“I got the recommendation from [hand-drum pro] Monette Marino,” confides 14-year-old percussionist Carmen Murray. “The symphony asked her for a young player and I got the call one day before the audition. I just played through the piece and then I was asked to solo — and then they offered me the part! So now I’m playing ‘Little Drummer Boy’ with the symphony. I mean, that’s kind of a big deal, you know? I’ve never really done anything like that with a professional orchestra.”
Murray just completed a run of performances playing the djembe, a small West African drum, at Symphony Hall with the Tony-award-winning Broadway veteran Brian Stokes Mitchell. She also plays symphonic percussion with the New Youth Orchestra and trap drums with the International Academy of Jazz. Drums, it seems, are an inherent component of the Murray homestead.
“I’m pretty familiar with [djembe],” she related. “I’ve taken hand-drum lessons before and my mom played them for a while. We’ve always had African drums around the house.”
Carmen’s been playing for five years and didn’t seem fazed by the prospect of facing such a large audience. “I’ve been performing since I was too young to be nervous about it, so I don’t think it will hit me until I’m about to get onstage — especially because I’ll be soloing — doing that on an African drum is a little different than what I’ve been doing. But I think I’ll be okay.”
Keeping up with studies in classical music, jazz, and regular schoolwork seems daunting to an outsider. Is there any time left to be a kid?
“I try,” she says with an easy laugh. “There’s always going to be things I can’t do because I have to practice, but there’s also a social aspect to playing music with other kids, too. I don’t think music has impaired me...it might even help with the social thing. My parents make sure I still have time to be 14.”
What does she do for fun outside of music? “I love learning languages. I’ve been speaking German since I was in kindergarten, and I’m learning Mandarin in school and Korean with my best friend, plus I take a hip-hop dance class once a week.”
Murray believes in keeping her options open. “I’m definitely playing it by ear. I don’t know what I’m going to be doing in the future — I’m working toward getting good grades so I can do whatever I want. If I want to be an engineer I can do that, or if I want to pursue the drums I can do that, too.”
1450 Plaza de Panama, Balboa Park
Carmen Murray will be the drummer in the Gilbert Castellanos Quartet for the jam session at Panama 66 in Balboa Park on Wednesday, January 4.