Percussionist Lillian Garcia loves playing some of classical music’s most memorable pieces: Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy” or Bizet’s “Carmen.” These are pieces she’s played for decades, and she still finds new things to enjoy about them when she plays with the Summerville Orchestra.

“I like anything that, oddly enough, made me practice at school,” Garcia said. “We had to practice all these concert excerpts to the point of perfection for our juries and for grades. There’s a tambourine part in Bizet’s ‘Carmen,’ which is a fairly intense tambourine part and I wanted to play it, to prove to myself that I can still do it. I guess I get a kick out of being able to do stuff that I used to be able to do when I was in college.”

Garcia came to the Summerville Orchestra through a long and winding path. She played percussion in a band as a child in Virginia, after briefly flirting with piano and saxophone.

“I just started playing drums in the sixth grade,” she said. “I guess at the time being a girl in a ‘boys section,’ I felt super cool. That sounds so stupid but as a kid I was like, ‘Alright, I can do this boys thing,’ but playing was just fun. At the time it didn’t feel like work. It felt like something I wanted to do.”

As she got older, Garcia started to land paying gigs on timpani drums, also known as kettle drums. 

“I remember the first gig I got in high school,” she said, “just playing timpani at a local church in Norfolk, Virginia, my mom had to drive me to it, and she was all freaked out and worried about me. And I just laughed because it was just a church gig. It was fun. It was like, ‘Wow, I can get paid to play! This is cool!’ ”

When she got to college, Garcia didn’t major in percussion — she became a band teacher and spent 18 years in the classroom. She also married a Navy man and moved frequently, living as far west as Seattle. She kept playing percussion anywhere she could all the while. 

“I played in local symphonies and other churches,” she said. “Anybody that needed a drummer or percussionist. I played wherever I could. I played with the Lynchburg Symphony [in Virginia] for a while. I sat in once for the Roanoke Symphony. I remember doing a musical at some point. And I got to play in a couple of groups up in Seattle. That was fun. And of course I was teaching the entire time.”

Garcia and her husband came to Charleston in 2014. She began playing locally almost immediately, first with the Mount Pleasant Symphony and eventually with the Summerville Orchestra.

“I saw that they needed percussionists in the Summerville Orchestra,” she said, “so I was like ‘Yeah, sure.’ So I wrote out and they wrote right back saying, ‘Yeah, we can use you,’ and that’s how it happened. I met my principal percussionist, and he gave me music. The first concert I played was [conductor] Wojciech Milewski’s first season with the group.”

 Of course, if you’re not into classical music, you might still be familiar with Garcia because of her day job. She works behind the scenes and as a DJ for Charleston’s 95SX (WSSX FM). You can catch her on the radio on Saturday and Sunday evenings slinging top 40 hits and handling news breaks.

Garcia got into radio back in her Virginia days, working weekends and summers when she wasn’t teaching. She was a natural multitasker, handling everything from call screening to production. 

“For me, I’m actually more into the behind-the-scenes thing,” she said. “What got me into radio was producing. I’m an audio producer for 95SX, from the promos and the branding. I’ll be the person that works the boards during the remotes or live broadcasts, too. So that’s what attracted me to it was making promos and just being behind the scenes.”


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