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Charlie Shoemaker⁄The GazetteSilver Spring resident Luis Garay, shown here playing the drums, marimba and congas in his home studio, says the diversity of the area inspires his music.
Garay’s proficiency with percussion has garnered international acclaim and has provided opportunities to perform at locales such as the Kennedy Center and the Vatican, where he played for Pope John Paul II in 1993.
And to think, as a 14-year-old boy growing up in Cordoba, Argentina, during the 1970s, Garay’s first drum set consisted of a fork, a knife and a shoebox he used to play songs by The Beatles in a band friends urged him to join.
‘‘There was a singer, a guitar player and a bass player, so my friend said, ‘Luis, you play the drums.’ And I loved it,” Garay said. ‘‘From then on, I knew what I wanted to be. A doctor, a lawyer, no. It was too much fun playing the drums.”
Though The Beatles provided early inspiration, Garay credits the influences of classical and jazz compositions for providing him with his ‘‘musicality” and his ‘‘creativity.”
Since moving to America in 1992, Garay has discovered a new world of cultures and elements that have inspired him to experiment with his music.
‘‘It’s a global influence. I take the soul and the rhythm from South America, and then, from here and there, influence from Cuba, Africa, the Caribbean,” Garay said.
For seven years, Garay has lived in Silver Spring, where he has found inspiration in Montgomery County and Washington, D.C.
‘‘What I love about this area is the diversity. It’s made my music richer, because it helped me understand the world, and I love that,” said Garay.
For the sake of creativity, Garay said he has learned to play every percussion instrument in the world, with the exception of the tabla, which is popular in India.
Between the 60 to 100 concerts he performs each year, Garay finds time to share his passion for percussion with Washington-area residents during private lessons at his home studio.
Though he has students of all ages, including some who are close to 70 years old, Garay most enjoys teaching children.
‘‘When I teach, I enjoy taking my students through the world of music and exploration. The music will always be a part of their lives. It doesn’t matter what they will be when they are older,” said Garay, who has had a few students become professional musicians.
Garay’s ‘‘exploration” approach to music is what makes him a unique teacher, according to parents.
‘‘I think what distinguishes Luis as a teacher is his strong belief that students need to find their own motivation and inspiration to play,” said Silver Spring resident Greg Pearson, whose son, Gabe, 12, has been taking lessons for five years.
‘‘As a result he is very low-key in his teaching approach and open to letting Gabe try out new instruments and virtually any type of music,” Pearson said. ‘‘Gabe always looks forward to his lessons with Mr. Garay, which are often more like jam sessions than structured lessons.”
For nine years, Garay has hosted a percussion camp during the last week of July at Catholic University. The camp lasts five days, and ends with a free concert at Catholic University where the students put their newly developed skills on display.
All music performed at the camp and concert is arranged and composed by Garay, who tailors it to correspond with the abilities of his students.
When he’s not immersed in music, Garay enjoys spending time with the more than 20 exotic birds he owns. A few of his larger parrots are regular guests in Garay’s home studio, where they sit silently most of the time except when motivated to interrupt Garay’s performances with joyful cheers of approval.
The parrots even contributed to a song aptly titled ‘‘Dance With The Birds” on the new, soon-to-be-released CD by Luis Garay Percussion World, a quartet featuring fellow percussionists Wilbur Wood, Leon Eynatyan and Miguel Alfaro.
‘‘I’ve always loved the sound of the bird, of the jungle. So spontaneously one day, I fit the sound of my birds with my music,” he said.
Even after 33 years, Garay remains astutely aware that he is just getting started on his journey as a percussionist, and it is the opportunity to use his music to continually reach people in new and exciting ways that keeps the experience fresh.
‘‘This is just the beginning. It never ends until we die,” he said.