Running Start Spotlights

Garrett Arney

Garrett Arney, BM Percussion Performance 

Garrett Arney speaks on the creation of the arx duo, an ensemble that advocates for the creation of new music for percussion. The video of Alejandro Vinao's Book of Grooves: II is the work that Garrett said "made Mari and I realize that this was it, this is what we should be doing."


How would you describe your professional identity in a sentence?

I am a professional percussionist focused on raising the bar for percussion, through the arx duo.

Can you summarize your current entrepreneurial projects in a sentence or two?   

The arx duo is dedicated to the creation of new works. I feel like we can make the biggest difference in music through percussion. Because percussion is starting to get attention, in the classical world, we want to bring the standard and understanding up to the level of piano or violin. We want to raise the bar for percussion. That’s why we like to teach, and perform.

Everything I do I try to think of how it can benefit the duo. Ensemble ACJW has projects that we are supposed to do, as teaching-research. Whenever I meet people through those projects, I think about connections for arx duo. We also have to do an entrepreneurship project after we leave ACJW, and that is going to be related to arx duo.

I was recently asked if I could just teach, and not perform. And I couldn’t image it. I want to inspire young percussionists to be better, and I don’t think I can do that without performing. I want to play, I want to do projects, to make a difference in the world of percussion.

How has your career, project, or initiative been growing and developing ? What are your next steps as you go forward?

We are playing our first show in New York City in May. That is our next big gig. In the summer, we are going to London at the end of June to work with Dominic Murcott. I went to a concert in New York and heard a transcription he did for percussion solo. I tried to find a way to get the music and I contacted him directly. I gave him a little bit of background about me, and sent him some videos, and it turns out he had some instrumentation already worked out for duo with brass ensemble. I made sure to run into him the next time he was in New York, we got a coffee, chatted a little bit, and it worked out that he wrote a piece for us. So we will go to London to work with him, and 2 days of workshops with composers and percussion duos. We’ll give lectures on writing for percussion, masterclass for the percussionists, and we’ll perform.

That residency is funding the concert project we are doing with him, quarter tone double side bell that spins around both vertically and horizontally, and he is very interested in the bell - it is now an art installment, and people can hit it, touch it, do whatever they want. Dominic’s idea for the piece is to have that as the centerpiece, with a variety of metal instruments. A jungle of metal instruments.

How did the College of Music prepare you to embark on your career?

I know so much about music theory, it made so many things after MSU easier. Playing in wind ensemble and orchestra at the same time, was a hugely beneficial. The main thing about Michigan, in general, the family midwest feel. When looking back, the relaxed family atmosphere, was really important. Because MSU prepared me to be able to be close to the people in my studio at Yale. The unity that Michigan State, the pride, school spirit, that atmosphere put me in a position to be very flexible with people. That really helps with putting projects together, meeting new people. It helps you be a giving, kind person.

What do you think are the most important skills to have as a 21st century musician? As an entrepreneur?  

Every day of your life you are auditioning. Every person you meet, that could be an opportunity. The atmosphere, the giving attitude [at MSU], it gives you an advantage when meeting new people. It helps you be a good person, be friendly, and make the person you meet feel at home with you.

There is something I have been learning recently: to ask for things. I think that is something specific to the midwest, people are humble. People in New York know to ask for things. You can create really exciting things, just by asking.

What words of wisdom do you have for MSU students?

The most important thing is to always do what you believe in. Follow your passion, et cetera et cetera - you hear that every day, but it is so important. Every time you are doing a project, if you believe in it, you will make it happen. It translates to people you work with, they will know. It is the same in performance. If you believe in the piece, it will translate to the audience. I think you just have to believe in everything you do, and go for it.

The family atmosphere [in Michigan] can make it harder to try something out. Take a risk. Don’t worry, take your time, give yourself the time to set up a life you want to have. Give yourself some time to struggle. Listen to your subconscious. If you land on something, and inside you have hesitation, then go with something else. Really shoot for what you want, don’t let yourself settle.

Everything is about decisions, luck. And the duo was really just luck to be at school at the same time, and then have time to play together, to realize how it felt and how different is from anything else. Discovering yourself, latching onto it, and going all in, is really important. That’s the decision part. I feel really lucky to have found that thing, to have tried enough things to identify that one thing that I want to do.