Bill Kerrigan has been teaching at Settlement for over 40 years. He was in his sophomore year at Temple University when he started, so he has been thinking about the art of teaching since he was a student himself.
The Cleveland native first came to Philadelphia to study at Temple; one of his teachers there, Alan Abel, started the percussion program at Settlement, in addition to playing for many years with the Philadelphia Orchestra. One of his other primary teachers, Charles Owen, was already playing with the Orchestra when Abel joined it. “They’re both in the Percussive Arts Hall of Fame,” Kerrigan notes.
He takes this teaching lineage to heart, and just as he sought to soak up knowledge from these teachers during his training, he still looks for opportunities to learn through masterclasses, demonstrations, and workshops. “What makes this person such an extraordinary teacher?" he asks himself. "What are they saying that’s really hitting home with their students?”
Just as musicians are constantly practicing and working on their craft, he says, “we’re all still learning how to teach and how to be better teachers.”
His craft as a percussionist is a major part of his life as well, as he regularly performs with the Philly Pops, the Delaware Symphony Orchestra, the Phil-A-Rhythm Percussion Quartet, and Orchestra2001. This last group, an ensemble focused on contemporary music, plays repertoire that often requires an array of exotic instruments.
He lists some of his favorites, as well as some of the stranger ones he’s played: almglocken, a large set of tuned cowbells; the "devil chaser," a handheld bamboo stick with an odd, buzzing tone; and the "cannon drum," a long, cylindrical drum that produces loud, explosive sounds.
Kerrigan's students can see these instruments in use at some of his performances, but standard repertoire with the usual complement of percussion instruments can be eye-opening for young musicians. “I encourage them to listen to music and then to go out and see live performances,” he says. “That way, they can see what really great playing looks like and sounds like.” Here he notes the presence of many great musicians and ensembles in and around Philadelphia.
Over the course of his teaching career, he has noticed greater parental involvement and interest, particularly with younger students. More and more, parents sit in on lessons and ask about what their children are learning; in that way, the parents are learning, too. “Often those kids are the best students,” he says.