Any percussion discussion starts with Brandon Putzke

Brandon Putzke conducts a music therapy session with residents of St. Francis Manor in Vero Beach.[Photo: Kaila Jones]

Drums, tambourines and maracas – oh my! Those are just a few of the percussion instruments that Brandon Putzke packs into his toolbox as the founder and director of Treasure Coast Percussion.

Despite their being the largest group of instruments in a full orchestra, percussions are oft overlooked, which is surprising given that they are frequently the most fun to play. By definition, a percussion instrument is any musical instrument that makes a sound when it is struck, shaken or scraped by hands or beaters.

Brandon Putzke conducts a music therapy session with residents of St. Francis Manor in Vero Beach, Fla.[Kaila Jones/32963]

However, lest you think that in that case anyone can play a percussion instrument – think again. At the professional level, it takes a great deal of skill and practice.

“I like to say I’m pretty proficient at thousands of percussion instruments. I have a constant urge to learn new things; to experiment,” says Putzke. “With percussion, there’s always something new to try. There are literally thousands of percussion instruments.”

Putzke is the only child of Jon and Marg Putzke, a dynamic duo involved with the Vero Beach Theatre Guild and the creative team behind Theatre-Go-Round, Vero’s only professional dinner theater.

“My parents created an environment that I felt comfortable experimenting in. They allowed me to be creative,” says Putzke, who was seemingly destined to pursue a career in the arts.

“I grew up literally sleeping on theater chairs while my dad was in rehearsals, and my mom was playing piano on the side or making costumes.”

Putzke says that while he officially began taking musical lessons in the fourth grade, he recalls receiving his very first drum set when he was about 7 or 8 years old. He admits that although that was where his love of percussion instruments took root, what he remembers most about that early drum set was the cartoon paper it was wrapped in.

As a student, Putzke played in the Vero Beach High School band and, after serving as percussion director at VBHS for 19 years, eventually became its associate band director. Although he resigned from the position this summer, it is something he looks back on with fondness. “It’s surreal. Looking back, I can’t believe that I was the director of the band that I was in as a student and then taught for so many years.”

Brandon Putzke conducts a music therapy session with residents of St. Francis Manor in Vero Beach, Fla.[Kaila Jones/32963]

After high school, Putzke went on to obtain a bachelor’s in Music Education from the University of South Florida and for the past 30 years has been making an impression on hundreds of students as a private instructor and classroom music teacher. As a performer, he has played around town as a member of the Old Barber Bridge Band and, more recently, with SoulJam.

Always one to march to the beat of his own drum, Putzke next turned his attention toward sharing his musical talents through Treasure Coast Percussion, something he had laid the groundwork for several years ago.

Putzke offers individual and group lessons, teaches summer camp workshops and masterclasses, and is on the staff of the Primo School of Performing Arts, which is on the campus of First Presbyterian Church of Vero Beach.

Putzke has also jumped on the bandwagon with the resurgence of the community drum circles that were first made popular in the late ’60s. Putzke says that as an outlet for personal expression, drumming is a great way to draw people out of their shell. It’s also a great way to help employees avoid corporate burnout – or anyone for that matter – by drumming out their frustrations.

“The same instruments apply; it’s how and when you use them,” Putzke explains. “I’ve got a variety of shakers, ocean drums, rain sticks and sound shapes. It’s just how and when you incorporate them. My goal for a session is to make everybody feel good.”

He has conducted drum circles at various locations around the county, including during Museum Day at the Vero Beach Museum of Art, at the Brackett Library at Indian River State College and, every third Sunday of the month, at the Kilted Mermaid in downtown Vero Beach.

Brandon Putzke conducts a music therapy session with residents of St. Francis Manor in Vero Beach, Fla.[Kaila Jones/32963]

New to his vast repertoire, Putzke has begun facilitating HealthRhythms sessions – an enjoyable research-based group drumming program founded by drum manufacturer Remo, Inc. The program, practiced at healthcare and wellness environs, has been shown to help strengthen the immune system, reduce stress and burnout rates, improve mood states and promote creativity and socialization.

Putzke is now facilitating the program working with Alzheimer’s patients, retirement communities and therapy groups. He leads a monthly drum circle at Grace Rehabilitation Center of Vero Beach, where residents are offered a wide variety of programs to keep them moving and interacting with others. In addition to improving self-expression, music therapy can help reduce anxiety and the physical effects of stress. It has been shown to improve healing, and to reduce depression and the symptoms of psychological disorders.

Shelly Garcia, Grace Rehab activity director, says they have seen very positive reactions to music therapy and to the drum circles from their residents.

“The movement is good for them. It helps with dexterity. And no matter how much they can use their hands everyone can participate,” says Garcia.

Garcia notes that what surprised her was how drum circle participants reacted even outside of the sessions, such as over dinner, where they continue to discuss all of the various instruments they have played.

“They bond during these sessions,” says Garcia. “It gives them something to talk about; something in common, something to look forward to.”

“Music makes people feel good,” says Putzke, who adds that he first discovered the healing powers of music while working with students at Liberty Magnet Elementary School. As a reward for good behavior during school, he introduced a special musical jam session to students with learning differences and behavioral issues.

Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute recently invited Putzke to facilitate a drum circle for the staff, artists and caregivers who participate in the Arts & Medicine program at their Vero Beach office.

“We created a drum circle where all the infrastructure of the organization would be able to mingle and bond on a different level,” explains Dr. Raul Storey. “I had never been actively involved in a drum circle but now I can see how it changes the way people bond.”

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