Marques Garrett wanted to do anything with music, whether it was singing a range of notes, composing rhythmic melodies or playing the piano.
Now, as the assistant professor of music in choral activities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Garrett is passing along his love of music to his students.
Throughout his childhood, Garrett performed in all of his church’s musicals, school choirs and talent shows. Anytime he was able to sing he was happy, he said.
“I tell everybody I pretty much came out of the womb singing,” he said. “There was never a time in my life I wasn’t singing.”
Originally after high school, Garrett wanted to be a producer of gospel music. But after realizing his passion for vocal performance with friends, he decided to major in music education and pursue a career as a music teacher.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree in music from Hampton University in Virginia, Garrett applied for his master’s in choral conducting at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Although he wanted to focus on vocal performance, his professors convinced him he was better at conducting.
“That was a crushing blow because I thought I had a really good voice,” Garrett said. “But I listened to their advice, and I went ahead and did conducting. I saw I really do like being in control of what the music sounds like.”
Once he finished his master’s degree, Garrett said he decided to take a break from school and applied to become the director of choral activities at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania.
During his five years of teaching choral activities, he realized his passion for teaching students about music.
“I love seeing my students succeed,” he said. “Whenever my students see they have progressed, when they see they have went from one place and now they are better than they were before, is really what makes me happy.”
After five years of teaching, Garrett decided to pursue a doctoral degree in music education. He applied and was accepted into UNL’s doctorate program but turned it down and joined Florida State University’s program instead.
While Garrett was starting the third year of his doctorate, he saw the job opening at UNL. He was hesitant to apply at first, because he didn’t come to Nebraska for his doctoral degree after being accepted into the program.
But after looking through the qualifications, he decided to give it a shot.
“When you think of UNL, a D-1 school, a lot of research opportunities, there's some great opportunities for a professional,” he said. “So I thought if I end up working there, I would not only be able to work with students and choir, but I would be able to do my own research.”
As he finished up his doctorate, Garrett said the idea of doing his own research became more compelling.
“I knew a part of me wanted to go and find new things, and I can't find those new things if my entire time is devoted to being in the classroom,” he said. “So I knew [UNL] would be a good fit for me.”
Garrett said the application process moved along quickly, and he was asked to visit the campus for an interview. Soon after, he was hired as the new assistant professor of music in choral activities.
For music graduate student Nick Lee, working with Garrett this semester has been gratifying.
“Dr. Garrett brings his own personality, experience and style to leading choral ensembles,” Lee said. “His consistent energy and contagious smile are undoubtedly highlights for the singers in his groups.”
As one of Garrett’s teaching assistants, Lee said he has learned a lot from the professor and feels he has grown and will continue to grow as a musician with Garrett’s help.
“He has challenged me as a musician and caused me to look at my conducting through the eyes of my ensembles,” Lee said. “I look forward to continued personal growth and a fresh critical eye to help me refine my skills on the podium and in the classroom.”
Though his job at UNL was challenging at first, Garrett said he couldn’t be happier with where he is at now and is grateful for the group of students he works with.
“I have amazing students. They're so willing and eager to learn, and you can't ask for more than a student who wants to learn,” he said. “That is what makes me always want to come here. I love being here.”
This article was originally published in the January 2019 edition of The DN.