Whether on marimba, drumset, or any percussive tool between, Lee Hinkle shines in the seven-year cumulation of a monumental musical undertaking, coming together as MODERN AMERICAN PERCUSSION CONCERTI. The Penn’s Woods Festival Orchestra, the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra, and the Penn State University Wind Ensemble perform alongside Hinkle in this release.

Today, Lee is our featured artist in the “Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our composers and performers. Read on to learn about his love for the great outdoors and his thoughts on the importance of being vulnerable with art…

What have been your biggest inspirations on your musical journey?

Almost certainly my many amazing teachers and my students. I’ve had the great fortune of having excellent teachers on voice and piano (Linda Dearborn in High School; Annetta Monroe at University of South Florida) and percussion and drum set (Brian Slawson in High School; Robert McCormick, David Via, Danny Gottlieb at University of South Florida; John Tafoya, Tony Ames, Ben Ramirez at University of Maryland). They not only taught me how to play percussion but how to navigate the music industry while simultaneously honing my craft. They gave me countless opportunities to work professionally outside of my degree program and also endlessly encouraged me to explore my boundaries and challenge myself. Similarly, my students (past and present) constantly push me, excite me, and help me question myself and push the boundaries of what is possible for myself and themselves musically. The symbiotic relationship between teacher and student is something I will always cherish.

If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?

Taylor Swift. I can’t think of a more inspirational human, musician, or entrepreneur that has impacted more lives, transcended more cultures, and brought more people together than her. 

What advice would you give to your younger self if given the chance?

Be vulnerable. Take a chance. No one is perfect. The best art is vulnerable art.

Take us on a walk through your musical library. What record gets the most plays? Are there any “deep cuts” that you particularly enjoy?

I LOVE all music. And, I really do mean that. My love of music is polyamorous. Probably the music that resonates the most with me is folk music and singer-songwriter type stuff. I love the transparency and intimacy of a simple song: voice and piano or voice and guitar, etc. My family is from East Tennessee and the folk music traditions of Appalachia run in my blood. I picked up playing guitar about five years ago and have been having so much fun learning the songs of the greats like Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Roberta Flack, and James Taylor (to name a few). I’ve also started doing some song writing myself and have aspirations to work in the folk music genre as my skills and song catalog develops. My biggest current inspiration is Rhiannon Giddens, and I just had the great fortune to see her live at Eisenhower Auditorium at Penn State. She is such an inspiration to me through her advocacy for, and retelling of the history of, the banjo. Her 2023 Pulitzer Prize win for her opera Omar, co-written with Michael Abels, is a case study in cross musical genre work in music that I aspire to on a daily basis. She is the best of the best!

What are your other passions besides music?

I am an outdoors junky: I love to hike, run, cycle and just generally be outdoors. I’m a certified PADI Open Water Scuba Diving Instructor and have taught scuba diving in Honduras with well over 400 dives all over the world under my belt. I’ve taken on some pretty epic outdoorsy challenges that have truly shaped me as a person and my music making. In 2012, my wife Kristen and I cycled across the United States on the TransAmerica Trail (4,000 miles from Yorktown VA to Astoria OR) unsupported on touring bicycles. In 2018, my wife Kristen and I hiked the GR20, “the hardest hike in Europe,” on the island of Corsica (112 miles with an elevation gain of 40,000 feet).

If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing?

See “passions,” question. Ha! I’d most likely be doing something associated with the outdoors. I also really enjoy working with my hands and have taken on some fairly involved carpentry projects. I could see myself working as a carpenter or a plumber. I enjoy the problem solving aspects of these jobs and find joy in fixing things and building things.

  • Lee Hinkle

    Dr. Lee Hinkle’s percussion playing has been called “rock-steady” by the Washington Post. He is the principal percussionist with the 21st Century Consort and he made his Carnegie Hall solo debut in 2014 as a concerto soloist.

    Hinkle’s other notable performances have included the National Symphony, Columbus Symphony, and American Institute for Musical Studies Orchestra (Graz, Austria) as well as national U.S. tours with Bebe Neuwirth, Bernadette Peters, and the American Wind Symphony Orchestra. He has performed as a soloist at three Percussive Arts Society International Conventions and is an active commissioner and curator of contemporary music for percussion.