Dr. Brian Graiser is a contemporary percussionist, composer, and teacher who serves as the Adjunct Instructor of Percussion at Sam Houston State University, where he directs the University Percussion Ensemble and Bearkat Drumline, and teaches applied lessons and percussion methods. While his musical exploits are highly diverse, he is best known for his work with the vibraphone, highlighted by such efforts as his DMA Project, "Concerto No. 1 [Lulu]: Creating the World’s First Concerto for the Four-Octave Vibraphone," and his service as President of The Vibraphone Project.
Rhythm! Scene: If you weren't a percussionist and educator, what career could you see yourself having pursued?
Brian Graiser: I could probably see myself as a writer of some kind. I entered college as a double major in music and journalism, but that didn’t last more than one semester. I really do enjoy writing, but the honest truth is that I can’t envision myself being truly happy and fulfilled in any other field but music. I may never make enough money to live in a mansion or own a yacht, but I’ve also never gotten up in the morning and said to myself, “I wish I didn’t have to go to work,” and that’s pretty fantastic!
R!S: As a freelance artist, what's one of the weirdest gigs you've taken or oddest jobs you've had outside the industry?
BG: My wife and I (as the REFLECT harp+percussion duo) went on a national performance tour in the summer of 2019, and one of our concerts was at a Tibetan Buddhist center which, to my amazement, was led by a monk hand-picked by the Dalai Lama! He watched me load in and set up all of my gear for nearly two hours, pleasantly observing and smiling the whole time. I eventually felt pretty awkward and broke the silence by saying to him, “I guess this is sort of like a mindfulness meditation,” to which he responded, “Oh, lots of mindfulness!” To this day, that exchange has helped me feel a bit less frustrated whenever I have to schlep my gear around; maybe I’ll achieve true enlightenment if I set up enough cymbal stands!
R!S: What's one thing about you that your colleagues or students would unanimously proclaim?
BG: I took a risk and actually passed this question along to my students, and the one common word that they shared in describing me was “understanding.” I’m pretty happy with that; it’s important for teachers to remember that our students are real people. It wasn’t that long ago that I was on the outside looking in, working a warehouse job while preparing for graduate-school auditions. It makes me appreciate the diverse backgrounds and tenacity of my students; we all have obstacles we need to overcome, and theirs are just as valid as mine.
R!S: What is your favorite percussion instrument and why?
BG: Without question, my favorite instrument is the vibraphone—especially the extended-range, 4-octave vibraphone. For one thing, the instrument’s cool, pure sound has always resonated with me. For another, and I know this is going to rile some people up, when you objectively consider all of the additional possibilities and responsibilities created by pedaling and mallet dampening, the vibraphone is more technically demanding and has greater potential for expressivity than any other keyboard instrument, including the marimba! I used to be shy about making that statement, but it’s proven to be true time and again. I’m absolutely willing to publicly debate this point!
R!S: Where did you grow up, and what’s one interesting thing about your childhood (musically or otherwise)?
BG: I grew up in Marietta, Georgia, a northwest suburb of Atlanta, and was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome when I was five years old, which led to a boatload of social problems. One of the biggest reasons I chose to pursue a career in music was that being a percussionist in high school had an enormously positive impact on my life. Not only did it help me to find my footing socially, but the physical act of hitting instruments was literally therapeutic and helped to reduce my symptoms. I have since learned that playing percussion is a form of “proprioceptive therapy,” but all I knew at that age was that it felt good and calmed me down. That’s powerful stuff!