George R. Willis is the director of percussion studies at West Virginia University. His varied background covers symphonic music, contemporary percussion music, as well as brass band and drum corps. Mr. Willis has been performing with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra since 1984 and was a full-time member of the percussion section during the 1996 – 1997 season. He has performed throughout Japan , Taiwan , Russia , South and Central America, and virtually all of Europe . He has collaborated with conductors such as Lorin Maazel, Andre Previn, Charles Dutoit, and Sir Neville Marriner, and artists like James Galway, Lynn Harrell, James Taylor, Johnny Mathis, and Andrea Boccelli. He has performed and recorded on virtually every aspect of the percussion family including Drum Set, Snare Drum, Xylophone, Vibraphone, Marimba and more. Mr. Willis was the principal percussionist with the nationally renowned Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble for 10 seasons. During this time he premiered over 100 works written specifically for the ensemble. During his tenure, the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble commissioned three solo works specifically for Mr. Willis by composers Elliott Miles McKinley, P. Q. Phan, and Donald Reid Womack. Mr. Willis has solo recordings on the MMC Recording label with both the Slovak Radio Orchestra and the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble. He can also be heard on numerous Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra recordings and several River City Brass Band recordings. Mr. Willis has performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Pittsburgh Opera, Pittsburgh Ballet, Civic Light Opera (Pittsburgh, Pa), and the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra, plus many other arts organizations in the Western Pennsylvania area. Mr. Willis is also active in promoting appreciation of music through educational concerts given in schools in the Pittsburgh area.
George holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts concentrating in Percussion Performance from Carnegie-Mellon University (1984), a Master of Music in Percussion from Temple University (1989), and a Masters of Business Administration specializing in Information Systems and Finance from the University of Pittsburgh (2000). Mr. Willis attended the Tanglewood Music Festival, the Aspen Music Festival and the Spoleto Music Festival. His teachers include John Soroka, principal percussionist of the Pittsburgh Symphony; Alan Abel, retired member of the Philadelphia Orchestra/PAS (Percussive Arts Society) Hall of Fame member; Charles Owen, Philadelphia Orchestra/University of Michigan/PAS Hall of Fame member; Cloyd Duff, retired member of the Cleveland Orchestra/PAS Hall of Fame member; and Doug Howard, principal percussionist of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
Mr. Willis recently accompanied the Pittsburgh Symphony on it’s trip to the Vatican City in Rome to play for Pope John Paul II, as well as their most recent European tour. His wife, Ellen-Maria Willis, a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, can often be seen playing with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, or the Pittsburgh Opera Orchestra. They have two lovely daughters: Heather and Amber.