Lesson 6/21

 Artist Spotlight with Garry Kvistad

Throughout his career as a member of the Blackearth Percussion Group, Steve Reich and Musicians, and Nexus, plus the founding of Woodstock Percussion, Inc., a successful business venture dedicated to making musically tuned windchimes, Garry Kvistad has always had a passion for music and unique tonal colors that almost any percussive instrument (object?) can produce. Garry had read about ancient tunings in Harry Partch’s book Genesis of a Music and was fascinated by them. His first windchime in 1979 was the Chimes of Olympos, a scale from the 7th century BC of ancient Greece.

From his early days of being a "junior boy" at the Interlochen National Music Camp, to studying with Al Payson, Jack McKenzie and Cloyd Duff, Garry floated between a focus on performing the standard literature and a newly developed interest in the modern music of Stockhausen and Cage. The interesting sounds that he could create from piles of junk eventually became Garry's passion, not only picking out items that could be coaxed to produce beautiful sounds, but also in constructing new instruments of his own.

As a performer, educator, author, instrument maker and businessman, Garry has given the world of percussion a significant gift: a life spent in the joyous pursuit of sound.


Keith Aleo sits down with Garry to discuss his journey into percussion, becoming interested in making instruments, becoming a member of Blackearth Percussion Group, NEXUS and the Steve Reich and Musicians ensemble, what he learned from his teachers and some recommendations for students today.



Garry's passion for music started when he joined the school band in the 4th grade. At age 14, Garry attended the Interlochen Arts Academy and went on to earn a Bachelors of Music degree from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. He received a Masters of Music from Northern Illinois University, where he studied music, art and physics in the pursuit of building musical instruments. In 1993 Northern Illinois University honored him with its Distinguished Alumni Award. In the 1970's Garry worked with composer/conductor Lucas Foss as a Creative Associate in Buffalo, New York, after which he joined the faculty of Northern Illinois University before moving on to the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music. During this time he co-founded the Blackearth Percussion Group, which recorded and toured in the U.S., Canada and Europe.

It was also during this time that Garry built his first metallophone, a xylophone-like instrument made with metal instead of wood. Being a recent college graduate, Garry found the materials for his metallophone at the local landfill - it was made from the aluminum tubes of discarded lawn chairs! Garry was fascinated by the Scales of Olympos, a 7th century Greek pentatonic scale that can't be played on a modern piano. His metallophone experiment was so successful that he had the idea to cut and tune lawn chair tubes to the exact frequency of the scale and create a windchime from the tubes. It was the perfect instrument that the wind could play randomly. Plus you don't need formal musical training to appreciate the beautiful sound. The Chime of Olympos® was the first Woodstock Chime and is still one of our best selling products.

Garry has served as the timpanist and percussionist with the Chicago Grant Park Symphony, was a summer Tanglewood Fellow and worked as a percussionist with the Cabrillo Music Festival Orchestra in California. He has been featured in performances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, and Israel Philharmonic, as well as many other orchestras in North America and Europe. Giri Mekar, the Balinese Gong Kebyar Gamelan ensemble which he formed in 1987, is currently in residence at Bard College in Red Hook, New York.

In 1980 Garry started performing with Steve Reich and Musicians, and he is one of 18 musicians to win a Grammy award for the 1998 recording of Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians. During this time he met and performed with Bob Becker and Russell Hartenberger, two of the original founders of NEXUS, a world renown percussion group. Garry has been performing and touring extensively with NEXUS since 2002, when John Wyre, one of the founding members of the group, retired. Considered one of, if not the, premier percussion ensembles in the world today, the New York Times has called NEXUS "the high priests of the percussion world."

In 2020 Garry was inducted into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame. He joins celebrities such as Evelyn Glennie, Ringo Starr, Jack DeJohnette, Mickey Hart, Buddy Rich, and Gene Krupa, to name a few.

Garry and his wife, Diane, are active in the Woodstock Community, helping to reinforce support for the arts and food and shelter programs. Through their charitable foundation, they have assisted artists and humanitarian efforts mostly in the Hudson Valley.