COLUMBIA — A tall young man with long arms, Shaun Gladney looks better suited for basketball or as a baseball pitcher.
Instead he plays on a different team.
His hands are almost a blur as he skillfully moves among the five drums, called tenor drums, strapped to his body. He is one of 11 on the drum line for the Emerald Regiment of Rock Bridge High School.
Gladney, an 18-year-old senior, has been playing percussion for seven years, since the summer before the sixth grade. With college in sight, he is preparing to face the world. His passion for music is a strong motivator.
He chose percussion, he said, because he always wanted to play drums.
"When sixth-grade band came around, percussion was natural for me," he recalled. "I couldn't get sound out of any wind instrument at all."
He traces his love for music to the quality of music he listened to as a kid. He grew up listening to the "classics" — the bands Boston and Earth, Wind and Fire.
"When I was a kid, me and my dad would listen to Boston real loud in the car and we'd do all kinds of crazy air-drumming and air rock guitar moves," Gladney said.
His father, Bryant, isn't sure, though, where his son's the musical talent came from.
"I have no idea how much of his ability is innate and how much he has developed," Bryant Gladney said. "But we're proud of him for working as hard as he does to get the most out the gift that he has."
His son is capable of playing a range of percussion instruments — snare drum, cymbals, tenor drums and mallet percussion instruments, like the xylophone. He also performs in three different bands at Rock Bridge: marching band and the wind and percussion ensembles.
Performing, he said, gives him an outlet for self-expression.
"When I started performing, I found that it was really easy to express myself through the music," Gladney said.
He writes music as well, basically learned through trial and error — but good enough to attract attention.
He won first place with his percussion piece "Red Soul" in the 2011 MU Creating Original Music Project. He said the piece was inspired by a commute in his car — a red Kia Soul — and it features eight percussionists.
"I've taken motifs or rhythms or even styles of composing from different pieces I've played, or different ensembles I've been in," he said. "Even the bell at Rock Bridge that tells us to get to class. I put those in 'Red Soul.'"
He said a sense of relief comes over him when he completes a piece.
"It feels good to have accomplished something from start to finish, knowing that you created it all," he said.
Sherril Gladney, Shaun's mother, said she is proud of what her son has accomplished so far. He might still have to be reminded to do his chores, like many teenagers, but she calls him her "greatest composition."
"His achievements really do come from his own dedication, focus and hard work," his mother said. "That drive is apparent in most everything he does. He has always been that way, even from a very young age."
His drive and determination has led Shaun to create a website, F5Percussion, where he markets his music.
"I wanted to be able to sell my music and get my stuff out there. Showcase some of my music and what I'm doing," he said.
He wants the website to become a place where high school students can immerse themselves in music.
"The goal would be to offer music students a place to challenge themselves in the music world," he said.
He has been accepted by MU for undergraduate studies in music composition. For graduate work, he is considering Indiana University and the University of Southern California. USC, he said, has a one-year graduate program in composing for films, something he said that interests him.
Bob Thalhuber, one of his band teachers at Rock Bridge, said he is talented enough to be successful in music.
"Mizzou is a great school, so I'm excited that he got accepted," Thalhuber said. "There is a lot of hard work ahead of him, but I believe he can do it."