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This month we’d like to showcase a student who surprised us with a wonderful performance at our recent Thursday Night Lights concert on Flemington Main Street: 16-year-old Sydney Atkinson.
What do you study at YOUniversity of Music and Arts, and who have been your teachers here?
I am taking classical guitar lessons with Tom Amoriello and I’m a part of The True Voice Project with Adam Kishbauch!
What do you like about playing the guitar?
I like that I can create something beautiful just by pressing down on some strings. Every time I practice guitar, I feel like I’m accomplishing something and slowly the parts that I practice get better and soon the entire song comes together!
You did a fabulous job performing for our recent Thursday Night Lights event on Flemington Main Street. In fact, the video clip we’re publishing with this article was taken that very night. You sang several songs while accompanying yourself on the guitar. How did you become interested in being a singer/guitarist, and is your guitar teacher (Tom Amoriello) working with you on the vocals as well?
Taylor Swift was a big influence because it was so unreal to me to see a girl like her on stage with her guitar singing songs that she wrote when she was only sixteen! Yes, Tom [Amoriello] is working with me on playing classical pieces as well as playing music I can sing with. Playing both types of music at the same time is very cool because the techniques I learn with one style can be transferred to the other.
What kinds of music do you play? Who are your musical idols? Are you composing your own songs, and is songwriting something you are interested in pursuing further?
I play a lot of different music, however I play most of my classical studies and a mix of pop songs and alternative____________. My musical idols are a mix of famous musicians and some maybe not so famous artists. I lived in Memphis, Tennessee for a while, and one of my close family friends, Ryan Paule, was in a local band. He was the first person to give me the opportunity to perform out in public and meet other local musicians, some being given great opportunities themselves, like Patrick Dodd! My dad’s friend, Jeff LaQuatra, was the first person to introduce me to classical guitar, and, of course, there’s also Taylor Swift! I have written some songs, but recently I haven’t written anything new. However, I am definitely interested in composing new music!
What do you like about being a student at HAA/YOUniversity of Music and Arts?
I love that being involved here has given me the opportunity to work with people of all ages! Getting to interact with people my age with The True Voice Project is helping me prepare for jobs and seeing people younger and older than me play complicated pieces of music on their guitars is wonderful because I can see what I need to work to improve on!
We know that you are a member of our True Voice Project ensemble, but do you currently play in a band, and if so, tell us more about that.
No, I’m currently not in a band but it’s something I’d love to do.
What kind of music do you like to listen to in your free time?
I listen to a mixture of different music, though I find myself listening to a lot of Alternative Rock and pop.
What would you like to do after graduating from high school? Any plans to pursue a music career?
I would love to pursue a career in music, weather I’m playing and writing the music or producing it. I would be happy in any and all aspects of it.
Other than your music studies, what are your favorite activities?
I like to cook, bake all kinds of dairy free treats, and I like to crochet hats, gloves, and scarves.
What else would you like to tell us about yourself?
I have a dog named Barney, one younger sister, and two parents who all support me very much!
I am finding that a few of my students are becoming upset or frustrated with the difficulties and challenges that music presents to them. Whether it is the technical aspect of their instrument, or the shear difficulty of feeling music and making the simplest exercises sound musical and meaningful, some students unfortunately become disheartened. But I am here to say that this is okay: music is hard and if it weren’t hard, people like myself would be out of work because everyone would want to be a musician!
Our musical ability is like a muscle; we break down musical exercises until we are sick of them. Sometimes these exercises may make us feel uncomfortable physically (they are awkward for our hands, embouchure, or vocal chords) or mentally (they shake our confidence), but eventually we are able to overcome and build our skill level. Erik Johnson, one of my musical mentors in college, once told me not to be discouraged during the periods when my playing sounds like garbage to me. It is during these periods in which something is really happening and you are on the verge of accomplishing something great. You should really be concerned with the times when you are content with the way you are playing, because it is during these periods that you must search for a higher level of musicality. Erik is my musical guru.
I am presenting a challenge to all of my students. This challenge pertains to myself as well because I have not completely mastered this aspect of music. The challenge is to own your mistakes and to be proud of them! If you are reading a piece of music and you flop through a passage, keep reading and read the best you can. If you are soloing and you play a “wrong” note, do not stop and say you messed up; keep soloing and do solo with passion and soulfulness! When you go to practice, do not just practice the things you know. Take a deep breath, tell yourself you can do this, and slow down the things you always mess up, and then slowly bring them up to speed. I believe in all of you and I know you all have the potential to be great musicians!
Jim Scanlan teaches guitar at Hunterdon academy oif the Arts in Flemington, NJ
The person who inspired me to start playing music was my Father. My earliest childhood memories include music in my home. My father was a guitarist and singer in a country band and there were always musicians stopping by to rehearse or just play. Music to me was a social activity. Everyone would participate in some way. The first instrument I played was a drum but I soon moved on to the guitar. My father taught me a few chords on an acoustic guitar but I wanted to rock. He bought me my first electric guitar and amplifier (I still have the amp.) when I was twelve years old. I remember learning Eric Clapton songs and playing in a garage band in those early years, but mostly I would play along with Kiss and Led Zeppelin records and pretend I was a rock star.
In Fifth Grade my family moved to Mountain Lake New Jersey. That is where I met Dave Read. I had no idea that we would become lifelong friends. We still play in a band together to this day. Dave was taking lessons with a great guitarist named Bob Pomicter in Hackettstown New Jersey and he saw getting pretty good. When we would get together and jam Dave would play the most amazing solos. I asked how I could do that and he would simply reply practice your scales. All I knew back then was the pentatonic scale but I would practice every day. Dave was studying classical guitar and learning to read music so he learned more songs and understood things about music that I just couldn’t get. He eventually began to pass along the things he learned.
I remember the day Dave came to my house with a recording of Andres Segovia and made me listen to it. I was impressed and I told him, “These guys are pretty good.” Dave informed me that it was one man with an acoustic guitar! I was knocked out! I really wanted to learn to play like that but there was not much money in my home back then so I couldn’t take lessons. I found a book in a local music store. It was Mel Bay’s Classic Guitar Method Volume 1. It came with a cassette tape with recorded examples of all the exercises. That’s how I really learned to play. When Dave came over I would play for him and he would offer advice where appropriate. I guess you could say he was my first classical guitar teacher. It’s amazing, I am still learning from him today.
When I was eighteen I had some money in my pocket so I went to visit Bob Pomicter and my guitar journey continued. I learned a lot from Bob, especially about scales and improvising. Years later Bob helped my get through the audition at The College of New Jersey. That is where I met Dr. James Day and began to get serious about classic guitar. I also quit my factory job and became a guitar teacher full time. That was in January of 2000. I have been teaching ever since. It has been an amazing journey so far. These days I keep pretty busy teaching private guitar, general music, band, and chorus at a public school. I also play classic guitar at weddings, art galleries, and corporate functions. I play in an acoustic duo, a country band and of course the Dave Read Band. I have been blessed to be able to share my love of music with many people throughout the years and now I am sharing my rock band experiences with my students at HAA. Life is good today!
Robin Stone, Guitar Teacher
August 27, 2010 marked the 20th anniversary of the death of Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, and other blues and rock guitarists.. He was only 35 years old, and was killed in a tragic helicopter crash only minutes after playing a concert with
If you are unfamiliar with the music of Stevie Ray Vaughn, you owe it to yourself to listen to some of it. No other guitarist (except for perhaps) was responsible for bringing so many aspiring guitarists from the rock genre into the blues genre.
Please listen to this amazing blues artist check out Stevie Ray Vaughn’s repertoire. I recommend “Empty Arms,” a version of which I found on YouTube (below). Other great examples of his music include “Texas Flood,” “Rude Mood”, “ ” and “The Things That I Used to Do.” I think you will be pleasantly surprised and inspired, as I still am.
Chris Saponara has been teaching guitar at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts since 2007.