George Gaber is a percussionist's percussionist -- so while his name recognition among the general public stands somewhere between slim and zip, among folk who live and breathe to bang on things, he is as much a spiritual influence as a mentor. He epitomizes the type of percussionist who would build special equipment or customize a setup for the sake of creating the ultimate interpretation of a composition.
Elected to the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame in 1995, Gaber has collaborated with major
composers such as David Baker, Lukas Foss, Donald Erb, Gian Carlo Menotti, Duke Ellington, and Paul Whiteman. His activities have involved many important conductors and orchestras, and his loyalty to Indiana University is one of the reasons for the location's reputation as a kind of Hoosier Vienna.
Gaber has been a professional musician since the '30s. He studied at Juilliard and the Manhattan School of Music, but also undertook a graduate program in architectural design at the Cooper Union. Initially he gigged in dance bands and Latin, but by the late '30s was touring nationally with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo Orchestra. Gaber was the timpanist with the Pittsburgh Symphony under conductor Fritz Reiner through 1943. He also worked with Leopold Stokowski during this period. His growing reputation was in part founded on superior technical mastery, including an advanced timpani pedaling technique. He was also early in the classical percussion field in the study of various ethnic instruments. Continuing to be based out of New York City in the '40s and '50s, he performed and recorded in basically just about any style of music imaginable and in any format that can be presented.
He began teaching at Indiana University in the '60s. Gaber is responsible for creating the school's percussion curriculum and department. A major part of his approach was based purely on personal interest and resulted in styles such as pop, jazz, and again ethnic percussion being taken seriously in an academic environment. His students have included Cleveland Orchestra principal percussionist Richard Weiner, fusion jazz drummer Peter Erskine, and rock and studio heavyweight Kenny Aronoff.