ORGANIZATION - SCAD ID - #441
SCAC Verified Teaching Artist
609 923 0948
Charleston County, SC
Music has always been in my life. My mother was a concert pianist and my father was a self-taught jazz pianist. My younger brother Steve is world-renowned as a guitarist and teacher; my youngest brother Will is one of the world’s foremost authorities on the life and work of Woody Guthrie. There was always music in our house.
I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Music Education from Montclair State University in New Jersey. I have over 40 years’ experience teaching music to students of all ages, styles and levels of expertise. I am a certified music teacher in both South Carolina and New Jersey, with a Master’s in Education Leadership from Thomas Edison State University (also in NJ).
In addition to teaching, I’ve performed in coffee houses, concerts, churches, bars, festivals, living rooms and back porches throughout the East Coast. I’ve recorded four CDs for release and sale – they’re available on iTunes, Amazon and Bandcamp.com.
Music is about connection. If we are not connecting to something beyond our own thoughts then at best our work is an intellectual and physical workout.
Music, especially instrumental music, needs to be emotionally evocative. Lyrics can assist in focusing the attention of a listener, but even then music sets the emotional tone of a song. Even when a song is about a person or event, an emotional connection must be made between the performance and the listener, or else there’s no reason to sustain attention.
I retired from teaching school music in June of 2020 after a long and gratifying career. My wife Suzanne was in end-stage cancer, the pandemic was raging and I needed to devote my time to her caregiving. A big part of my own coping was in daily practice. More specifically, music as prayer/meditation. As a fingerstyle acoustic guitarist, there was something spiritually mystical in feeling the vibrations against my chest as notes I will never play again went out into the universe in the spare room.
When I teach theory I often talk about the relationship between our harmonies (musical, not sociological) and the notes in the harmonic series. When a note is played there are hundreds of other notes called partials or overtones contained in the main vibration of the fundamental note. The first five overtones are all members of the major triad built on that fundamental pitch. It’s almost as if our harmonies are designed by nature or physics. That’s not to say non-western harmonic systems are inferior, just that we are messing with something way bigger than ourselves when we play music. We are connecting to something beyond ourselves if we’re paying attention.
Suzanne passed away in July of 2021. My music then became therapy, a means of dealing with all of the emotions swirling around as I tried to navigate my new life. I worked in earnest writing songs, culling the best into a CD called “Old Guy New Songs.” In the fall of 2022 I mounted a small series of concerts called the Cancer Revenge Tour that raised over $10,000 for ovarian cancer research, exorcised a lot of my anger and made connections with others who’d suffered loss. Music is about connection.
My own music tends to be sparked by an event, person or emotion in my life. Lately, frankly, I’ve found questions around my own mortality popping up in my lyrics. Never in a morbid way, typically in a manner that insists we make the most of the time we have here because there are no guarantees.
Clearly these are not subjects when teaching a songwriting workshop in a school situation. There we focus on what’s meaningful to students.
As a performer, my goal is to share music with listeners, because music is about connection.
I have always had overlapping careers, as a folk music performer and music educator. I’m not unique in that regard; many music teachers supplement their income by playing gigs and/or teaching private students. The overlapping aspects of my music careers, though were unique.
I am primarily a folk musician, a fingerstyle guitarist, clawhammer banjo player, songwriter and folk singer. In my sophomore year of high school I joined the marching band to play tuba with some of my friends. It was 6 weeks into the season before the band director allowed me to march with a mouthpiece in the horn. By the end of junior year, I knew I wanted to be a music teacher, to literally change the world through music. I auditioned on classical guitar and was accepted into the music department, but received a phone call from the department chair a few days later saying the guitar department was full. “But we see you played the tuba in band. Would you be interested in playing tuba as your major instrument?”
From that point on my career took multiple concurrent parallel paths – days studying to become a public school music educator, afternoons teaching too many private guitar students and evenings playing folk music in coffee houses and clubs. As a result, I’ve been able to bridge the gap between diverse musical styles and genres.
From the perspective of teacher and performer, the secret to success is getting the people you’re working with directly involved in the process, moving from passive to active. The late Pete Seeger remains one of my musical heroes – he was a master at getting people to actively sing along, knowing that just the act of singing together builds community. Simply talking at a class or audience is not enough; that’s making the work about you rather than about them. I prefer to teach using class involvement – writing songs collectively about extra-musical topics, hands on work with ukuleles, rhythm instruments, recorders or even creating ring tones to give to family members.
My work, especially as an elementary general music teacher, has always been about relating aspects of music to something else the students were working on or interested in – the life cycle of plants, ocean tides, owls, historical events, the rhythm of poetry and prose – because true knowledge acquisition is a result of synthesizing new information with stuff we already knew from disparate sources. That’s when it sticks. Success is measured when results are compared to objectives in a post-residency conference and evaluation forms are studied.
Ongoing reflection is necessary and critical in every sense of the word. Are students engaged? Does checking in during the work show that students are “getting it?” How can the work be improved both immediately and for future projects? As a musician, the goal is my own continuous improvement. As a visiting educator, the goal is for continuous improvement for everyone involved.