Prior to serving an LDS mission, Aaron McMurray played on NBC’s “Last Call with Carson Daly” — but he’d never tell you that. Instead, McMurray tries to blend in with the multitude of other students pursuing a music degree at BYU. But as a multi-faceted musician, composer, artist and humanitarian, blending in is not something he does well.
McMurray became involved in music around the sixth grade, and while the siblings in his large family played too, he was one of the few to carry it on to a college degree. McMurray said he feels he had no choice but to follow his passion all the way through college.
“I think I just knew … It didn’t feel like I could just not do it; it was something I cared enough about and thought enough about that I always just assumed it was going to be a part of my life,” he said.
[pullquote]”I think I just knew … It didn’t feel like I could just not do it; it was something I cared enough about and thought enough about that I always just assumed it was going to be a part of my life,” he said.[/pullquote]
McMurray plays the upright bass and electric guitar and has dotted the map touring as a BYU student and a past member of the indie-rock band Meg and Dia.
These days, however, McMurray focuses his energy on gig after gig while still finding time to fulfill pre-med requirements, since he hopes to serve as a doctor one day.
“A lot of people think it’s a money thing, like you just can’t make money in music, which is not true, you really can,” McMurray said. “I feel really driven to do medicine not just because I want to be a doctor, but what I want to do is actually humanitarian medicine.”
McMurray feels like studying medicine after getting his degree in music will create the balance he wants between career and hobby.
“I feel like if I choose medicine I can still do music, but if I choose music I can’t do medicine,” he said. “You can gig on the weekends, but you can’t be a musician who does surgery on the weekends.”
Ray Smith, BYU professor of jazz studies and musical director for Synthesis, BYU’s top jazz band, shared how he feels about McMurray as a musician and a member of Synthesis.
“Aaron is a very bright guy,” Smith said. “He’s brilliant and he always notices things; I think that’s part of his greatness. He’s sort of become the man on campus for bass.”
While Smith said McMurray excels in all genres of music, one thing that sets McMurray apart is his ability to improvise — a key part of jazz, the genre where McMurray’s passion seems to lie.
“Only 5 or 6 percent of record sales in total are jazz or art music,” McMurray said. “Basically people don’t go into jazz because they want to be rich; people don’t go into jazz because they want to get chicks. The people that do it are actually doing it because of the art form.”
Ashley McMurray, a student from University Place, Wash., studying philosophy, is Aaron’s cousin wand has an inside view of the attributes that aid Aaron’s success.
“I think he has been in a unique position, even in his family, to see a lot of diverse ways of thinking so I think his appreciation of music goes into the culture, into social issues, even his moral paradigm,” Ashley said.
But Aaron’s dedication extends even beyond music, according to Ashley.
“One of the things that is really unique about Aaron is his sincerity,” he said. “He’s the most genuine person I know. He volunteers at three places and is doing gigs and he’ll still take time to talk to someone he knows if they look like they are even remotely having a hard time. It’s hard to tap into that dedication in this time of life.”
Jordan Rose, a student at Berklee College of Music in Boston, played with Aaron when he was studying at BYU. He said McMurray’s talent is manifest in the variety of styles he embraces.
“One of the things that’s different about Aaron is that he’s really versatile in the genre of music he plays,” Rose said. “He plays the upright and electrical bass really well so he can play classical, rock, jazz. He’s involved in a lot of different musical communities, which really sets him apart.”
Rose said he doesn’t question McMurray’s ability to have a successful career as a musician, and sees his philanthropy in his choice to study medicine.
“I think the fact that he wants to be a doctor shows his outlook on life and that he really wants to help people,” he said.