Talk about impeccable timing. Sixteen years ago, Kit Chatham snared a dream job as a drummer for Cirque du Soleil as the entertainment juggernaut was becoming a worldwide phenomenon.
“I have been fortunate with Cirque,” he said. “I tend to like percussion more, but I have been playing drums since I was a little kid.
“In the last show that I did and in this current show, Drawn to Life — which is a partnership with Cirque and Disney — I will be doing drum set, percussion and orchestral percussion.”
Chatham is also planning for the future. He enrolled in the online Master of Music in Music Technology — Performance Technology Emphasis program at Southern Utah University in September 2020.
“I have a little bit of a break before we start our rehearsals,” he said. “I had been planning on getting a master’s for a bit. When I saw this program was totally online and asynchronous, it was a perfect opportunity.
“I was thinking I would never do it, but a lot of my friends and colleagues tell me I should teach college students, which is something I am looking forward to. I probably won’t be jumping around on stage forever. Having this degree will help me do that.”
Chatham and his wife, Ashley, live in Las Vegas, where she is a music teacher. As a performing musician, he is weathering the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on his career. Once audiences can safely attend live events, the couple will be in Orlando for the duration of the show.
“I figured that I can get started, knock out a chunk of the program and see how it goes,” he said. “Even when I go back to work and we’re in creation and the performance schedule, I typically do 10 shows a week. I will have a lot of time before and after to get schoolwork done.”
Bang for Bucks
Chatham was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. His mother, Fran, was a singer, pianist and organist at the church where his father, Skider, was a preacher.
“I was heavily involved in gospel music growing up — especially being from the South,” he said. “That got me singing in choir and taking piano as a kid in a musical family. It grew from there. I got into percussion and started taking lessons.”
As Chatham’s talent developed, his dad urged him to earn a college degree. He took heed and graduated from the University of Georgia with a Bachelor of Music in 2000.
“I got a lot of performing experience in Athens, which is part of the reason it took me five-and-a-half years to graduate,” he said. “I was gigging and teaching the marching band while I was in school.
“I also did a transitional semester, which allowed me to do another fall and stay around for Georgia football. Through all of that, I was touring and doing gigs. I also toured Europe while I was in college.”
Chatham planned to attend graduate school at either the University of North Texas or University of Miami after he graduated. Instead, he got his first post-college touring job right out of the gate.
“I got a gig offer from Paul Rennick, who teaches at UNT,” he said. “He said, ‘Do you want to tour with the show called Blast?’ I pretty much graduated from Georgia, went to do this tour of Blast for three years and haven’t stopped since.”
After his stint with another show, Cyber Jam, Chatham returned home and got married before landing a full-time position with Cirque du Soleil. Over the years, he has taken a few college courses online.
“My professors and people I work and teach with tell me, ‘You don’t need to go get a master’s degree in performance. You have more experience than all of us combined.'”
Still, Chatham knew that having a graduate degree would help propel his career. “I never found a master’s program I could do online while performing,” he said. “I stumbled across the SUU Master of Music Technology program on the internet. It was exactly what I wanted.
Finding a Rhythm
Chatham is still new to the online Master of Music in Music Technology — Performance Technology Emphasis program, but he is excited about taking the MUSC 6323: Audio Recording I course and the capstone project.
“I am looking forward to expanding on what I know in the program,” he said. “I am taking Live Sound/Concert Production I [MUSC 6303] right now. I am involved in that area, and I have been fortunate to work with some sound designers who are amazing. It’s nice to get a scope of that.”
Although Chatham was somewhat familiar with online learning, he had to familiarize himself with it more after enrolling at SUU, after his 20-year hiatus from higher education. He is on track to graduate in December 2021.
Noting the practicality of online learning in the real world, he said, “It is kind of a new thing that people aren’t used to — especially older students.
“When clients pay me to do music assignments for them, I am expected to deliver the assignment in that time frame. This is a program that is setting you up to do things like that. You get as much out of it as you put into it.”
Chatham is happy to take advantage of a break in performing by starting the master’s degree program, but he is eager to get back to doing what he loves. He has built a great life touring the world and playing music.
“I can’t complain because someone else paid for it,” he said. “Even my wife has enjoyed it. She joined me in Japan, Singapore and all over the world.
“People ask me who the one person is I would want to play with. It would be Peter Gabriel. He has so much world influence with his music.”
While Chatham has the ideal moniker for a drummer, he says the nickname is merely a happy coincidence.
“I have gone by Kit my entire life — and not because I play drums,” he said. “My dad goes by Skider. He has been called that since before he was born. He’s Calvin, and my name is Christopher. If you call us that, nobody knows who you are talking about.
“When I was younger, my dad said, ‘Kit, the guy you are taking drum lessons with … doesn’t have a music degree. Why don’t you be smart and get one to have something to fall back on?'”
Even with a successful career, Chatham is still following that advice. Of course, having good timing doesn’t hurt, either.