Patti Niemi has been a member of the percussion section of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra since 1992. Prior to joining the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, Patti was a member of the New World Symphony from 1988-1992, under music director Michael Tilson Thomas. She recently recorded chamber music for composer Howard Hersh, including the premiere of "Night for Clarinet and Marimba" with opera colleague Jose Gonzalez Granero. Patti earned a Bachelor of Music degree from The Juilliard School in 1987. Her two favorite things to do are play music and write, so naturally, writing about music is also high on the list. Her first book, a memoir entitled Sticking It Out, is available in the San Francisco Opera Gift Shop, and here.
“In this absorbing memoir, Niemi, a longtime percussionist with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, shines a spotlight on the musicians at the back of the orchestra with their drums, xylophones, marimbas, triangles, and bells, and recounts what it took for her to join their ranks. Niemi’s interest in playing the drums began during childhood, and by the time she finished high school in 1983, her determination to master any instrument she could “shake or smack” brought her to the ultra-competitive environment of the Juilliard School. There, she wryly notes, the message she and other students received was “You are what you do…. Now go practice.” Niemi was already an anxious individual, and her quest for musical perfection soon triggered panic attacks and turned her into “a walking piece of anxiety-filled meat.” After a teacher repeatedly sexually harassed her, her stress became almost unbearable. Niemi explains how she overcoming these hurdles and shares her hard-won insights with a mix of candor and self-deprecating humor. Not surprisingly, readers will find that her story goes over with a bang.”
By turns reflective and dramatic, poignant and hilarious, Sticking It Out offers an irresistible portrait of the artist as a young percussionist. In deft and swiftly drawn narrative strokes, Patti Niemi charts the formation of a career in music — the endless hours in the practice room, the stomach-churning anxiety of auditions, the blend of competitiveness and camaraderie that shapes relations among up-and-coming musicians — and she does it with wit and personality to burn. She’s as adept at writing as she is at standing in a corner and banging on things.
CLASSICAL MUSIC CRITIC
Patti Niemi’s oft-hilarious memoir shatters images of percussionists as fearless aggressors who drive and pound their way through life. Instead, it presents the image of an emerging artist pounded by fear and insecurity.
As she tells her tale with disarming candor, Niemi opens the door on the mental and artistic challenges facing all aspiring classical musicians in an era of shrinking avenues for professional practice. After she takes us through the wringer, as it were, she enables us to breathe a huge sigh of relief, if not make a joyful racket, as she lands her gig with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. Brava!