X is for Xylophone: Student finds musical calling through the xylophone

Bowling Green junior Daniel McKillip practices the xylophone Thursday afternoon in a practice room in the fine arts center. McKillip has been playing xylophone since he was 6 years old and hopes to play professionally after he graduates.

Mary Anne Andrews

Most kids have one: a small rainbow-colored toy instrument that goes “tink-tink.” They drag it around the house banging out “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” with two small sticks on strings.

Bowling Green junior Daniel McKillip plays a much larger one. McKillip began playing the xylophone the summer before his sixth-grade year.

He walked into a junior high band room to choose an instrument. He didn’t realize he was choosing his degree and career path.

“I tried the different mouthpiece instruments, but I didn’t really make much noise on them,” he said.

Then he saw the xylophone.

Having taken piano lessons, McKillip liked the fact that he already knew the key pattern and how to read the music. And it made a lot of noise.

“It’s a really bright instrument, very piercing,” he said. “And if you want to get someone’s attention, it’s the instrument you want to use.”

McKillip said he appreciates the way the xylophone is used now, but he also enjoys its rich history.

Now, the xylophone is used mostly as an accent, he said. But, during the early days of radio, it was widely used in ragtime because of its unique way of cutting through the radio static.

McKillip plays for WKU’s Ensemble, Percussion Ensemble, Jazz Band, Steel Band and Orchestra. While he doesn’t have a favorite instrument, he said his favorite category is orchestral percussion, which includes the xylophone.

McKillip will play in the Austrian Masterworks concert Friday at 8 p.m. in Van Meter Hall. McKillip will wear a small cross necklace his grandmother gave him, which he wears on big performance days.

He will play again in a Steel Band Recital on April 24, at 5 p.m. in the Ivan Wilson Center.

He said he is especially excited about the steel band concert’s Caribbean reggae theme.

Bowling Green freshman Caitlin Belcher is a Vocal Music Education Major. She said she has attended several music performances, including those in which McKillip performs.

She said she appreciates the xylophone’s unique timbre, or tone.

“It adds reinforced notes to a whole band ensemble’s sound and provides melody for a percussion ensemble on its own,” she said.

Flaherty junior Andy Edelen has played in ensemble and steel band with McKillip.

“He’s the best in our studio,” Edelen said.

Edelen is a Music Education major with a concentration in percussion. Edelen said that in high school the competition wasn’t very stiff, but when he met McKillip as a freshman, he started to realize he was going to have to push himself to keep up. He said McKillip encouraged him to work hard.

McKillip said he hopes his hard work pays off with a performing job.

“Right now, I would be happy performing with anyone,” he said.

One of his goals is to always have fun with the music. McKillip said artists who inspire his attitude include Chick Corea, Samuel Burden and, especially, the sometimes-barefoot Bobby McFerrin.

“Once in a while, I’ll hear a song, and it will just impact me emotionally,” McKillip said. “The fact that music can do that is really inspiring.”