Band Composer Series: Garwood Whaley


Looking back on my high school and college percussion studies, I recall working through many of Garwood Whaley’s books.  I particularly liked working with Recital Solos for Snare Drum and Primary Handbook for Mallets to name a few.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Gar (as most call him) for this blog series.  As a student having used his percussion materials, it was a joy to learn of his life and adventures.

When did you begin in music?  What instrument did you begin with?

Well, I actually started taking clarinet lessons in 4th grade, but then quit because the teacher was scary.  In the 8th grade I started playing the drums and was hooked.  In high school I started playing with local pickup groups and then moved to various jazz groups.  My main lessons were actually through high school band.

Did you have a specific “a-ha” moment when you knew you wanted to be a musician?

When I was in high school, we got a brand-new band director.  When Joe Greco became the  new band director at Ardsley High School in Ardsley, New York, he very quickly totally changed the program for the better.  He strongly encouraged me to go into music to the point where I was accepted at Juilliard to study music.  I had the privilege to study and learn with many great percussion teachers.  When I was drafted into the military, I auditioned at West Point and, based on the word of the director, the United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own” in Washington, D.C. accepted me into the band.  Since the war in Viet Nam was in full swing, I truly credit Joe Greco with saving my life.

What inspired you to become a composer?

While in the Army, I started teaching privately.  There were no real percussion books that fit my needs, so I started writing books and ultimately had them published by Joel Rothman.  They sold really well, but I ultimately sold the rights to them.  I also started writing ensembles and solos for percussion.

How did you start Meredith Music?

From this start, I then started my own publishing company with the help of Bernie Fisher of Plymouth Music.  After several attempts at determining a company name, I finally settled on my daughter’s name, Meredith, which is where the name Meredith Music came from.  My very first publication was Musical Studies for the Intermediate Mallet Player. At the same time, I was also teaching at a local high school, and from this experience developed with Robert Garofalo numerous books on comprehensive musicianship.  Currently, Meredith publishes about one new book a month.  Eleven years ago I began a wonderful relationship with the Hal Leonard Corporation, which is currently distributing all of our publications.

Do you have a mentor, or someone who has influenced your style of writing the most?  If so, who would that be?

I had four great role models and leaders helping me develop my overall writing style.  First was Saul Goodman, former timpanist in the New York Philharmonic and former faculty member at the Conservatoire de musique du Quebec a Montreal and the Juilliard School of Music.  I learned so much from him in college as my early books were very musical thanks to him.  He was a phenomenal teacher and motivator.  My Scherzo for Timpani was dedicated to him.  Second, my high school band director Joe Greco.  I’ve already talked a lot about how he shaped my life.  Third, Morris (Moe) Goldenberg, who I studied with at Juilliard;  his writing also had an influence on me.  Last but not least, my good friend Anthony (Tony) Cirone, former percussionist in the San Jose Symphony and former professor at San Jose State University with over 100 published works, who I met at Juilliard and have remained great friends to this day.  Tony has been a great role model for me as well.

What would you say defines your style?

Trying to make percussion music “musical.”  I also want to try and have good material for teachers to teach, and not for me to tell them how to teach.  I truly want to support teachers with quality musical material.

What are you working on now?

Nothing, really.  I’ve had a real dry spell, primarily due to my focus with Meredith Music 100% of the time.  However, I did recently write some very beginning drum class books at an elementary level.  Between conventions, clinics and other events, people would always ask me for books like this at the elementary level.  So I wrote books for a beginning drum class which would work with band methods and ended up with Rhythm Reading for Drums, Book 1 & Book 2. These books move very slowly with minimal dynamics, but filled a particular need teachers were asking for. They are great for the elementary and junior high level as both supplementary band methods and standalone methods.

What is your favorite instrumental piece by another composer?

That’s really hard to say.  But, Lincolnshire Posey by Percy Granger, Stravinsky’s Right of Spring and the Carlos Chavez Toccata for percussion are a few of my favorites.

Do you have one of your own works which you would call your favorite?

Dialogue for Snare Drum and Timpani, Recital Solos for Snare Drum and Solos and Duets for Timpani.

Do you have any advice or tips for those interested in composing?

Study the works of the masters and don’t be afraid to write in a variety of styles and for all types of ensembles.  In addition, really try to be broad-based in your writing.

Would you say your music comes to you more often through slow, careful planning, or by sudden inspiration?

Slow careful planning.  Most is educationally originated as in building collections or methods.  I always write an exact outline, thinking through everything very carefully and methodically.

What is your favorite aspect of composing?

Great question.  The excitement of beginning a project and going through the process of outlining what you are going to do.  And then the final completion of the project.  It’s very difficult to write for beginning students and it is very challenging.  You have to be really careful.

Meredith Music is very active in social networking.  What is your approach to this as a publisher?

Anyone who publishes with us needs to provide a short video about the piece or book, which can be added to our website and social media channels.  We are receiving very good comments and interest in these videos and the website really drives everything.  We are active on Facebook and just getting into QR coding on ads in magazines.  We are always interested in staying technologically current.

Could you tell me something people don’t know about you?

I am really physically active with the ‘crossfit’ exercise program.  This keeps me in great shape.  I would recommend this to anyone.  I’m also a very avid scuba diver and am actually a dive master.

Inside the Actors Studio-type Questions:

  • What is your favorite word? Yes
  • What is your least favorite word? No
  • What sound or noise do you love? A waterfall or water
  • What sound or noise do you hate? Screaming
  • What is on your iPod? I don’t have an iPod, but I have an iPhone
  • What profession other than your own, would you like to attempt? Medicine, law, or a military officer
  • If you were stranded on a desert island, and could only have the music of one composer, other than yourself, who would that, be? Well it wouldn’t be mine.  I would have to say Mahler.

Thank you, Gar, for your time, information and insight into your life as composer and music publisher.  I hope everyone finds your story as intriguing as I did.  All the best to you and everyone at Meredith Music, and thank you for providing music and methods for musicians.


Paul Smith
Paul Smith
Paul has been an active Pepper employee for over 33 years and is currently Vice President of Customer Contact Center/Corporate Facilities. He is a music education and copyright advocate, percussionist and marching band/indoor percussion/drum corps adjudicator.


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