MAKING ART WORK: Danny Soulier, Timpanist & Vice President of XOG Operating, LLC

December 14 2021

MAKING ART WORK is a series that taps into the knowledge and experience of seasoned creatives from our community and beyond for the benefit of our students.

Danny Soulier is an alumnus of the University of Utah School of Music, and is now an Adjunct Assistant Professor in Percussion. He serves as the Principal Timpanist for the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square (Previously known as “The Mormon Tabernacle Choir”). He originally joined the Tabernacle Choir organization in 2000 and has enjoyed playing both percussion and timpani throughout his tenure there. He has travelled with them on 9 tours which has allowed him the opportunity to perform in many of the great halls in the United States, Canada, and Europe, most notably: Carnegie Hall, the Berlin Philharmonie, and the Musikverein in Vienna, Austria. He received a bachelor's degree in percussion performance from the University of Utah in 2003 and a master's degree in percussion performance from Cleveland State University in 2006.

Besides weekly broadcasts of “Music & the Spoken Word”, a major event associated with performing for the Tabernacle Choir is the annual Christmas Concert that is released each year on PBS. This and other large productions has provided him opportunities to perform with world renowned artists such as Sissel, Bryn Terfel, Andrea Bocelli, Kristin Chenoweth, The King’s Singers, Fredricka von Stade, Evelyn Glennie, Audra MacDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Denyce Graves, David Foster, Angela Lansbury, Nathan Gunn, David Archuleta, Natalie Cole, Richard Stolzman, Santino Fontana, Laura Osnes, Kelli O’Hara, Rolando Villazon, Sutton Foster and Glady's Knight.

He has played with the Utah Symphony since 2002 as an extra percussionist and substitute timpanist. His other professional experiences include performances with the Sun Valley Summer Symphony, New World Symphony, Wheeling Symphony, Ashland Symphony, Ohio Valley Symphony, Midland/Odessa Symphony, Ballet West, and the Utah Chamber Artists. These opportunities have provided him the privilege of performing with artists such as Andrea Bocelli, Garth Brooks, Gladys Knight, and many others. He has studied privately with George Brown, Doug Wolf, Matthew Bassett, Tom Freer,  and Tim Adams respectively of the Utah, Buffalo, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh Symphonies. He has performed under the baton of Thierry Fischer, Keith Lockhart, Thomas Ades, Marvin Hamlisch, Erich Kunzel, Alasdair Neale, Pavel Kogan, Craig Jessop, Mack Wilberg, Ryan Murphy and Richard Kaufman.

He directed the University of Utah drumline in 2010 and 2011 and directed the percussion ensemble in 2010. He has been a drumline instructor at several high schools in Utah and Ohio. In 2007, Mr. Soulier began as the founding director of "HYPE"- the Honors Youth Percussion Ensemble for high school students at the University of Utah. HYPE performed annually at the Utah Day of Percussion and “An Evening of Percussion” at the University of Utah.

Mr. Soulier can be heard on recordings with the Utah Symphony and on more than thirty albums produced by the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square. He is endorsed as a Concert Artist for Pearl/Adams Percussion.

How did you get started in percussion?

Growing up in elementary, I took piano lessons for six or seven years. In fourth and fifth grade, the Utah Symphony does education concerts throughout the state. I remember going to Abravanel Hall in fifth grade. I  sat in the balcony, and was able to look down on the orchestra. I remember seeing the timpanist in the back playing a  piece with red maracas. I still remember thinking:, “That would be a fun job.”

In middle school, I wanted to play percussion, but they wouldn’t let me because there were already too many percussionists. My mom and dad didn’t want me to play the drums, they thought they’d be too loud. I ended up playing trumpet for two years. Then I got braces (it hurts to play trumpet with braces), so I switched to baritone. But, I kept asking to play drums. Near the end of my ninth-grade year I convince my mom to let me get  private lessons on snare drum. In tenth grade, I auditioned for the drum line, and made snare drum, and I never looked back.

Music has a way of connecting people to their emotions. It is important for people to feel that. It can be so inspiring. I took a ton of theory classes while in school,  I could diagram and analyze the structure of pieces, but nothing I learned in class really explained where its power came from.

What are some favorite memories or mentors from your time in undergrad at the U?

Doug Wolf was the professor of percussion. I actually took lessons from him in high school, and he was the reason I went to the U. In high school, I loved going up to the percussion ensemble concert.  In the fall the drumline always performed at that concert also and I loved that. I had Doug for about a year and a half in college and then I switched over to George Brown, who is the timpanist that I saw playing with red maracas in fifth grade. He became my teacher, mentor, and friend. In many ways he became like a father to me. Doug as well. They are both still close friends.

What were your career ambitions, what did you think your life in music would look like?

When I first went to the U for music, I did it for the scholarship, and I didn’t really think I was good enough to do music professionally. I just wanted to play on the drumline and in the percussion ensemble. I was actually looking for anything else. I thought I would be a hospital CEO or something – just because I wanted to make more money and have a cool title.

I remember one lesson with George, he knew I wasn’t totally committed yet. He started with “Have you ever been passionate about anything?” I responded, “Yeah... music.” He said, “If you don’t go for it, you are going to regret it for the rest of your life.” I asked Doug if he really thought I could make it in music and he said, “I wouldn’t have you here if I didn’t believe it.” Both of them having that confidence in me really helped.

Once I graduated from the U in 2003, I was going to do a master’s degree in percussion performance. I auditioned at Washington, Carnegie Mellon, and Cleveland State. I ended up at Cleveland State – the Cleveland Orchestra is one of the best in the world and I was excited to study in that city with great teachers influenced by the Cleveland Orchestra.

I had some time between graduating from the U and starting my master’s degree.  I was  newly married, and had a baby. We moved to Texas for seven months before grad school would start in the fall. My father-in-law owns an oil company, and I worked for him and got trained as a Landman during that time.  I really enjoyed the work.

When I went to Cleveland State and got my master’s, my goal was to be a principal timpanist for an orchestra – like the New York Phil or Philadephia Orchestra. I took 11 professional auditions. I’ve heard it takes about 40 auditions on average to get your first big job. I didn’t go far enough. It’s so hard, and so time consuming and costs a lot of money to travel to auditions.

After grad school, we moved back to Utah and I was playing for the Utah Symphony about 2 or 3 weeks out of the month. During the grind of practicing so much and performing I realized I wanted to be home with my family on the weekends. I was also teaching a lot of high schools, and private students, and taking gigs every chance I could.

In 2010, I went to Texas for Christmas, and I asked my father-in-law if I could do some work for him on the side, maybe 15 hours a week. I told him I could start in May. By February 1st he had me working 30 hours a week. So, I was back in the oil business and I loved it. In 2012 I moved back to Texas and became the Vice President of the oil company.

I thought I was done with music at that point. After a couple years  in Texas, I worked it out so that I could work remotely from Utah. Luckily, when I came back I was able to return to my position with the Tabernacle Choir and started playing for the Utah Symphony again. Now, I feel like I have a really good balance between the oil industry and music.

Do you have advice for students hoping to audition and join professional organizations?

Practice, and take lessons from respectable teachers.  Wherever I went, in Texas and Ohio, I was always practicing. Even during the first time I lived in Texas, I went to the high school and met the band director and got permission to practice at the school during my lunchtime.

In grad school, everyone was practicing 7-10 hours a day. So, it takes a ton of practice. But for you to get invited to an audition, you have to have something on your resumé that shows you are playing. I tried to find as many opportunities I could to play with local orchestra’s and took advantage of those chances whenever they would arise. 

What is the most rewarding part of directing a drumline?

The most rewarding part is performing – it is what we do all the work for. Halftime at the football games is really exciting. When I was a college kid and a younger instructor, I thought it was really fun to take a 12-hour bus ride through the night to go to a game. What I enjoyed the most as a player and instructor is warming up and playing our drum beats and cadences for a crowd.  We would play while the football team warmed up on the sidelines and would perform a little drum show for fans in the south end zone at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Another big reason I wanted to do percussion is that in middle school I noticed that all the cute girls were sitting by the snare drummers. So, I figured that’s my only chance. It worked out for me because I ended up marrying one of the dancers from the Utah dance team.

What is the most challenging part?DS P2

Marching band is so difficult. There is so much music to learn. You have the warm up packet, the pre-game music, two or three different half time shows. Just getting it all in your head, and then add it to moving around on the field? It’s so hard! It requires four hours a day during the season. When it’s done you need five months to recover. But when spring comes again and you hear the drumline warming up, you’re ready to get after it again.

What inspired you to found HYPE at the University of Utah? What has this program meant to you and the students it serves?

The level of kids that were coming to the U was dropping, and there weren’t as many opportunities for them to perform good percussion literature. George and Doug asked me, and encouraged me, to start a high school group to get some kids up to  the U and get them involved. My wife helped me come up with the name – Honors Youth Percussion Ensemble. I did it for four years and then some graduate assistants took it on. In the years I did it there were 39 students, and 11 of them ended up attending the U, and a few are now professional players and teachers now. I even play with a few of them in the groups I perform with now. It’s nice when students become colleagues and friends. That’s what George and Doug did for me – Doug recommended me for my first gig with the Utah Symphony.

It’s a cycle. I love performing the most but there is responsibility to teach. I’m happy to be back at the U teaching timpani.

In your opinion, why is music important?

Music has a way of connecting people to their emotions. It is important for people to feel that. It can be so inspiring. I took a ton of theory classes while in school,  I could diagram and analyze the structure of pieces, but nothing I learned in class really explained where its power came from. I still don’t know the answer, but its effects are sure. Music has great power to uplift, inspire, excite and even heal.

Even though I now make a majority of my living working in the business world, having  my music degrees has really helped me – I didn’t know I would be so good at negotiating deals and managing difficult legal conflicts,  Music taught me how to work with people, schedule my time, be organized. It all transferred so well to what I do in oil. Even though it’s just a piece of paper, the things you learn are so valuable. Your education shows that you are committed and dedicated, and can get things done.