This Life in Music: Percussionist Amy Garapic

Percussionist Amy Garapic (photograph by Gordon Hayes)

Percussionist Amy Garapic (photograph by Gordon Hayes)

The picture I used to carry in my head of a percussionist was a guy (and it was always a guy) at the back of an orchestra, in partial view at best, standing around until it was his turn to ding on a triangle or beat a huge drum. Well, no more. These days, I picture a hugely talented and energetic woman, leaping from marimba to cymbals to car parts, to create a sonic phantasmagoria with skill and zeal. Her name is Amy Garapic, and I’m delighted to present her on Prufrock’s Dilemma.

Q: When did music first come into your life? Can you tell us about an early musical memory that has significance for you today?

Music was always a constant part of my home as a kid. My mother often played holiday and musical tunes on the piano, and my parents always had music playing on the stereo ranging from Jazz, Blues, Hard Rock, Funk, and Folk. Classical music didn’t make much of an appearance, but Paul Simon, the Allman Brothers, Chick Corea, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and the Beach Boys (among so many more!) were constants in our household depending on the season, occasion, holiday, etc.

I began taking piano lessons in second grade after teaching myself from a friend’s piano books, though I didn’t invest much time in it. I could play by ear pretty easily and memorized music quickly, but admittedly couldn’t read very well and lost interest after only a couple of years as my sports life got busier. Percussion came much later in middle school, again after learning from a good friend who was playing the drums. After begging the school to let me join percussion late in the game, I was of course placed on the “xylophone and bells” section in band, as I was the only student who could read the notes. I wasn’t even allowed to touch the drums, but during that time a teacher of mine gave me a CD of music that was unlike anything I had heard and was a big inspiration: Leigh Howard Steven’s Marimba When. A full record of classical music on the marimba including Debussy, Tchaikovsky, Schumann, and Khachaturian, this record exposed me to both a new genre of music as well as an entirely new sound world. I quickly became obsessed with the lyricism in the music and warmth of the marimba’s tone and distinctly remember listening to it on repeat before track meets and travel soccer games to try to calm my nerves. This inevitably led to my desire to learn to play the marimba, as well as the rest of the percussion gamut in high school.

It’s worth noting that throughout those years I was also conflicted and sometimes embarrassed about my involvement in music, as it was very much the “uncool” thing to do at my school . . . especially to all of my sports friends! But soon enough, I traded in my Varsity soccer jersey and option to be team captain for a marching band uniform and title of Band President/center snare. I realize how nerdy all of this sounds (it’s actually strangely fascinating to think back and see how so much has changed), but these were big turning points in my life.

Q: At a concert I attended some time back, So Percussion’s Jason Treuting displayed some of the percussion instruments he would be using. They ranged all over the lot—I think an old bicycle wheel was one. I had the sense Treuting listens for new sounds everywhere he goes. I know the search for new and different sounds isn’t specific to percussionists (composers Harry Partch, John Luther Adams, and Magnus Lindberg come to mind), but I began to wonder whether there might be something unique about the way percussionists listen to sounds. How do you, as a percussionist, listen to the world? 

First I’ll start by saying that John Luther Adams is indeed a percussionist! Most know him as a composer, but percussion is in his roots. As for me, I often find myself hyper-aware of everyday sounds that aren’t necessarily tied to music . . . yet! It is not unlikely that the phrase “wow, that’s a cool sound!” will come out of my mouth, only to be looked upon strangely by my nonmusical or non-percussion friends. This is also true with naturally occurring rhythms, especially in electronic devices. A dishwasher, copy machine, or skipping CD player all have ways of producing extremely interesting and unpredictable rhythmic patterns and harmonic grumblings.

Interesting, unique, and quirky sounds are at the heart of the music that I love to play and love to listen to. Even more so if they are everyday objects turned “unconventional instruments.” I’m constantly on the hunt for new instruments, but more often at a thrift store or flea market than at an actual drum shop. This has both to do with finding unique sounds to support my own voice, as well as trying to be efficient with money and space concerns. Percussion instruments are many, large, and expensive to say the least—three things that make my life much more difficult as a poor musician. One way to combat this triple threat is to be inventive about “standard” instrument alternatives and to encourage composers to think outside of the box with you. I certainly can’t replace instruments in pieces that have already been written, but I can create a repertoire to fit the instruments that I have acquired or built.

Q: Would you name for us a figure in music you particularly admire and tell us a little about why?

From a performance of John Cage's Branches with So Percussion

From a performance of John Cage’s Branches with So Percussion

Of all figures in music, John Cage is surely a huge inspiration to me. His writings and interviews on sound, music, silence, and philosophy have and continue to change the way that people experience sounds in life. When you hear him speak about music it is clear that his thoughts and feelings are incredibly genuine and all his own. A favorite Cage quote of mine can be found within this interview taken from a documentary film. He says “I love sounds. Just as they are. And I have no need for them to be anything more than what they are.” These ideas have surely influenced my own thoughts on sound and music and continually inspire me to think outside the box of what might be considered mainstream or normal in order to be open to the new and adventurous.

Q: In early 2012, you and percussionists Matt Evans and Carson Moody formed the percussion ensemble TIGUE. How did you three “find” one another and what led you to create TIGUE?

Matt, Carson, and I have a unique story that dates back to The Ohio State University in 2006. We all met in our undergrad there and connected quite quickly along with another colleague of ours, Nathaniel Hartman (who played on the Clunker Concerto with us recently). The three of them actually formed a quartet with another student when they were freshman, but when that person left music they asked me to fill in. We immediately clicked as a quartet and became best friends, spending many hours late into the night at their apartment listening to music of all sorts while lamenting and celebrating college life. In 2009 we curated our first concert as a quartet in an art gallery in Columbus and soon after attended the first So Percussion Summer Institute together. Both of those experiences were really special to us, and I think we all knew that we would be making music together for many years to come. There was a bit of a hiatus as we were all living in separate cities when I left to attend Eastman in 2009, and Nathaniel also began to focus a lot of his time on visual art and technology staying at OSU to do his MFA. Through that, we still played together on each other’s recitals and tried to find opportunities to make music as much as we could, but it was never as dedicated as we wanted it to be. Once Matt and Carson found their way to New York, a trio was born in hopes of commissioning a composer that we came to know and love, Robert Honstein. Strangely enough, Matt and Carson also followed suit, attending ESM in consecutive years after I left, and we have been doing dances all around New York City, Bard, and ESM for the last couple of years trying to make things work. Through our project with Rob, Matt, Carson, and I decided to direct our musical endeavors through a trio and settled on the name TIGUE.

Thankfully this coming year, for the first time since 2009, we’ll all be living in the same city! We’re excited to spend time cultivating our musical voice as a band writing our own music, and to continue to work with composers and other collaborators to make great art together. I’m extremely lucky to have found them as both friends and musical partners in crime, and we look forward to bringing Nathaniel back into the mix soon!

Q: TIGUE recently joined forces with Contemporaneous to perform Sean Friar’s Clunker Concerto, a composition that makes ingenious use of junkyard car parts. What was it like to perform that piece? What were the challenges, and what made it fun?

Performing the Clunker Concerto was a really fun and unique experience for many reasons! First, it is always exciting to play under David Bloom with Contemporaneous, but what made this concert even more special was the opportunity to play alongside some very special friends of mine, Maria Finkelmeier and Nathaniel Hartman, with whom I haven’t been able to perform in quite a long time. All of us have a long history together as OSU alums, and Maria actually went to Eastman just before I got there. It felt like the old gang was back together again and provided more fun than we could have bargained for!

We also had the opportunity to share the music with students from Public School 142 in New York City through an afternoon of outreach sessions. It’s always a joy to expose young children to new music, as they have very few inhibitions about what is acceptable and what is not. We did a bit of a musical show-and-tell as they tried to guess what our instruments were (car fender, spring, wheel, hub cap, etc.), and it was a lot of fun on both ends.

The piece itself was a really unique experience both to learn and perform, but doesn’t fall too far from what we as percussionists are doing on a regular basis: solving problems. One of the biggest challenges for us was simply logistics of the instruments themselves that we were using. A large part of the piece for me was spent pretending to be a cellist bowing a car fender. Sean Friar had marked where to touch and bow the instrument in order to create different pitches; unfortunately, we weren’t able to have the instruments for a long time, so it was a bit of a crash course in fender-cello playing. I found myself in a completely different world contemplating bowing directions, bowing speed, and having to “rub my belly and pat my head” as I attempted to maneuver bowings and fingerings simultaneously.

Q: What drew you to contemporary classical/new music? Is there a particular moment or experience that made you think, “this is for me,” and, if so, can you tell us a little bit about that and where it led you?

Throughout my schooling I’ve been lucky to be exposed to classical orchestral music, world music, fusion, contemporary, and everything in-between. However, aside from a short stint in my undergrad when I was obsessed with orchestral music, contemporary music has always excited and inspired me the most. That inspiration is fueled partly by new composers who are just as excited about new sounds as I am, as well as the sheer urge to discover that next exciting musical idea. As a percussionist, this doesn’t come as much of a surprise, as this music is really the bread and butter of our repertoire. It is important to note that the modern percussion ensemble isn’t even 100 years old, and that the first compositions written for classical marimba didn’t appear until the 1950s. This hardly compares to the violin’s 500+ years of musical existence and can help explain why the names Steve Reich, John Cage, Henry Cowell, Lou Harrison, and Edgar Varèse were hardly foreign to me from the beginning of my musical studies. These were and are the compositional pioneers who paved the path for percussionists today.

I’ll never forget the first time I heard Steve Reich’s marimba duo Nagoya Marimbas when I was in high school. I was fascinated by the simplicity of the process yet dumbfounded by the interlocking rhythms and conversation that were created a result. Some of my most memorable musical moments have come from performing and meditating on Reich’s music, including 3 full performances of his monumental work for percussion, Drumming, as well as Music for 18 Musicians. Performing Reich is a meditative trance-inducing experience, though incredibly nerve wracking as well! It requires an immense amount of concentration and precision, though there are moments when you might be playing the same short sequence over and over for twenty minutes or longer. I find that I am truly present mentally when playing his music, and it is a fun exercise to see how far I can stretch my brain as I try to identify the different conversations of the interweaving lines during those long moments of repetition.  This type of minimalist music has always intrigued me and has led me to seek out other minimalist-like composers such as David Lang, Michael Gordon, Julia Wolfe, John Luther Adams, and Tristan Perich.

Q: Do you have any suggestions for listening for those who’d like to embark on an exploration of new music but aren’t sure where to start, and can you talk a bit about your recommendations?

George Crumb’s Makrokosmos III. Music for a Summer Evening

This is a piece that I have been in love with for a long time, but have not yet performed. Written for two pianos and two percussionists, the score is painted with an abundance of unusual colors and timbres including an extremely eerie slide whistle solo played into the piano in the second movement. The music breathes and is very visceral as it takes the listener into nature’s beauty and darkness, eventually ascending to a higher existence in the fifth and final movement. That last movement is one that I could listen to over, and over, and over . . .

John Luther Adams’s Four Thousand Holes 

Garapic in a performance of John Luther Adams's Inuksuit in Morningside Park in NYC

Garapic in a performance of John Luther Adams’s Inuksuit in Morningside Park in NYC

John Luther Adams has quickly become one of my favorite composers. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of a small team of percussion junkies that have helped produce and direct his Inuksuit  (for 9-99 percussionists) both in live performance and in a 4.0 stereo recording releasing soon! This half-hour long work for piano, percussion, and electronics has very recently become a huge favorite of mine. The first time I sat down to listen to the piece I was completely blown away by the striking energy of its extreme rhythmic complexity and also fell in love with its moments of starkness that fall in between. This music is full of so many coexisting juxtapositions for me in that it is simple yet intricate, beautiful yet frightening, sparse yet lush, emotional yet mundane, tense yet relaxed . . . thirty minutes may seem like a long time, but it is entirely worth it to sit and listen in its entirety. I often find myself swept into a swirling euphoric state where my brain is both firing actively in all directions and yet completely still and attentive to the sparkling, shimmering journey that John provides for us.

Q: Given all you’re involved in, I’m not sure exactly when you might have any free time, but when you do, how do you like to spend it?

Two things that I really enjoy doing and try to make time for are bike riding and running. I was actually a pretty serious jock during my childhood and in high school doing gymnastics (10 years), playing soccer (6 years), running track (6 years), and pole vaulting (3 years with state records and awards to my name). Just a few years ago I bought my first road bike, and it has become my companion, especially throughout summer musical travels. I’ve been lucky to play music in some beautiful places on the East coast and have enjoyed exploring those areas on my bike early in the morning or on any off days that I have. Aside from that I enjoy any time that I can spend with good friends cooking, laughing, and scheming new ideas.

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What’s New for Amy Garapic

I’m excited to be moving to New York City in the fall and look forward to all of the great relationships, musical and otherwise, that I will foster while I’m there. Recently I have started a program at Rikers Island Prison called Rhythm on Rikers, teaching hand drum and rhythm lessons to inmates. This is all through the great support of Make Music New York, and we couldn’t be happier with the way things are going. Our ten weeks of lessons will culminate with a big concert on June 21st celebrating the summer solstice with the rest of the city through MMNY festivities. I’ll also be directing a performance of my project Village in Volume in St. Louis at the League of American Orchestra’s National Conference in mid-June, as well as speaking on a couple of their panel discussions. Aside from that, I’ll be working on all things production leading up to another great couple of weeks in New Hampshire with the Chosen Vale International Percussion Festival in July. I’m also excited that TIGUE will be quite busy throughout the summer and fall next year. We look forward to premiering in full our commission from Robert Honstein, An Index of Possibility, in a few weeks on June 13th at JACK in New York City. Additionally, we’ll be playing a set at the historical venue The Stone in August as a part of Ensemble Signal’s “Micro-Sig” series, as well as Blair McMillen’s Rite of Summer Music Festival on Governor’s Island on September 1st, and at the Colorfield Festival in Madison, Wisconsin, the following weekend.

About Amy Garapic

Though young in her career, percussionist Amy Garapic has quickly made a name for herself not only as an energetic performer of contemporary chamber and solo works, but also as an adventurous producer and collaborator of large percussion and community events. She currently serves as percussionist and Co-Executive Director of the emerging new music powerhouse Contemporaneous, and is one-third of the percussion trio TIGUE. A lover of new music, she has been fortunate to perform alongside such visionaries as So Percussion, Ensemble Signal, NEXUS, Bang on a Can’s Asphalt Orchestra, The Eastman Broadband, the Da Capo Chamber Players, and the Wordless Music Orchestra. In the last four years, performances have taken her to the Perkumania Festival in Paris, France; the Festival Internacional Cervantino in Guanajuato, Mexico; The Al-Hussein Cultural Center in Amman, Jordan; and most recently to Chennai, India, performing with the Grammy and Academy award-winning composer and performer A.R. Rahman.

In addition to performing, Garapic has helped produce some of New York City’s most memorable outdoor percussion events alongside Doug Perkins through Make Music New York, including Persephassa on the Lake, Inuksuit in Morningside Park, and Make Music Winter’s Village in Volume of which she is the creator. Most recently, she united over 100 vibraphonists from nine countries in a joint 18-hour live-streamed marathon relay of Erik Satie’s Vexations, referred to by Alex Ross as ” . . . gentle, hypnotic, and a remarkable feat.” (The link for Vexations will take you to Ross’s report. It’s well worth a read, starting with a photograph of Garapic about to ring the “closing bell.”) Additionally, this summer will include the initiation of Rhythm on Rikers, a ten week program of hand drumming lessons with inmates of Rikers Island Prison culminating in a final concert on June 21st.  Garapic also enjoys working as Percussion Teaching Fellow at the Bard College Conservatory, as Production Manager for the Chosen Vale International Percussion Seminar, and as Special Projects Coordinator for both Make Music New York and the Zeltsman Marimba Festival.

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Listening List

Contemporaneous plays Sean Friar’s Clunker Concerto, with TIGUE on percussion (at ~0:51, David Bloom comes to the podium and the piece begins with Garapic on car fender)

Garapic plays Mirage pour marimba by Yasuo Sueyoshi

TIGUE plays original work Thank You Mr. Z

TIGUE plays original work Untitled 4.18.13

Garapic in a performance of John Mackey's Micro Concerto

Garapic in a performance of John Mackey’s Micro Concerto

Garapic plays Micro Concerto V. Tune in Seven by Steven Mackey

Garapic plays In a Landscape by John Cage

17 thoughts on “This Life in Music: Percussionist Amy Garapic

  1. Eric Gewirtz

    There are more great percussion pieces than people realize. You’re only scratching the surface of one of the more recently explored sound worlds. Enjoy!

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Eric: How nice to hear from you, and as you are yourself a percussionist, methinks you know quite well of what you write! You are reminding me again of Lindberg’s Kraft, about which I read and saw videos–what an amazing experience it must have be to hear that live. Here, for all readers, is an article in the New York Times about gathering material for Kraft, and here’s an excerpt from the article:

      “The yard was loosely organized. Here was a row of disembodied car doors; there, a line of automobiles without front ends, the engines looking like mangled snouts. Here was a heap of tires; there, a spread of wheel suspensions. The Bayonne Bridge reared up in the background. The Kill Van Kull glittered blue.

      “Mr. Lamb was all business, moving rapidly from heap to heap. Mr. Mannarino held up a spring coil. Mr. Lamb ran his mallet over it, bringing out a melodious clang. ‘I need four,’ he said.

      “Mr. Druckman looked at a brake drum. ‘We have that,’ he said.

      “Wielding a rusted bolt, Mr. Lindberg whacked a chunk of metal, which responded dully. ‘This is a good sound,’ he said.”

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Mark S.: It’s wonderful, just as Amy noted, how times has changed–still a long way to go in many respects, but it’s alive with music out there right now, and I’m happy to be alive to witness it.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Mark K.: The photos of instruments that Amy posts from time to time are always fascinating, and her “head shot” is priceless, isn’t it? The Clunker Concerto was exciting to hear live and fun to watch. Another member of the audience and I had the same thought about it, though he put it best: “It’s like Gershwin meets junkyard.” This, by the way, was the same Contemporaneous concert that presented Andrew Norman’s Try, along with Jeremy Podgursky’s MINDJOB and David Lang’s increase. We were all rocketing out the door after that one, I can tell you! Contemporaneous is hoping to start touring this coming year. How great it would be if they can get down your way (well, down everyone’s way!).

  2. friko

    Another very interesting young player. You really choose your subjects well.

    J. always said that the percussionist was one of the most important members of the Royal Opera’s orchestra. A string playing a wrong note is drowned out by other strings, but a false entry by a percussionist is lethal and kills the piece stone dead. The ROH percussionist was also one of the best paid players.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Friko: it’s been a thrill for me to get to know more about these young men and women, and there are so many, many more just as wonderful. It gives me such huge hope for the future of classical music. As for the importance of the orchestra percussionist, on reading what you wrote, I thought immediately of what a massacre it would make of Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem if the timpani came in wrong!

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Angela: Thanks, Angela, and may I add that the quality of attention Amy and everyone has given to responding has been fabulous! As I noted to Friko, I’m so pleased to have the opportunity to get to know them better and to be able to share the good news. Thanks for the link, too. I’m curious to know, in your lexicon of listening, where this piece would fit. Would you listen to it, for example, as you’re writing poetry?

      1. angela

        Yes, I believe I would for this is a piece that seems to invoke an environment of contemplation. There is something very hypnotic about it, and while I cannot say how it would influence the flow of my own thought, it to me seems to project an energy conducive for creativity.

        1. Susan Scheid Post author

          Interesting, and makes sense, given what you’ve noted previously, as well. Not meaning to fill up your inbox here, but I wonder if you might not also like John Luther Adams. Garapic notes here his piece four thousand holes, and her description reminds me a lot of what you describe: “I often find myself swept into a swirling euphoric state where my brain is both firing actively in all directions and yet completely still and attentive to the sparkling, shimmering journey that John provides for us.” At Garapic’s Fellowship recital, speaking of another JLA piece, she recommended to close one’s eyes, “let the music happen,” and “dwell in the sound world.” (I begin to think I lack the Zen gene, for while I understand and believe I hear what she means, after a while I’m afraid I get impatient. Better for me the rousing Xenaxi Rebond b, which she also played. Gazounds!) Anyway, here is a Spotify link to four thousand holes, if you want to give it a try: http://open.spotify.com/user/prufrocksdilemma/playlist/3kxisljjqMprY4TqNw0Ij5.

  3. David N

    I’m so hoping some composer somewhere will come up with a really great concerto for percussion and orchestra to equal James MacMillan’s Veni, veni, Emanuel. I’ve heard some terrific percussionists recently but either they were playing well-established Reich (the Colin Currie Ensemble, nothing like ‘em) or some rather feeble stuff (O-Duo, Martin Grubinger).

    Did I miss the explanation, or whence comes the name TIGUE? Clearly Garapec’s the real thing, and, yes, the lead photo is such fun. Must listen at leisure.

  4. Susan Scheid Post author

    David: Thanks so much for the introduction to MacMillan’s Veni, veni, Emanuel. Listening to percussion pieces is still pretty new on my “docket,” and for that reason, and particularly on the heels of this profile, I raced up to Bard to hear Garapic’s Fellowship Recital. Garapic programmed a fascinating mix of music for percussion. The piece that caught my ear most of all, among many things of interest, was Roberto Sierra’s (a new composer to me) Invocaciones for soprano and percussion (Lucy Dhegrae was the soprano, though Garapic also had a vocal part to play). I know much of the fun for me was witnessing the terrific synergy between Dhegrae and Garapic, so I’m on the look-out for it to listen again and see what I think.) I don’t know how Garapic and friends arrived at the name TIGUE (intriguing, isn’t it? or should I say inTIGUing?). I’ll have to find out. Last not least, while I don’t have a lot of experience with percussionists, I’ve seen enough to second your assessment that Garapic is indeed “the real thing,” all the more so after witnessing her perform Xenaxis’s Rebond b, which I’m assuming must qualify as “virtuosic” and which Garapic played with full command and balletic grace.

  5. hilarymb

    Hi Susan .. that’s what’s so lovely about life – how people connect and Amy has done just that. She sounds very talented .. I saw an amazing percussionist in Hamburg a few years ago with my mother and her German friends .. I’m sure I’ve still got the details … I must find out her name. Then there’s the deaf percussionist here … having just seen a blind surfer on the waves in Hawaii I think .. anything is possible isn’t it!

    I’ll be back to listen to some of these … cheers Hilary

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Hilary: How nice to see you there. Thank you for all the lovely comments. As for anything is possible, here is a story I think you’ll appreciate: http://blog.coursera.org/post/51976868541/not-impossible-the-story-of-daniel-a-17-year-old-with. Daniel took the same course I did, and we were both at the live webcast where, as his father relates here, “He even had a moment of stardom. We took him to the ModPo final webcast at Penn, and at one point one of the TAs asked members of the audience to pick two words that encapsulated their ModPo experience. Dan’s were “not impossible” and under Al Filreis’ gentle urging he managed to say those words aloud to however many hundreds of people were watching around the world. Someone made a forum topic out if it and for 72 hours “Not impossible” was the top thread on the ModPo forum as people wrote in from all over saying that Dan had inspired them and that “not impossible” was going to be their new watchword. Can you imagine what it does for a person like Daniel to feel useful?” Magnificent, isn’t it?

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