Music education in Westchester will never be the same again!

A game changer for music education in Westchester.

On Saturday, December 17th we held our first ever Elite Percussion Ensemble of Westchester Winter Concert. It was a game changer for music education in the area. Starting an ensemble is not easy and the process of changing a paradigm in a community is hard work. So many important pieces of a much larger puzzle had to fall into place for this very important event to occur. Here is an accounting.

First Rehearsals 

9/26 – The night of our first meeting. After several months, I’ve been able to convince 4 students from my school to participate in my new student ensemble. I use the word “convince” because although these are talented students, most of them have never played in a percussion ensemble before. Most of them aren’t even aware that they exist. At our first meeting, one of the students gets sick and can’t make it, another has sports. We hold our first rehearsal with 2 students. It was fun but I realize right off the bat that this is going to be hard. Kids have a lot going on (especially the super smart kids I work with) and things happen all the time.

Repertoire wise I’ve selected 4 works for our first performance. Two of the works “Increments” and “Hustle” I wrote specifically for the ensemble. Increments works on adding new musical ideas to pre-existing ones. Hustle works on comping and taking solos. I’ve also programmed Clapping Music by Steve Reich and an arrangement of Star Wars by John Williams mainly because our concert takes place one day after Rogue One opens in theaters.

10/10, 10/24 – The next 2 rehearsals are great and I feel much differently about everything. I have to constantly remind myself that these students have never been asked to perform this many notes at this level. My school is providing a much-needed service to music in Westchester. However, it’s not just going to happen by itself. I will have to keep the energy at 1000% to keep everyone motivated and excited. If I let up for even a second we could lose our momentum and where we are right now is delicate to say the least…

New Instrument Purchases – Down to the wire

11/9 – After the exhausting 4 month-long process of selling our old townhouse and moving into our new house, I am finally able to purchase new instruments for the school. I would have done this sooner but one of the surest ways to slow down a mortgage process is by making a large purchase that shows up on bank records (which they pull). Luckily the business has been doing well enough that I can pretty much cash flow these instruments. However, the wait has been painful and I sincerely worry that the instruments will not be here in time for our concert on 12/17. Luckily, I’ve been working closely with Yamaha over the past month to insure that when I’m ready to finally pull the trigger, the instruments will be ready to go. Here is a list what I’m purchasing for the school.

Yamaha Gold Soloist 4 Octave Vibraphone

Yamaha Symphonic Rosewood Xylophone

Yamaha/Deagan Concert Bells

Yamaha Grand Symphonic Snare Drum

11/16 – Despite my worry about the instruments being here on time for the concert, I decided to wait a few more days to build up an even stronger cash position. However, Yamaha has just informed me today that there is only 1 xylophone and a few vibraphones left in the USA for purchase so I need to begin the ordering process today! Here we go!!!

12/2 – The instruments have arrived! There was a time in my life that when I purchased new instruments I would revel in their arrival for days. Now, I can barely find the time to put them together. How life has changed!

The instruments arrived while I was at a concert. I took this picture around midnight on Friday. With my schedule the way it is, I won’t even be able to begin the process of putting them together until Monday.

Run Up – Snow

12/12 – This is NOT GOOD. Weather forecasts indicate that they are expecting snow the day of our concert. I’ve spent 4 months working on this and it involves many different people. While my business is successful, it’s in a delicate stage of growth. A snow out would seriously derail my business’s momentum. Nothing to do but wait and monitor the weather.

12/16 – Our final rehearsal before the concert went so well! I’m really proud of these students and extremely appreciative of their parents for making this happen. If we can just see this through tomorrow, there will be no turning back!

12/16 (evening)

It’s going to snow tomorrow. Our concert isn’t until 5pm. The roads should be cleared by then but that’s not the issue. The issue is that we have a literal truckload of instruments that must be at the venue set up and ready to go by 3pm. I need to pick up the truck in the morning right smack in the middle of the blizzard. I then need to pick up my movers who are coming by train from NYC and begin the load in process. This should all take place between 11-1:30. Not good…not good at all. Nothing to do but go to sleep and see what happens. It’s going to be a very rough day tomorrow no matter what.

CONCERT DAY!!!

12/17 – I’m up at 6:30am (like I am everyday). It’s snowing. It’s bad. Ok…let’s go over the timeline. This is what is “supposed” to happen.

10am – 15ft truck pickup

11:30am – Mover pickup at train station

12-1:30pm – Instruments load out of studio

2-3 – Instruments load in Croton Academy of Arts

3pm – Event officially begins with guest artist master class

5pm – Concert

7am passes, 8am passes, every hour the roads get worse. I spend time calling people and checking weather reports. Weather reports still actually expect that the roads will be cleared by 3pm but with the snow coming down this morning I see no realistic way of getting the truck or moving the instruments on time. Additionally, I have major safety concerns and liability issues. Besides the obvious heartbreak of a student or mover hurting themselves on my watch, it would be the end of my business and my family’s well being. I can’t let that happen. I may have to cancel. I come very close to it and for about 5 min I operate as if I’m cancelling. I call the movers, one of the parents, and my guest artist and tell them it’s off. I’m devastated…

Suddenly something changes. I realize that there might be another way forward here. This is my event. I can do whatever I want. I call the venue and ask if I can push everything back 2 hours. They tell me no problem. Ok now maybe we’re in business. I call the movers back, the parents, and my guest artist. Everything gets pushed back. Great! It’s still snowing like crazy but I figure that I’ll just pick up the truck a little later. I call U-Haul to confirm this. The guy on the other ends seems annoyed. He tells me that they’ve been trying to reach me all morning (apparently they didn’t have my correct number). He tells me that they close at 11am. At this point it’s 10:30. Without a truck there will be no instruments and with no instruments no concert. I’ll have to go out in the snow and get the truck.

And now begins the real schedule…

10:30am – I’m driving my van on 55mph roads that haven’t yet been paved going about 10-20mph. I am legitimately concerned for my safety but there is nothing I can do. This needs to work out. Finally close to 11am I arrive and pickup the truck. Now I’m driving a 15ft U-Haul back to my house in the same conditions.

11:30- Mover pickup has been pushed back and the snow is finally beginning to subside but at home our driveway is covered. I have to shovel it. It’s a very long driveway. Great…just what I need. I’m already exhausted and the day hasn’t even started.

1pm – My guest artist just cancelled due to weather. Not ideal but it’s ok we can make it work without him.

1:30pm – I pick up the movers. 3 of my guys from NYU. They’re the greatest.

2pm – we begin the process of load out. The loading ramp at my studio is covered with snow. Someone shovels it quickly. We get going. Luckily this goes very fast and by 2:30 we have the entire truck loaded. My instruments and all of our gear literally fill the ENTIRE TRUCK.

3pm – we arrive at the Croton Academy. Load in goes quickly but we have to set up the stage, set up chairs and make the room look presentable. We only have 2 hours to do it. My wife shows up and begins working on the refreshments and setting up the room with us. We also set up a sponsor table for Yamaha and Vic Firth.

5pm – Wow this is really happening! The students are here. Unfortunately, 5-5:45pm was supposed to be a block of time for our guest artist but since he cancelled, I am going to have to make it work. As I mentioned before my movers are students of mine from NYU. They are incredible players. The 4 of us devise a masterclass and present it to the students. It goes well.

5:45-6:45 – Dress rehearsal. Most of these kids have never performed a concert like this. I am aware of that. I have been the entire time. There are tremendous nerves in the room.

7pm – Wow there are quite a few people here. It’s a really solid crowd. The concert is going great. I totally forgot what day it is…my head is spinning. I have to play too. The energy is insane especially considering how new this is for these students. They do a really great job. Additionally my NYU students give a stellar performance of Cat and Mouse by Tom Nazziola. It was definitely inspiring for the younger students to hear them play. I’m glad it happened.

I’ve performed with some of the greatest artists in the world at some of the most impressive venues but there is something so uniquely special and rewarding about this. Additionally, putting on my own event of this magnitude is a thrilling rush especially when it works out!

8pm – and it’s over. Everyone is beyond pleased. We have succeeded. Music education in Westchester will never be the same again. Load out and clean up goes quickly. I have the greatest movers ever.

10pm – The movers are on the train and on their way home. I am dropping off the truck. The ride home is sweet. I can’t believe it. To say that I learned a great deal doing this would be an understatement. There will be much to reflect on moving forward and many thing to adjust in order to both be successful and out do ourselves the next time around but for now…I’m proud.

For LOTS MORE photos from our event visit here.