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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!

Drum Lessons or Video Games? (By Dave Cifelli)

I spend a lot of time awake late into the night, as my jobs as a drum teacher and professional musician usually don’t require me to wake up too early in the morning. Recently, I was watching Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, which I watch from to time to time mostly with hopes that the show will feature the great house band, Philadelphia’s own The Roots. Their music is always soulful and impeccably executed and drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson has been a great inspiration to me.rock drums

On this particular episode, actress Kate Walsh was a featured guest, talking about her shows, promoting a new fragrance--does everyone have one of those now?--and participating in the usual antics of late night television. Within the first thirty seconds of her discussion with Fallon, they came to the topic of her recent enrollment in drum lessons. (http://www.hulu.com/watch/213133/late-night-with-jimmy-fallon-kate-walsh-part-1#s-p1-sr-i1)

Walsh mentions that she recently started taking drum lessons after feeling inspired by her abilities on the video game Rock Band. She goes on to say that after receiving a drumset as a Christmas gift and being convinced to “take it to the next level” by her brother, she decided to seek out a drum teacher. However, her search did not bring her to an instructor easily due to her age and beginner ability level, as most teachers are used to teaching kids. Eventually she found a teacher, who it turns out is the teacher of her friend’s kids.

As I was watching this, the teacher in me was thinking, “How odd. Why would any teacher have an aversion towards teaching any student, regardless of age or ability level?” As musicians, we are all students of music for life. A beginner student who is not a kid is perhaps not the norm, but if there is any underlying message here, it’s that you are never too old to learn something new. Musical interests should never be discouraged, especially in a time when the many distractions in the world often deplete the due appreciation that many talented musicians deserve. The more people we have understand music at a deeper level the better. Playing a musical instrument is such a fulfilling experience. After all, the reason why I teach the drums is to pass on my passion for the instrument and music in general to a student who has a comparable desire to learn.

Finally, I must address another interesting aspect of this discussion, which is that Walsh was driven to explore her musical interests after being introduced to drumming by Rock Band. I cannot tell you how many students I have had come to me as beginners who spoke the same words. It is all the more common everyday with technology ruling our world. So, I must ask, “is this good or bad?” I am no advocate of video games. I never played them. My parents decided to buy me new drum gear for holidays and birthdays, rather than the latest console and games. It is hard to say what kind of effect games such as Rock Band will have on the next generation of aspiring musicians. If any of the controller instruments are most like their actual instrument counterpart, it is clearly the drums.

Still, I don’t know where I stand on this. Though I feel video games generally have an adverse affect on America’s youth, I do appreciate that any avenue that leads a child (or adult for that matter) to a musical instrument is valid enough. I guess the point of a blog is to provoke some type of discussion. This subject is something that I feel is becoming a hot topic amongst educators, parents, and kids. I look forward to having this discussion with anyone interested, and if there is not some type of formal study done on its pros and cons already, I would imagine it is coming soon.

Let me know how you feel about these issues, by responding in the "Comments" field below.  Thanks!

Dave Cifelli teaches drums at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts in Flemington, NJ 

More Piano and Drum Teachers

We are pleased to have added two new music teachers--Nina Yenik (Piano) and David Cifelli (Drums)--to our faculty ropiano teacher Nina Yenik ster, providing you with expanded scheduling options for your music lessons!

Nina Yenik (see photo) completed her high school degree at the renowned Interlochen Arts Academy.  Upon graduating, she pursued a Bachelor of Music degree, majoring in piano, at the Cleveland Institute of Music and later at Manhattan School of Music.  Nina received her Master's degree from Manhattan School, where she studied with acclaimed pianist Andre-Michel Schub.  A versatile performer of repertoire ranging from Bach to Boulez, Nina has performed solo and chamber music recitals at festivals in France, Italy, Japan, China and the US.  She has been an active pianist and teacher in the New York area for several years and has taught piano at all levels.  Schedule a Trial Piano Lesson with Nina at no cost to you!

David Cifelli, an experienced young percussionist with a Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz and Contemporary Music Performance from the University of the Arts, has studied with some of the greatest drummers in the industry, including Tony DeNicola, Jim Paxson, Erik Johnson, and Cheech Iero.  David's talents were recognized early in life; while in high school, he was selected to join the Jazz for Teens program of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and was twice the first runner up in Modern Drummer Magazine’s Undiscovered Drummer Contest.  A private studio teacher for the past several years, David also served as Teaching Assistant and Tutor at University of the Arts.  Schedule a Trial Drum Lesson with David at no cost to you!


Four New Faculty Members to Join HAA

Karina Vazquez Colis.small resized 600We are delighted to welcome four new instructors to the faculty of Hunterdon Academy of the Arts: Brandon Eldredge (piano); Thomas Hanslowe (violin); Seth Rosenthal (flute); and Karina Vazquez Colis (drums; jazz; voice; and jarana). 

Specializing in piano, Brandon recently graduated from the College of New Jersey with a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education. In addition to serving as piano accompanist for St. Paul's Lutheran Church and St. Magdalen's Church in Flemington, Brandon has taught music theory and conducted several bands at Moorestown High School and William Allen Middle School.

Thomas Hanslowe, too, joins us with a Bachelor of Music degree in music education, which he received from The College of New Jersey.  With a concentration in violin, he is looking forward to building a violin studio at HAA.

Succeeding Pamela Riley, distinguished flutist Seth Rosenthal is a very experienced teacher who is highly respected in the professional community.  Over the years, many of his flute students in the NY metropolitan area have won prizes and awards in music competitions.

And, lastly, we are very happy that Karina Vazquez Colis (see above photo) has joined our faculty. As a multi-instrumentalist with a Professional Music Diploma from Berklee College of Music, Karina offers a unique set of skills that will broaden the scope of our programs. Passionate about world jazz, Karina is a drummer, vocalist, and player of the jarana, a Mexican guitar-like instrument that originated in the Huastec and Veracruz regions.  She is well versed in a great variety of Central and South American musics and between 2002 and 2008 was featured on 9 CD's, one of which was released by the prestigious EMI Records label.

We are thrilled that these four outstanding artists and teachers have joined our faculty to meet the rising demand for music lessons at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts. 

It's going to be another great year!

Battle of the HAA Bands: Summer Camp 2010

rock band camp 2010This past week, we hosted our long-awaited Pop/Rock Band Camp, and we're happy to say that it was a great success for all involved.  A total of 20 students participated this year, and they formed 4 different bands.

Grouping the students into separate bands can be tricky; they come to the event with different skill levels on their instrument and different musical expertise, some having played longer and advanced further than others.  Musical tastes can also vary greatly among teenagers.  While some may like classic Rock, others prefer Pop or Metal.  But we always try to offer something for everyone!

It takes some really experienced instructors to make such a band camp work and get these students ready for a public performance within the span of only a week!  We are fortunate to have guitar teacher and professional songwriter Jen Ketrow as well as Robin Stone, a long-standing Rock Band instructor, on our faculty.  Working with two different bands each, Robin and Jen made it possible for these students to have a very exciting rock band experience.

For the duration of the week, each band was assigned its own room at our spacious Flemington facility, rehearsing daily for three hours.  The bands were quite different in terms of the songs they chose, and two of them even composed their own music!

The crowning conclusion of our Pop/Rock Band Camp was the Battle of the (four) HAA Bands: "Rated Rock," "Fire in Ice," "Dark Energy," and "Different Pages."

This concert, which was open to the public, took place on Friday, July 16 at Camp Carr in Clinton, NJ.  Below are some video and sound samples from the concert.  Enjoy!

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