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Faculty of the Month: Taylor Halpern, Songwriter


This month we interviewed Taylor Halpern, who joined us last year. Her warm personality and multiple musical talents have made her a great choice for students of a variety of musical interests.

You are a versatile musician of many skills and talents. Where do you see your greatest strengths? I would have to say my greatest strengths are within the degree I received- Theory and Composition. Understanding theory of music is so important in order to really grasp what the composer’s intentions were when writing the piece. This allows the performer to give the most authentic performance. Understanding details of music also helps writing music to seem less foreign. This is why I stress theory in my students lessons, to make them the best and smartest musicians that they can be.

You occasionally use a stage name--Taylor Ash. What made you decide to use this particular name, and when do you use it? My uncle actually came up with this name at a holiday dinner. It’s basically just half of my full name (Taylor Ashley Halpern). I use it when I am performing anywhere that I am playing my own music or need a stage name.

You play the Guitar, Ukulele, and Piano, and you sing! Moreover, you are a successful songwriter. What inspired you to learn all these skills? Music has always spoken to me in a very powerful way. In high school I shied away from becoming a musician and wanted to pursue a career in meteorology. However, in the end my passion for music became too strong and I knew I had to see it through. I had very different inspirations for each of the instruments I’ve learned. Piano and singing were always second nature to me. I learned guitar when I realizedsongwriting flemington nj I had a love for folk and bluegrass music and wanted to be able to emulate that style, which was hard on the piano.

Tell us about your songwriting activities. How does a musical idea become a song for you? What is your compositional process? The songwriting process is very different for me depending on the style I am writing. Sometimes, an idea will just pop into my head and I’ll write it down. Later I will expand upon it using the techniques of composition that I’ve acquired in my studies. Sometimes an idea is a complete accidents, I’ll just mess up something and there it is! I also tend to write the music first and the lyrics second, because the lyrics tend to grow out of the music rather than vice versa. Contrary to what most people believe, songwriting is not difficult and I try to encourage my students to give it a try!

You are quite successful at teaching your Music Lesson students at HAA. What is your recipe for success as a lesson teacher? As a teacher, I truly believe that music should be something that helps the students relax and have fun. I try to let the students play what they want, and mix in the theory and other more challenging tasks within that. I make sure to listen to the students concerns when they don’t like something, or grow bored, and we try to figure out what would make them happier and enjoy music more!

How do you work with students interested in writing their own songs? I have not had too many of my students try their hand at this (though I encourage every one to do so!), but basically I would work with them the same way my teachers worked with me. I would show them my piece, and they would give me hints and ideas to improve upon and make the song as interesting for the listener as possible. There are several easy ways to create diversity within a piece that doesn’t change the integrity of what was already written. If I hadn’t had any ideas that week, then we would sit and listen to music of the genre and try to get inspiration and write down several small ideas to see if we could expand on one.

How would you characterize the musical style of your own songs, and what artists and role models have been your greatest sources of inspiration? Mostly I am classified as a singer-songwriter (which is technically a genre), but I would consider my music as folk-pop-rock. I have been told my music is a crossover of several styles. Because of the highly narrative nature of my songs, I’ve also been told that some have some musical theatre influence, which is definitely true. Theatre has been a huge part of my life since I was young. Other artists that have inspired my music are Ingrid Michaelson, Sara Bareilles, Laura Marling, Muse, HAIM, and Brandy Carlisle.

What do you enjoy about being part of the Hunterdon Academy of the Arts community? I love that every day I get to share my passion for music with my students. I love seeing them grow as musicians and accomplish so many wonderful things! My co-workers are absolutely the best, and even though I may only see them for brief moments, I always love to catch up with them! In summary, I love what I do!

Other than music, what are your interests and hobbies? I’ve kept up with my love of weather, so I love to watch storms. I really love fashion and sewing. I also love to watch hockey, I am a Philadelphia Flyers fan! I enjoy hiking on nice days, as well!

Click Here to Sign Up for Lessons with Taylor!

Student Showcase: Luke and Nicky Berardi (Piano, Drums, and Guitar!)


This month we’re congratulating two brothers--Luke and Nicky Berardi--for winning the Student of the Month Award! 11-year-old Luke started taking music lessons at HAA when he was 5, and Nicky, who is now 8 years old, started pladrum lessons guitar lessons flemingtonying at age 4.

You are a musical family. Do you feel that having a shared interest in music makes a difference for a family? We sometimes do play music as a family. We have a drum kit, multiple electric guitars, base guitars, a key board and a baby grand piano. It is fun that we all play music since we push one another to always play better.

Both Nicky and Luke take piano lessons. What do they enjoy most about playing piano, and why did they choose that instrument? Both started on piano. Nicky chose piano due to being inspired by his older brother Luke, but likes playing drums at home. In addition to piano, Luke started guitar lessons with Taylor [Halpern]. At school, he also plays the clarinet.

Luke and Nicky recently performed in the “Children Helping Children” Performathon at Westminster Choirpiano lessons flemington NJ College. What was it like to give back through music? We like to help other children and families in need by playing this event. The piano that we play on is a concert piano, so it is huge. Ms. Teresa [Sygnarska] got us involved in this and we have been doing this for 3 years. It is very similar to our recitals that we have at HAA.

You’ve been HAA students for a very long time. What do you like about being part of Hunterdon Academy of the Arts? Luke has played for 6 years and Nicky for 4. We like that the teachers are really nice. Taylor, our newest teacher, keeps the lessons fun!

What kind of music do you like to listen to in your free time? We listen to lots of different types of music--Rock, Classical and Jazz--some of our favorite bands are Green Day, Mumford and Sons and Coldplay.

What would you like to do when you grow up? Any plans to study music? Currently, Nicky and Luke both want to be a soccer player. Luke also has an interest in being an architect. Both boys look to always have music in their lives.

Other than playing music, what are your favorite activities? We both play on travel soccer teams. We also play basketball, ride skateboards, ski and bike. Some of our other favorite things to do are draw/paint and ride our ATV’s.

What else would you like to share with us? We have a few pets (including fish and a hamster) and just rescued our dog Cooper two months ago. We love to go camping and kayaking with our good friends. Roller coasters are also very fun!

Faculty of the Month: Dave Cifelli, Drums


In April we’d like to spotlight one of our long-standing Drum Instructors, Dave Cifelli. Interviewing Dave is a breeze; he is so committed to drumming and loves to share his thoughts about the instrument.

You are really passionate about all things drums. When did you fall in love with drumming? Were there any key moments in your life? I think I fell in love with drumming when I was very young. My dad played drums to a limited extent and so did my cousin. I went to drum events when I was too little to remember! When I started playing at age seven, my dad immediately got me started with lessons and it all just blew up. Even before that though, I think my love for drums was preceded by my love for music. My parents played me so much music when I was really young, like really cool hip music. I was probably the only 3 year old to quote Lou Reed. I think listening and being exposed to tons of music throughout your entire life is just as important as the time you spend practicing.

You have a loyal following of drum students at HAA. What do you enjoy most about teaching drums and working with your students? Well, I think almost any good teacher would say that they enjoy sharingDrum Lessons Flemington NJ something they love with the students, but beyond that, I enjoy how much I learn from them too. I am constantly hearing new music that is brought in by my students, and I love the challenge of trying to transcribe so much stuff for them (at least until they can do it on their own, which is the goal). I like that it keeps me learning, and not just in a metaphorical way. I am literally learning new songs every week. That’s pretty awesome for me.

We have come to appreciate your knowledge and advice on helping us purchase and repair drum sets at HAA. When it comes to the instrument, what advice do you have for students just starting drum lessons? Two things: first, as drummers we are very fortunate because the drums, unlike most other instruments, are adjustable, morph-able, customizable in so many different ways. Take advantage of that. Don’t just play your drumset the way it was set up at the store or the way you saw some picture on the internet. So many times, students are slaves to their kits. It’s your kit. Mess with it, you won’t break it. That’s what all those screws are for. That’s one of the fun things about drums. Also, tuning: tune your drums. If you don’t know how, ask. I will help. But beyond that, mess around. Tuning is like playing; it takes practice and if you don’t practice you won’t get better. Unless you do something extreme, you’re not going to break anything. Go for it!

How important is it for drum students to play in a band, and at what point in their training are they ready for that? Playing in a band is so important for any musician, but especially drummers. It’s tough. If you play piano, guitar, etc you can play some chords, maybe sing along, and it sounds like the song. With the drums, it’s a little tougher because you can play a whole song, and maybe no one will know what it is. It’s hard to keep motivated to hear the “bigger picture” sometimes. Playing music solely by yourself regardless of instrument makes no sense to me. First of all, wouldn’t you want to play with other people? It’s really fun! Second, there are so many skills that you can only learn by playing with other people. You can play along with the record all day and maybe you think you sound amazing, but I’d almost guarantee the first time you go play with others it’s going to be a lot harder than you’d expect, and you probably won’t be too good. And, when should they start: the earlier the better. Once you can play a beat, once you can play a simple three chord song, you should be playing music with other people.

Do you currently perform in a band, and if so, what excites you about performing with others? I don’t currently perform in a band, but it’s not just what excites me about playing with others, it’s what excites me about playing FOR others. Music is about sharing. Ever play a gig for no one? It doesn’t matter how killin’ the musicians are, how great the music is, etc. if there is no one there to hear and experience what you’re doing, it’s not a great time. The only time I enjoy playing for basically no one is in the recording studio. I really enjoy recording and the process of working together with musicians to create something new. That’s exciting to me!

What are your favorite musical styles? Believe it or not, as a kid, besides listening to classic rock, I listened to a lot of jazz. I really got so heavy into jazz music for so many years, and I still love it. However, I love so many styles. I used to love going to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra every week when I lived in Philly, I love The Beatles probably more than any band ever, but my musical influences stem so far, and I think you cannot underestimate how important it is to have diverse musical interests and knowledge as a musician and educator. There is too much good music out there to only listen to sort of thing.

What do you enjoy about being part of the Hunterdon Academy of the Arts community? I like that there is a great effort for quality music education taught by very passionate teachers. I think some of the students really appreciate how much effort and care their teachers put into their lessons, and really respect them for it. It’s a two way street of motivation. A motivated student makes a motivated teacher and vice versa. I think there are some great students here.

Outside of Hunterdon Academy of the Arts, what are your interests and hobbies? My biggest thing is cycling. I love riding my bike and love following professional bike racing. I also love traveling as much as I can afford. I am also really into cooking. Gotta ride more so you can eat more, so you can ride more so you have to eat more. It’s a cycle… very terrible pun intended.

Click Here to Schedule Drum Lessons with Dave!

March 2016 Faculty of the Month: Amanda Prakopcyk, Piano

This month’s faculty spotlight is on Amanda Prakopcyk, a piano instructor who has been particularly successful with young beginners. In her interview with us, Amanda talks about her work at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts and her approach to teaching piano lessons.

What do you like about playing and teaching the piano? I love that you can escape into a different world while playing piano and express yourself in a way other than words. Teaching gives me a sense of pride and joy in sharing my knowledge with others. If I can help a student use music in a positive way and have fun while doing so, I have helped them grow as a person.

Tell us more about your piano students at HAA.  What do you enjoy most about working with them?
My students all have unique personalities. They learn in their own way and continually teach me in return.  As a teacher you have to be flexible in your approach and respect the student’s interests. You constantly have to adapt to the way each student learns and alter your methods to help them do so effectively. I value their opinions andPiano_lessons_flemington_nj always encourage them to think about what they’re playing and what they want their story to be as musicians. It’s incredible how teaching a student a particular piece of music can open your eyes to it in a way you haven’t thought of before. If a student is having trouble with a certain section of music you have to break it down in a way that seems simple but allows them to understand the music better. Seeing the enlightenment and happiness once they have accomplished that section is always exciting, and truly rewarding as a teacher.

You seem to be particularly successful in teaching young beginners. What is your approach to this age group? Where do you see the opportunities and challenges in teaching young beginners?
I try to keep the atmosphere light and fun and if we happen to get a few laughs in then we are on the right track.  At a young age the students are excited to learn something new and the excitement of their accomplishments is contagious. They clearly want to be there and their minds are like sponges, so it’s exciting for me to see how quickly they can learn and grow. The common challenges are the amount of time students are able to focus and stay on track. It’s easy for young students to get restless, of course, but that’s when you have to get creative in your teaching and come up with new ways to keep them engaged. Even if it means taking a break from playing and doing a different music related activity instead. They’re still learning and sometimes all they need is a little time to breathe, then we are able to bounce right back into playing. I think it’s important to make sure they don’t get overwhelmed and continue to have fun. It’s a thrill to watch the progress that they make.

What are your favorite musical styles? I tend to enjoy classical music and am particularly drawn to 20th century Latin American composers. Besides the standards I also like to find pieces and composers that aren’t played often enough! Like the pieces of Clara Wieck-Schumann, wife of the well-known Robert Schumann. I try to stay open minded when listening to music, so that can vary from listening to jazz to indie to rock.

What do you enjoy about being part of the Hunterdon Academy of the Arts community? The positive atmosphere and dedication to the students is clearly evident among all of the staff members. The students always come first and there is always something new and creative happening at HAA. It’s rewarding to be part of a community that is passing on this knowledge and creativity to another generation, or even those coming back to learn after many years.

What advice do you have for aspiring young musicians? Keep having fun and enjoy what you’re doing. Figure out what makes you excited and follow your passion. Use your music to inspire yourself and others, and dedicate yourself to your music and your playing. Stick to it even when it’s hard, it’s worth it in the end.
Outside of Hunterdon Academy of the Arts, what are your interests and hobbies? Gardening in the summer, hiking, disconnecting and getting outside, photography.

Faculty Showcase: Dragana Cotra Reljin, Piano


In February, the Faculty of the Month Award goes to Dragana Cotra Reljin, one of our very successful piano teachers! Like a number of other HAA instructors, Dragana received her professional training abroad and thus brings  a unique perspective to her teaching activities. Find out what she shared with us below:

What do you teach at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts, and what is your educational philosophy? I teachpiano_lessons_flemington_NJ Piano, as well as group keyboard classes as part of Music Makers. Along with teaching students important elements of piano playing and technique and music theory, I always like to think of each student as a unique musician. Therefore, I have a personalized approach for my students, respecting their differences, opinions and wishes. My ultimate goal is to develop love and passion for music in them. At the end of the day and class, I would like to think that they have made at least a small music discovery they will take home and enjoy it!

Tell us more about your HAA students. What do you enjoy most about working with them? At HAA, all of my students are remarkable talents of very different personalities. That makes my job interesting and fun. Also, I am so happy to see that most of them have very clear idea what kind of music they would like to play and what are their goals. That helps me think more about their performance and helps in selecting an appropriate repertoire.

What do you like about being part of Hunterdon Academy of the Arts? I’m enjoying the very friendly atmosphere at HAA, along with high quality of professionalism. I am truly blessed to be surrounded with such talents and great colleagues.

You received your professional training abroad. What was that like? I got my Bachelor’s Degree in classical piano pedagogy and performance from Music Academy of Belgrade, Serbia. It was a very rigorous program full of  music subjects focusing on classical repertoire. In  addition to these subjects I had music pedagogy, psychology and methodology of piano teaching that helped me in my current piano teaching career.

How did you adjust to teaching in the United States? Luckily, my transition to the United States went smoothly.
In Serbia, you can get piano lessons in music public schools which follow a very rigorous and rigid curriculum with mandatory exams at the end of each year. Unfortunately, a lot of students are not able to follow those requirements or they are having a hard time doing so. Eventually, some of the students get frustrated and often give up piano. I was very happy to discover it is much different here in the United States. Students are able to follow their own path and pace, thus discovering different musical stiles and performances.

What are your favorite musical styles? My favorite music style was and always will be classical music - with an emphasis on romanticism. I am also found of rock and some movie music.

What advice do you have for aspiring young musicians? Dear students, play as many pieces as possible! :)  Try different styles, explore,  endure even when it is hard. And what is most important - never forget to enjoy music.

Any professional projects--performance, recordings, etc., on the horizon?  What is your “musical bucket list”? Besides preparing for my private studio recital, I am preparing my students at HAA for the recital that is coming up on January 24th 2016. We hope to see many family members and friends there! Personally, I wish to join a chamber ensemble and start performing again. New Year’s resolution?

What else would you like to share with our readers? Hobbies, other interests? I like to spend my free time with my family as much as possible - with my husband and two lovely daughters. I like to travel, go hiking and explore the nature. This summer I have plans to visit Yellowstone.

Schedule Your First Piano Lesson with Dragana!


Student Showcase: Dominic Fetzer, Piano and Voice


Join us in congratulating Dominic Fetzer on winning February’s Student of the Month Award! Dominic has been very dedicated to his music studies at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts for over a decade now! Besides playing the piano, Dominic has some other interesting interests, as he shared with us in below interview:

How old are you, and when did you first join Hunterdon Academy of the Arts? I am 14 years old and joined HAA when I was 3 years old (with Ms. Ann Engberg).  I started piano when I was 6 years old, in first grade.

What do you study at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts, and who have been your teacherspiano_lessons_Flemington here? I study piano and my teachers have been Mrs. O’Neill, Mrs. Peare, Ms McCathran, Mr Gallagher, Mr Waddles, and
Mrs. Cotra-Reljin.  I also recently began to study voice with Mrs. Dodich and Ms. Maggie.

What is it like to be studying two different programs (piano and voice) at the same time? And do you have a preference? I think that my piano classes will actually help me with my voice classes - but not the other way around!  It’s fun to do both and both are core to me.  I just think about it as 2 things I enjoy learning and doing.

What do you like about making music and performing? There is no deep meaning about it - I just love to do it.  Just like some people like video games, I like to make music!  I also love to perform in public because I like to produce the enjoyment that it brings to them, I enjoy the rapport with the audience, and, I confess, I also enjoy the attention!

What do you like about being part of Hunterdon Academy of the Arts? HAA has been a part of my life and family for years!  I have very much enjoyed learning from all of my teachers, they were all very warm and friendly.

What kind of music do you like to listen to in your free time? I like classical music, especially baroque (as does my Dad!)  But when we are driving in the car, I like to listen to random pop songs.

What would you like to do after graduating high school? Any plans to pursue a music career? I would like to study math and quantum physics.  I understand that quantum physics allows for incredible new technologies that would be of tremendous service to mankind. Playing music is something I do for myself and would enjoy doing on the side.  Playing music gives me peace.  Playing music has helped sharpen my focus over the years and taught me to persevere.  At first, I was very frustrated, but learned to enjoy the small successes and plow forward.

Other than your music studies, what are your favorite activities? On Saturdays, I fence in Lambertville.  I am now in my second year and find fencing incredibly challenging.  You get knocked down a lot and you have to pick yourself up again every time!

What else would you like to tell us about yourself? I also love to photoshop, video edit, and play billiards whenever I can - but have little time for all of this. My most far-fetched dream is to live to see humanity colonize Mars!

Faculty Showcase: Joseph Pinto, Clarinet and Saxophone


We're starting the 2016 Faculty Showcase series with Joseph Pinto, long-standing clarinet (and saxophone) instructor at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts. In the interview that follows, Joe provides some great insights into his teaching philosophy and methods, which have yielded some nice results over the years.

What do you teach at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts, and what is your educational philosophy? I’d say my educational philosophy is to try and get students to use common sense when learning their instrument and learning a piece a music. You could call it “common musical sense.” Students of all ages often look at their instrument as a foreign object and a piece of sheet music as a foreign language. I don’t blame them but I try and demystify things for them. I’ll often ask them a very straight forward question that has a simple answer. When they give me that simple answer and I say “you’re right”, they’re eyes often widen because they took a step closer to understanding music without having to read several chapters in a music textbook to understand it. An example is the concept of breathing. If they take a “bad” breath in the middle of a phrase, I’ll ask them “would you breathe in the middle of a sentence” (when I ask the question I’ll take an exaggerated breath in the middle my sentence). They often chuckle and then always say no. Then I ask them why would you breathe in the middle of a phrase which is in fact a musical sentence. Then from that point I remind them to always choose their breaths wisely, and indicate how important it is that their breaths make sense in the music. Using this KISS (keep it simple stupid) philosophy, which I learned in middle school math, has lead to my success as a teacher over the last 10-15 years.

Tell us more about your HAA students. What do you enjoy most about working with them? I teach all agesclarinet_lessons_flemington_nj and levels so I’d say attitude instead of talent is what creates a good teaching environment. In the past I have had great students who were below average players and not so good students who were very talented. All of my students at HAA have good attitudes. I suppose I’ve been lucky that my students up to this point have not been forced to take lessons by their parents and are there because they want to be there. The student who stayed in my HAA studio the longest was Max Tolea, who took lessons for 6 years. Several others have studied with me for 5 years. (Julia Lombardo will be 5 years after she leaves next year). Christine Hatfield was 5 years as well. After teaching for a while, believe it or not, you begin to learn from your own students. I was not aware of this when I was younger, when I wasn’t interested in teaching at all. I thought practicing and performing was how you learn and improve. I remember every single student I’ve taught at HAA, and can say I have in someway grown a little bit from each of them as a teacher and musician. Most of my students do not end up pursuing music in college. The ones who don’t, often convey to me how much music has helped them in their academic preparations for college. One student even told me after taking his clarinet lessons he improved a great deal in his martial arts class.

What do you like about being part of Hunterdon Academy of the Arts? The facility is great. The people in the office are professional. I have gotten gigs from my fellow teachers. Also I’ve gotten the opportunity to perform with other talented faculty members. Recently the school has increased enrollment so there’s always a steady flow of trial lessons. When students walk in they see it’s a real music school, not simply a store that gives lessons. Also the recitals are important so the students have a goal and focus for their practice.

Your clarinet student Peyton Williams, who is our featured Student of the Month, performed with “Macy’s Great American Marching Band” on Thanksgiving Day. Congratulations on this wonderful student accomplishment! As her clarinet teacher, you must be very proud of her. How did you prepare her for this performance? Peyton is definitely going to major in music next year. To be honest I didn’t help her prepare for the parade too much since the music was pretty easy. She was very excited about it and it took a lot of rehearsal time She said it was a very long day and was tiring but was well worth it. She said some alumni from her school were there as well. I’ve been mostly helping her prepare for her high school wind ensemble solos and her college audition. She just performed in her holiday concert. She played one major solo that required to stand in front of the band. I believe it was a variation on Silent Night. She said it went very well. She’s also working on Weber’s Concertino for her college audition at Kutztown. She auditioned for drum major but didn’t get the job. I told her that if she had come to me sooner I could have helped her prepare for the audition. I’ve helped students prepare for drum major auditions and 100% were successful (Christine Hatfield, for example). I was the drum major myself in high school. Teaching conducting and how to express yourself with your body is extremely beneficial to every student. Peyton has a very good attitude. I could see her teaching public school music someday. She’s also a pianist which is always an invaluable skill as music teacher. As she gets closer to graduation I’ll be sure to impart on her the do’s and don’ts of being a first year music major. One of which being to take your piano proficiency test asap.

What are your favorite musical styles? As a clarinetist, you have much experience playing in ensembles. What do you enjoy about playing in group settings? I enjoy playing in chamber groups the most. Playing in orchestras is of course great. I don’t prefer any type of music over another. I listen to popular music mostly on the radio. I don’t listen to classical too much while driving. I always encourage my students to play in chamber groups. Chamber playing is where you learn how to listen. Pitch, tone, articulation, and phrasing are what chamber playing exposes. I always play duets with my students (them playing the high part and me the low one). I tell them we must work as a team. We must match articulation and phrasing so it sounds like a real duet instead of two soloists. Many students have conveyed to me the favorite part of their lessons are the duets. My own freelance experience is pretty extensive. I’ve played in symphonies, operas, musicals, chamber groups, solo opportunities. I’ve played with some pretty famous opera singers but the most famous popular singer I’ve been on stage with was Ray Charles. I’d say the biggest venue was Carnegie Hall or Alice Tully Hall.

What advice do you have for aspiring young musicians? Speaking as a woodwind player my advice is to sing. As I was saying earlier, younger students and even sometimes older ones treat the instrument as a foreign object, almost like a machine. You have to try and find your voice through the sound of the instrument. Mozart and Brahms both felt the clarinet very closely resembled the sound of the human voice. I always try and point out the vocal qualities of the clarinet to my students and impart how important vocal pedagogy is. If a young student is struggling I make them sing melodies and adopt a singer’s brain. Often when a student sings a melody, they get it right the first time (phrasing-wise at least). In the end the instrument must be an extension of their body and their voice.

Any professional projects--performance, recordings, etc., on the horizon? What is your “musical bucket list? My bucket list piece would have to be the Mozart Quintet for clarinet and string quartet. George Jones, my first teacher, thought it was the greatest piece of chamber music ever written, I just haven’t had the opportunity to play it.

What else would you like to share with our readers? Hobbies, other interests? I never took clarinet lessons when I was younger. My first lesson was my first year of college. I had talent so I was still able to excel in middle and high school. I was however doing many things incorrectly. If I had a private teacher he could have corrected them for me well before I got to college. When I first cover articulation with my saxophone and clarinet students I often tell them they’re years ahead of me since I did it wrong for so many years. My hobbies are golf, watching movies, listening to movie scores, and playing cards.

Find out More about Joe Pinto Here!


Student of the Month: Peyton Williams


Congratulations to 17-year-old Peyton Williams, one of our Music Lesson Students, for receiving the January Student of the Month Award! Peyton madequite some headlines recently. But that’s only part of her incredible story. Read this interview all the way to the end.

What do you study at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts, and who have been your teachers here? I studyClarinet Lessons Flemington NJ Piano with Ms. Amanda Prakopcyk and clarinet with Mr. Joe Pinto. I also receive training from Mr. Magalio, Mr. Kenny, and Mr. Stevenson at Hunterdon Central Regional High School.

What is it like to be studying two different instruments at the same time? And do you have a preference? I don’t mind studying two instruments at once, because piano helps me with my AP music theory class at Hunterdon Central. At most times, I prefer clarinet because you only have to worry about playing one line of music at a time instead of two or more.

What do you like about being a student at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts? I like the friendly atmosphere when I come in for my lessons, and that I know a decent amount of students from Central there.

On Thanksgiving Day you performed with Macy’s Great American Marching Band, which was broadcast on NBC. Please tell us more about this incredible accomplishment! How were you selected to join this prestigious band, and what was it like to rehearse and perform with them? There is an audition process where you upload a video of yourself playing a 4-7 minute solo on YouTube. When I did the audition in sophomore year, I actually used the music from the current marching band show “Summer Down the Shore”, because it was quite difficult. And once you are in the band, you’re in for life! This opportunity is only for high schoolers, so if you’re interested, you might as well try out, because it only comes once in a lifetime. This was my second year inPeyton_Williams_2-396161-edited.jpg the band, and I definitely made some new friends. The rehearsals are intense, we got only 15 hours of rehearsal time (in total) over four days while doing sightseeing. Then it’s the big performance, with the wonderful dress rehearsal at Macy’s at 3 in the morning. Besides for my legs still being sore from marching the 3 mile parade route, it’s definitely worth it and if they have an alumni band again, I would come back and do it again.

What kind of music do you like to listen to in your free time? I like to listen to all kinds of music, ranging from classical, to classic rock, to current pop and electronic and video game and movie soundtracks.

What would you like to do after graduating high school? Any plans to pursue a music career? After high school, I will be attending Kutztown University, majoring in Music education. I want to be a band director for high school students and a composer.

Other than your music studies, what are your favorite activities? I am an accomplished Martial Artists with over 25+ State and Regional titles in taekwondo. In 2014 I won World Champion in Weapon (Bo-staff) at American Taekwondo Association’s World Expo. I’ve been training in martial arts since I was 9 years old and have been ranked #1 in the World Standing several times in my career.

What else would you like to tell us about yourself? I love to arrange/write video game music for games that I enjoy to play. I also am currently making a scrapbook of my entire senior year.

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Faculty Showcase: Naoko Zhezha, Piano


In December, we're congratulating Piano Instructor Naoko Zhezha on receiving the Faculty of the Month Award! Naoko has been on our Piano Faculty for several years and has done such outstanding work with her students that most of the time she's completely booked! We asked her a few questions about her interesting musical background, and here's what we foudn out:

Tell us about your work at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts! I joined the Hunterdon Academy of the Arts as apiano lessons flemington piano faculty in 2011. HAA is a unique institution that offers a variety of classes and activities: music lessons, choir, acting, Musikgarten, jam sessions, online classes, and more. Being a part of HAA has been an exciting and innovative experience for me. In my opinion, it always takes a while to build your own studio. However, if you are patient, steady and try to work towards your goal and students’ goals, there will be a good result. Luckily, I have many hard working students who have been returning and achieving their musical goals over time. Often times I ask my students, “what do you want to learn? What genres of music do you want to learn?” Some students have very specific answers to this and say, for example, “I want to learn ‘a minute waltz’ by Chopin.” Other students have a very broad interest about what they want to play. This is where I come in and guide them in choosing music that best suits their taste and helps them explore their creativity in learning music. It is important that students stay curious by learning what interests them.

You have an interesting musical background, having received your professional training at some distinguished music conservatories in the U.S. Tell us about your studies in the U.S. Having grown up in Japan, what was the biggest difference in music studies between Japan and the United States? When I was 16 years old, I left home to attend Interlochen Arts Academy, which is a boarding high school in Traverse City, Michigan. Because of many students from all over the country and world studying music, dance, creative writing, and visual arts, the environment was very inspiring to learn and grow. My first impression of piano lesson by my teacher at Interlochen was friendly, positive, and encouraging. That is always my goal for students to feel the same way. I had a few very tough piano teachers back in Japan. I often was in tears after the lessons. However, because I liked music and playing the piano, I was determined to continue playing the piano with the support of my parents as well.
After graduating from Interlochen Arts Academy, I went to the Cleveland institute of Music (OH) where I earned my Bachelors of Music in piano performance. Then, on the advice of my former teacher, I continued to pursue a Master’s degree in piano performance at Western Michigan University where I was under full scholarship and taught college-level music courses. Here, I was exposed to playing more collaborative works: opera accompanying, choir accompanying, chamber music, orchestra reading, duets, etc. I became more and more interested in the collaborative field. This experience I gained led me to pursue my second Master’s degree in collaborative piano at Rutgers. This field requires a tremendous knowledge of different vocal types, instruments and ensemble skills. Collaborative pianists have a dual role where they always make sure that the soloists feel at ease to perform and make them shine without covering their sound.

What are your favorite musical styles? I like playing and listening to music by Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin and Rachmaninov. Being married to a violinist (HAA instructor Mialtin Zhezha), I do listen to a great deal of violin music everyday!

Any professional projects--performance, recordings, etc. on the horizon? What is on your “musical bucket list”? Recently, I started organizing a few events/concerts with my colleague in New York City. It has been always my dream to host musicians who belong on stage and deserve more live performance opportunities. It is a slight change of pace for me to manage the musicians rather than performing with them, but I truly enjoy the process of it. My husband Mialtin and I give several duo recitals a year and we try to play a different program every time. Expanding my violin and viola repertoire is always my project all year around.

Schedule Music Lessons at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts! Locations in Flemington and Lebanon, NJ!

Student of the Month: Thomas Flynn, Piano


In December, we're congratulating Thomas Flynn on receiving the Student of the Month Award. Tom has been with us for a couple of years and during that time made some amazing progress. We asked Tom a few questions, and here's what he had to say:

How old are you? I am 16 years old.

What do you study at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts, and who have been your teachers here? I have studied piano with Walter Aparicio for a little less than two years.

What do you like about playing the piano? I enjoy learning piano because it allows me to create some of my favoritepiano lessons flemington nj music. I never get bored of it because it is a great combination of mental, physical, and emotional tasks.

What do you like about being a student at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts? I like being a student here because my teacher is amazing and helps me to get past things in the music that are difficult.

We heard that you recently won a major competition! Please tell us more about this incredible accomplishment! Recently, I auditioned in an annual Russian music competition held by New Jersey Talented Young Musician Association and came in First Place for my section. I will be playing in Carnegie Hall later this year. It is nice for hard work to pay off!

What kind of music do you like to listen to in your free time? In my free time, I listen to many types of music but primarily classical. My favorite composer is probably Frederic Chopin.

What would you like to do after graduating high school? Any plans to pursue a music career?
After graduating high school I would like to study physics or math. I would be interested in working at a university or a place of research. I don’t think I’ll choose music as a career, but I know I will appreciate it all my life.

Other than your music studies, what are your favorite activities? I like hanging out with friends, going biking and reading.

What else would you like to tell us about yourself? My goal is to go to a good college, get a good job, and continue my music education. I think music is one of the most important parts of my life right now, and I am very thankful for my teacher and parents for supporting my learning.

Schedule Music Lessons at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts! Locations in Flemington and Lebanon, NJ!

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