A tribute to and scrapbook of Joe Amato, world-class drummer and respected teacher header image 2

Cream of the Crop

April 20th, 2008 by Pierce · No Comments

Anyone who visited Joe Amato wherever he lived could see he was a master gardener. In those days when Joe was busy, happily reaping what he had sown, the term “Master Gardener” was not yet part of the lexicon. Either you had a garden or you didn’t. If your family had a generational legacy of growing its own food and flowers, it showed. You didn’t need take a class, pass some tests and then get a certificate proclaiming you a “Master Gardener” with a hat and magazine subscription to match. (My apologies to any Master Gardeners who might read this) You knew the requirements for the overall garden, when to pile on the compost (not to mention how to prepare the compost) when and where to add lime, mink manure, fireplace ashes etc. When to till and how soon you could get your peas in. You knew what varietals to plant and if it was done by memorial day with a little weed hoeing and encouragement this or that here and there nature would take it’s course and your cornucopia would runneth over.
It seems to me an analogy can be made between Joe’s green thumb and his ability to teach percussion. With both, you want a good start, the right fertilizer and exposure and if anyone starts to droop, you provide a long cool mineral rich drink of inspiration from deep in the aquifer of your life experience. I never heard Joe make this analogy but I’m sure he talked to friends and peers about his new “crop” of budding percussionist a time or two.
I want to focus for a moment on one of the mid ’70’s “crop”, Mark Goodenberger, a truly wonderful human being with a river of exuberance that is swift but under control. I met Mark in the very early 1970’s when his Father became the pastor of the Presbyterian church my family attended. His mother played the harp, and I don’t mean harmonica. One of his sisters became an accomplished pianist who composes and performs sometimes in the Astoria area. (I can see fodder for another post here about musical ability and DNA) His other sister became a very busy mom with a growing family last I knew and his brother became a long distance runner, who worked with the AHS track team for decades and has parlayed his interest in Astoria history into an impressive career. Mark in 1971 was pretty young so we didn’t hang out together much but I remember hearing a few years later he was getting lessons from Joe. Later yet I heard he was tackling the marimba and doing well. I was impressed. I had purchased an old 3 octave Degan marimba at a second hand store. It didn’t take long to see that holding and controlling 2 or more mallets in each hand presented a different kind of challenge. Sometime after that I heard he was getting lessons in Portland, perusing and pursuing percussion at various institutions of higher learning. One day it was called to my attention that Mark Goodenberger had a percussion group called “The Wild Cheetahs” and they were slated for an Astoria performance. It was a great show, every kind of percussion you could imagine and it was colorful, dynamic, good clean fast moving fun with a strong musical root. Again I was impressed.
Today Mark is the Director of Percussion Studies at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, WA. He has worked with many of the big names in modern composition: Steve Reich, Libby Larsen, Chen Yi, Tomas Svoboda, George Crumb, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Elliott Carter, Lou Harrison, Mark Polishook, and Chinary Ung. Talk about balance though, Mark is also a specialist in baroque music, is Principle with the Portland Baroque Chamber Orchestra and composes pieces that draw from his wellspring of influences. Put Mark’s name into any search engine and you will be provided with pages of his activities, concerts and accomplishments. When I emailed him recently about using some of quotes from someone else’s writings, I didn’t have to wait long for a reply, he said “feel free” and that he shares his memories of Joe with his students on a daily basis. He also provided more names for the Roll Call, mentioned I should talk to Astoria conductor Lee Stromquist for some good stories and said he has pictures of Joe which I look forward to seeing. (I am saving those quotes for an upcoming post.) Mark is an amazing fellow, and living proof that nice guys don’t have to finish last. I hope to catch him in concert again sometime soon. Keep up the good work Mark, we’re all proud of and inspired by you.

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