Southern Percussion

Percussion Shop

Introduction to Southern Percussion

Southern Percussion is everything percussion as you can imagine! It is a rare thing to find such a specialist shop run by such a talented percussionist though, that this really is the “go to” for all percussionists. With a shop and large warehouse based in Rayleigh, Essex, they also operate online

They have been operating now for over 10 years under Katy Elman’s management and have a huge stock of music, instruments, drumsticks, mallets, plus all the accessories you can imagine. Their range is immense, from concert instruments, specialist world percussion instruments, sheet music for percussionists, cymbals, sounds, gongs, sticks, mallets, tambourines, triangles and even baby percussion instruments!

In addition to their great range, they are a friendly bunch and pride themselves on a personal service. If it is help you need finding a particular instrument or accessory or whether you are trying to track down an obscure piece of percussion music, they can help. As specialists they can also recommend music for a specific occasion or for a competition or college or school event.

The shop has a brilliant “test” area where you can try out different accessories and instruments, and even play along to pre-recorded orchestra soundtracks. The shop has just had a 100sqm extension and will dazzle you with its immense range of items.

Let’s meet Katy, who runs Southern Percussion.

Do you have a musical background?

I come from a very musical family. My mother used to teach music at the Guildhall (a long time ago) and my sisters (all three of them!) and myself are all very musical.

My eldest sister played the clarinet, my other two sisters played violin and cello, but I just wanted to play something big and loud! So, at the age of 8 I started playing the snare drum. Within one year I had achieved distinction for Grade 3 and already knew I wanted to take music seriously. I joined the Junior Guildhall on a Saturday at about the age of 9 and was recommended to consider applying to a dedicated music school. So, by age 10 I had applied and got into the Purcell Music School.

The Purcell School was amazing, but I was the only first study percussion player and I was keen to be amongst some other percussionists, so I made the unusual move of moving from the Purcell School to Wells Cathedral School at the age of 14. This worked well as I had a sister already there and another sister at Bath University, so we were all close by to each other. However, it was not quite for me and I moved for sixth form to Chethams in Manchester. I must be unique in having been to three of the top specialist music schools in the country! I would not want to recommend one over the other, as they all offer amazing opportunities to get specialist experience and teaching in music. They are all great places if you know you want to do music.

I went on from Chetham’s to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama where I studied with Richard Benjafield, Mike Skinner and David Corkhill. I think you need to think about where you want to build your network and contacts when you are looking at choosing a Music College. For me this could have been the Royal Northern College of Music, but I wanted to be in London. The teacher you want to study with is obviously also another big factor. Guildhall was brilliant and alongside this I did a lot of performing.

I did a lot of performing during my time at Guildhall, in part because I had won Southend Young Musician of the Year when I was 18, which had led joining the Concordia Foundation. Joining this was a pivotal moment in my career. I remember heading to their office in London with all my instruments, bundling into their front room on Craven Street on a very rainy day, to perform for them. Following this they signed me up and supported me to do outreach programmes and performances which really help make me who I am today. This gave me a huge experience at a young age, both performing and teaching.

I ended up performing in fantastic venues such as St Martin in the Fields and St James’s Piccadilly and other venues such as The Bridge Water Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Symphony Hall, and the Barbican. I played with the Aurelian Ensemble and played as guest timpanist and percussionist for many different orchestras. I even toured with a Rat Pat Show all around the country. Every week I was doing 4-5 evening performances.

How did you start Southern Percussion and what gave you the idea?

Southern Percussion was started an exceptionally long time ago by Ron Armstrong, but was a best kept secret operating from a small office in Bournemouth initially. It existed mainly by word-of-mouth recommendation. I used to be a customer, quite regularly, to try out new products and new music and so Ron knew we quite well, but this was while I was a teenager at music school.

While I was in my first year at the Guildhall School of Music, I received an unexpected call from Ron saying he was retiring asking if I wanted to take over the business. I was only about 19 at the time and was not sure what to say or ask, so I did not really give much response initially. However, after a bit of thought and speaking to a friend I called Ron back to ask him many more questions and worked out it could be a great opportunity to carry on his great reputation in percussion. This was really what he was offering, as he had run the business completely by referral and did not even have a stock list or database of customers! The business with me started with loading up a van of Ron’s stock and dropping it off at my parents, before heading off to Ghana for a month, before attempting to carry on the business for him, whilst also performing almost 4-5 nights a week and attending the Guildhall School of Music. It was a busy time!

What has been the secret to the success of Southern Percussion?

I have always focussed on offering only products which I would use myself and providing really specialist advice to people. For example, there are hundreds of mallets you can choose from to play with, but I can help people decide by asking them the right questions and knowing the products myself. Our entire staff are all percussionists themselves. We can give people the pros and cons of different options. Our specialism, along with our focus on finding what is best for the musician, creates a unique experience for our customers and people keep coming back to us.

What is the best thing about running a business such as Southern Percussion?

The best thing is that the business has really evolved over time and I am now able to create exactly what I think is needed for the percussion industry and individuals; what I would have loved as a child who was passionate about percussion. This means not only continuing to develop the shop both in store and online, for retail and trade, but creating projects around this as well.

I created a “test” area in the shop where you can try out for example the mallets on an instrument and play along with a recorded orchestra soundtrack; something I would have loved as a young amateur.

We run the Southern Percussion International Tuned Percussion Competition which is usually run at the Purcell School but is online this year. It gives people under the age of 18 the opportunity to not only compete but meet and network with other specialist percussion players. The judges are some of the best percussionists from around the world and they not only judge the players but offer masterclasses and we do a concert with everyone. This really brings together the talent under 18 across the world.

My next project is to launch a Percussion Academy. I still have a passion for teaching and if you would have asked me as a child what I would like to do, it would have been to have my own percussion school. All my staff who work at Southern Percussion are percussionists themselves and we are going to bring together some of the best percussion teachers in the world, to the Academy. We are just about to update our website and branding, and with this launch the school.

I am also actively involved with the National Association of Percussion Teachers and am helping this to evolve.

What sort of customers shop with you?

We are very specialist and so attract a lot of orchestras and professional percussionists, but we can also provide products and advice to people at all sorts of levels. We do have a focus on classical percussion and marching and you will not find a single drum kit in our shop because it is not our speciality, but we have a huge range of everything else!

What is your advice for someone who is passionate about percussion and wants to pursue this as a career?

If you know music is your passion and what you want to do in life, then you should follow this! Hard work and passion will lead you down the right path and I love helping talent find that path.

Find out more at Southern Percussion