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Student newspaper of Strath Haven High School

Panther Press

Student newspaper of Strath Haven High School

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Good vibes only: Nathan Sepinwall talks passion for percussion

Junior percussionist’s path from start to finish amidst PMEA State festival and upcoming George Slick performance.
Kate Plows
Nathan Sepinwall performs at the spring 2023 jazz concert.

Although he is often seen in the background at Haven music performances, junior Nathan Sepinwall has finally been brought to the spotlight due to his exceptional musical dedication both in and outside of Haven.
Percussionist Nathan Sepinwall specializes in playing the vibraphone, a metal instrument similar to a xylophone and played with mallets. This unique interest started because he’s always enjoyed playing music— well, it might not have been exactly music.
“I think from a very young age, I was banging on things,” Sepinwall said. “I guess for me, it just kind of evolved from that into thinking [about] things maybe a little bit more musically.”
Throughout his endeavors, Sepinwall has had the support of Wallingford-Swarthmore School District’s music program, specifically from music teacher and director Mr. Nicholas Pignataro.
The two first met at a joint audition for two orchestras, when Sepinwall was in 6th grade.
“Nate at the time was too short to play the snare drum, so he did his audition on a chair so it would be at the appropriate height because the thing wouldn’t go any lower,” Pignataro said. “ My first memory, and probably my most prominent memory of his early days is him standing on a chair, playing his snare perfectly well. He wasn’t fazed by it at all.”
Sepinwall continues to play in the orchestra five years after his standing-on-a-chair audition experience.
In addition to this local district ensemble, he has also been chosen for the district festival by the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) program, a state affiliate of the national program for music education. The program allows percussion students like Sepinwall to reach higher levels based on auditions— from Districts to Regionals to States and beyond.
“[At the festival] you get to rehearse for a couple of days with people from a ton of other schools who have all also auditioned for it, and then at the culmination of it, usually on the morning of the last day, you play in concert,” Sepinwall said, “If you did well enough in your audition, then you’ll move on to, kind of the next round, and do it all again.”

My first memory, and probably my most prominent memory of his early days is him standing on a chair, playing his snare perfectly well. He wasn’t fazed by it at all.

— Mr. Nick Pignataro

He participated in the Orchestra and Band Districts in February, moving forward to Regionals for both ensembles last month, and anticipates an exciting State festival at Kalahari Indoor Waterpark on April 22 for Wind Ensemble, a branch of the band program only offered at the state level. This is the first year he has made it this far in the PMEA festivals, making the experience all the more thrilling.
“It’s really kind of stimulating, to be in that kind of environment where everyone you know has so much passion and love for playing music, for listening to music,” he said. “And then also to be around people who are, you know, kind of putting in the same kind of time.”
And he really does put in the time. He doesn’t take breaks in the summer. In fact, things get even more intense.
“Last summer I did the Philadelphia International Music Festival. I did a, like, two-week summer percussion intensive at Juilliard. This summer I’m doing an orchestra program at the New England Conservatory and a percussion intensive at Boston University [that] has a festival at Tanglewood,” he said.
Applying for and providing auditions to these programs take a lot of preparation on Sepinwall’s part, both musically and mentally.
“Obviously, I still have nerves, I mean going into an audition…[but] I know I’ve done everything I could at that point, there’s nothing more I can do. And so I’m going to go in, I’m going to play, that’s going to be that,” he said.
Nevertheless, the effort is worth it. He finds that music programs are incredibly accessible and cater to a variety of interests.
“Even weird ones, like the bassoon,” Sepinwall said.
“I think I came out of each one that I’ve done so far, like, a significantly better musician just because you get to, you know, like work with professionals, and then work with like, people who are playing your instrument who are very kind of serious about it. So yeah, definitely would recommend,” he said.
Not only is Sepinwall a talented musician himself, but he is also a notable inspiration to others. Pignataro sees this dynamic in the music classroom often.
“He’s a really nice guy. And I think that helps him communicate with other people. And because people like being around him, they’d like to learn from him. And as he teaches other students, he gets better at it because to teach means to sort of master before you can do it,” Pignataro said.
Even mastery of an instrument doesn’t mean you can skip practicing. With his days packed with hours of it, Sepinwall continues carrying his passion for music throughout each day, motivated by two main factors.
“There’s just kind of [an] intrinsic enjoyment in playing music, but I would also say that yeah, there’s definitely kind of a want to always just kind of be better,” Sepinwall said.
Despite all the hard work involved, he urges others to always keep in mind the most important pillar of music: fun.
“[My] overarching piece of advice would just be to have fun. Then, secondly, maybe not to be intimidated by, you know, people who seem like their skill level or something is unachievable, because you know, it’s practice, and if you put in the time, you can be up there too, not that I’m saying that I am at all, but I definitely had those experiences before,” Sepinwall said.
As for his professional interests, Sepinwall knows that he wants to continue the fun and keep music in his life. He is interested in finding a joint music program in college as an addition to his academic pursuits, but there’s nothing in particular that he’s set his heart on yet.
With five years of history behind them now, Pignataro offers his own hopes for Sepinwall’s future.
“He’s exactly the kind of guy everywhere would want in their percussion program. If he wants to do anything else, his percussion learning is going to translate.” Pignataro continues, “I know he’s an incredibly hard worker, so I have a feeling that whatever he wants to do, he’s gonna be just fine.”
As he prepares for his upcoming George Slick performance on June 6th, Sepinwall is hard at work carefully crafting each section of the recital. His ability to play a variety of styles will translate into the pieces he chooses to perform.
Sepinwall’s music journey serves as a reminder to find what you enjoy, because with it comes an incredible passion.
“I guess having fun is the most important thing… there [are] so many opportunities and so much fun stuff out there,” Sepinwall said.*

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About the Contributor
CJ Chen '24
CJ Chen '24, Reporter
CJ is a senior reporter for the Panther Press. They enjoy teaching their pet chickens tricks, cooking fancy meals, and traversing local parks.
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