Thoughts about playing an easily heard instrument (both the glory and the terror). Written as encouragement (hoepfully!) to those who might be feeling a bit shy about playing percussion in public.
Whether you just played the loudest cymbal crash, or the softest, most delicate triangle roll imaginable, chances are, those in the audience know that you played it. Why? Because almost every note you play on a percussion instrument is a solo. Yes, the notes might be played along with other instruments, but my guess is that it will be easier to pick out you playing the snare drum (or cymbals, or xylophone, or maracas, or…) versus picking out one of a sea of clarinets or violins. This is because there is probably only one of you versus 10, 20, 30 of them (and because you are probably standing up!!), but also because the snare drum, like most percussion instruments, has a very distinctive sound, and was probably not put into the composition in order to blend in! This is not to say that percussion instruments aren't used in ways where their sounds blend in, but more often than not, composers write for percussion instruments with the idea that they be distinctly heard. This does not mean that you go out and play everything loudly—always follow dynamics and listen carefully to how your dynamics should fit in with the ensemble. I only want to remind you not to be afraid to play what is on the page. It is part of the job. If it says fortissimo (ff), Play it that way! Like I said, everyone will know what you played, when you played it, and how it turned out. You can't hide even if you want to! So get past that (easier said than done—but essential), prepare your music, practice, and when the time comes, make sure you play the best that you can and play with confidence. Will you miss a note from time to time? I'm 100% sure. Can it be stressful to stand on stage knowing that you, and you alone, will have to play that easily heard snare drum roll or cymbal crash? Yes. (Practicing can help a lot with that, though. When you feel prepared, things are a lot less scary.) But is it fun to have 10 or 2000 or even 10,000 people hear you play a part perfectly (and marvel at how it makes the piece that much more wonderful)—and for them to be able to tell it was you? Absolutely. Don't be shy — go for it!