances at eleven schools in Island and Skagit counties. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News Group

Kit Mills performs for a class of second graders Tuesday at Oak Harbor Elementary. The professional percussionist is doing workshops and performances at eleven schools in Island and Skagit counties. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News Group

Drummer sticks to his talent

Kit Mills has come a long way since he started hitting basketballs with drum sticks as a fifth grader in Oak Harbor.

He couldn’t afford a drum set, so he started playing on just about anything he could.

“I played on my basketball until there were no bumps left,” he said.

Now a professional percussionist and music teacher, Mills has an assortment of instruments that includes a sprawling set of 16 drums, 13 symbols, three gongs and a concert marimba.

It takes him two and half hours hours to put the set together, and he has to rent a truck or van to carry everything around.

The logistical difficulties of traveling doesn’t stop him from taking his talents and tools to schools across Island and Skagit counties.

He’ll bring his short workshop and a performance to nearly 4,000 kids at 11 schools throughout spring.

Mills used his connections with music teachers in both counties to start talking to schools about his workshop, which he does at no cost to the school districts.

“It’s a chance to have an impact on such a broader number of kids,” said Mills.

His goal is to inspire children to seek mastery of some sort of skill, to “stand up and be one in a million instead of one of a million.” He stopped by Oak Harbor Elementary School last week and gave six music classes a workshop, then performed for the majority of the school at an assembly.

He gave demonstrations on a djembe (African drum), marimba and, of course, his large drum set.

As he performed, he stressed the importance of practice and talked about how he did everything slowly until he was good enough to be fast. He said he still practices for hours every day to continue to get better.

“But you’re already better,” one second-grader replied during the workshop.

The other students agreed.

While he played for the class many of the kids couldn’t even stay in their seats. The students’ eyes lit up, they said “whoa” repeatedly and they moved along to beat.

“The drums aren’t a hard sell,” Mills laughed.

He hopes the “eye-popping, ear-catching” nature of his performance will help keep the students engaged. For the workshops he played some familiar tunes, such as the “Harry Potter” and “Super Mario Bros.” theme songs, but his pieces for the final performance were original compositions.

Mills has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in music composition.

He has been a finalist for Washington Artist Trust fellowships, won the International Composition Competition with the Classical Marimba League, and has won or placed in a variety of other competitions throughout the years.

He said he isn’t as concerned about awards as he used to be.

“There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors in the music industry,” he said.

He has also played with a number of groups, but not Imagine Dragons, as one of the second-graders asked if he had. Mills said he doesn’t tour much because he wants to stay close to his wife Karis, who is also a musician, and their two sons, ages 7 and 2.

He said his older son Peter is already playing the drums.

He also sticks around because he wants to focus on using his abilities to serve the community he lives in. He notes that children also typically make for an enthusiastic audience.

Mills said he hopes to continue to host these workshops and performances in the future with the intention of igniting interest in music and creating an overall memorable experience for the students.

“The whole goal of all of this is to really inspire kids to think beyond their own limitations,” he said.

• On April 13, Mills will bring his workshop to Coupeville Elementary School. May 1: Oak Harbor Intermediate School. May 29: Crescent Harbor Elementary School.

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