Lilli Tobe: Drumming is always going to be something I do.

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Credit: Joanna Barrow

Sophomore Lilli Tobe practices in the band room at WHS. Tobe has been playing percussion instruments since 5th grade and now plays in multiple musical groups, as well as doing gigs on the side. "Music is kind of an escape from stress and school," Tobe said. "And it's something that I find really fun to do, so I just keep playing."

Joanna Barrow

Like some high school students, sophomore Lilli Tobe participates in the school band. She’s a percussionist, which means she has expertise in instruments ranging from the glockenspiel, to the timpani, triangle, snare drums, drum set and all auxiliary instruments. This wide range of ability is enough in and of itself to set her apart, but what really makes Tobe stand out is how she turned her love for percussion into more than an elective.

“My first [gig] was at the beginning of 8th grade,” Tobe said. “I’ve played at churches, openings [and other] events.”

Tobe remembered one of her favorite gigs at a church in Weston.

“We played Jubilate Deo by Dan Forrest, and it was played along with singers,” Tobe said. “Plus, it challenged me because the piece is about 50 minutes and I had two days to learn it. Also, they had a mini orchestra and hired two other percussionists who were professionals. I learned a lot from them.”

Tobe doesn’t have to look far to schedule these gigs as many organizations looking for drummers seek her out.

“The first gig I did, my drum teacher was asked if he had any students who could play at a church, and he gave it to me,” Tobe said. “That’s how I got started. [Now] I’ll get an email, or often times people will reach out to my teacher and he will tell me and give me the information.”

Most of the time, Tobe plays at these gigs for free, but has made as much as $175 for one event.

Tobe began playing percussion in elementary school when the band program began for students, but she’s had a lifelong interest in drumming.

“I just always thought the drums were cool, and I really wanted to play it,” Tobe said. “Plus, family members had said that drums were a guys thing, so I wanted to prove them wrong.”

Since she formally began playing the drums, Tobe has grown to be a talented drummer in Wayland Public Schools.

While there are a few other student drummers at WHS, the drums lack the competitiveness of other instruments at WHS. For example, as many as 33 WHS students from band, orchestra and chorus made senior districts this past year, but Tobe was the only drummer among them.

Tobe even earned an All-States recommendation, which means that she earned the chance to compete against some of the best drummers in Massachusetts.

“It means a lot,” Tobe said. “It’s really exciting because I love music, and a chance to play with such a talented group would be amazing.”

To prepare, Tobe practices three hours a day the week before the audition, and as much as six hours per day on the weekend. As for her motivation to keep going, she said, “I just love playing music, so having fun is my motivation.”

Tobe attributes much of her success to her teacher, Dan Foote.

“He’s really talented, and he plays everything from drum set to marimba,” Tobe said. “And he’s taught me so much over the years and has always been super positive and supportive. He’s never gotten mad or anything if I mess up, which is really nice because I always hear those horror stories about really mean music teachers.”

Tobe also believes her participation in a variety of musical groups has helped her become a well-rounded percussionist: Tobe’s a member of the band and orchestra at WHS and plays in a marimba ensemble at Rivers. She has also played with the Rivers Symphony Orchestra as well as the Rivers Youth Symphony Orchestras, and at one point was part of a jazz band.

“Overall, I’ve done a big variety of things, which is really cool because I’ve gotten to expand in the styles I play,” Tobe said. “Plus I’ve gotten to play with many different groups and follow many different conductors.”

One highlight of Tobe’s drumming career was when she played at Jordan and Symphony Hall, the latter being one of the top three musical halls in the world.

“We played the Olympics theme song as well as West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein,” Tobe said. “It was really memorable because the music sounded so good in the hall, our looking out from the stage was surreal. It felt like a dream.”

Long term, Tobe hopes to continue to play at gigs and grow as a musician.

“I plan to do a double major in college, one of them being music,” Tobe said. “Drumming is always going to be something I do. It’s something that I love, and will continue to do for the rest of my life.”