BY PHIL HOOD
Listen to “Star Wars,” “Harry Potter,” or countless other soundtracks and you are likely hearing Grover tambourines being played by top studio talent. The same goes for pop and country records by artists such as Jason Aldean or Taylor Swift. But the number one place to hear these instruments is on classical concert stages.
Neil Grover has been making percussion instruments for 39 years — almost as long as he has been making music as a percussionist with the world-renowned Boston Pops Orchestra. His entrepreneurial escapades began when he became interested in re-creating the sound of a particular vintage triangle the orchestra had. He enlisted MIT students to help find the formula for the magic triangle and then found a blacksmith to build one. That first model was a hit with his peers and soon Grover was receiving orders for triangles. He was in business.
Since then Grover has expanded into all manner of blocks and noisemakers, mallets, snare wires, drums, and those exquisite tambourines designed for a variety of styles of music, with jingles of silver, copper, bronze, brass, and many more options.
When not in the Grover Pro factory in Woburn, Massachusetts, Grover is often still on the road performing with the Boston Pops.
Drum!: Who has been your biggest inspiration as a classical percussionist?
Grover: That’s relatively easy. The biggest inspiration was Vic Firth. I studied with Vic formally for three years, then I got the rare opportunity to work alongside him in the Boston Symphony and watch a master at work.
You’ve been with “America’s Orchestra,” the Boston Pops, for 41 seasons. What’s the greatest kind of performance for you?
The greatest performances are ones where the combined efforts of the performers, conductor and composer come together to create an experience that transcends everyday life and gives meaning to the human experience. I can honestly say that playing the terrific film music of composer John Williams with John conducting is always an experience that sets the bar very high.
Are you still playing any other kinds of gigs?
Yes. I recently played timpani on the new tour called 4U: A Symphonic Celebration Of Prince. The music was curated by Questlove and the production is touring the US.
Your manufacturing and your art are merged. Your first product was a triangle. What were the second and third products you developed?
The second product was a tambourine and the third was a pair of hard nylon xylo/bell mallets.
Concert percussionists are typically more particular about every aspect of sound. Has does that influence you as a product developer?
It has really helped to be an active percussionist myself. Accordingly, everything is designed from the perspective of a percussionist with superior sound being the overriding goal. The bottom line is that for over 35 years we only manufactured products that I would personally use, whether in Boston’s iconic Symphony Hall, or in a small home recording studio.
Today you are known for quality concert instruments and accessories. But your products are played by pop musicians too. Are there any products you developed and dropped? Maybe things you shouldn’t have built?
Absolutely, but if I told you I’d have to send you to a tambourine jingle hammering workshop in a very remote part of Siberia. Понимаю?
If you weren’t with the Boston Pops what band or orchestra would you want to be in?
The Lawrence Welk Orchestra. (Hey, he featured the marimba player and I heard the bread was good!)
Who’s your favorite speed metal drummer?
What’s something no one could guess about your musical tastes or background?
In the early 1970s I recorded a number of standards on the Moog Synthesizer, including “Tea For Two.”