BY JULIA CIRIGNANO
If you’re an aspiring young musician and ever wondered what it’s like to be in a band or perform in front of a crowd of people, then it’s time to enroll in TJ’s All Star Band Program!
Found by Todd Salpietro, owner of TJ’s Music in Fall River, Mass., TJ’s All Star Band Program functions as a way for young musicians to become genuine rock stars, giving them the opportunity to rehearse and play live with other musicians on a real stage in front of a real audience.
“It took some tweaking along the way but I really feel like the program we have now is special,” said Salpietro. “I think that when people see this they will want to be part of it.”
In 2011, Salpietro had been teaching private music lessons for about 15 years. He enjoyed his work but wished his students could play with other musicians. As a result, Salpietro decided to start the All Star Band Program. Over the years, it has grown and the benefits that members acquire has been better that Salpietro could have expected.
TJ’s All Star Band functions as a way for young musicians to become rock stars. Currently, the band consists of about 18 students who range in age from 10 to 18. The youngest member started playing with the All Star Band when she was only seven. The older band members are around 18. Although there are similar programs and music camps in the region, this one is undeniably different.
“After a year of practicing, these kids live the songs,” Salpietro said. “Now we’re really starting to see the quality in the students of professional players. It’s amazing when you see these kids play you think they’re kids and, ‘aw it’s cute kids are playing,’ but it’s not like that. They are really really that good.”
Salpietro talked about the program and its goals for each student.
“Here at TJ’s Music we promote a performance-based music lesson program where we’re always working towards an ensemble,” he said. “We do three recitals a year for our private instruction lessons and we also do the All Star Band shows.”
The All Star Band used to play three shows a year but recently Salpietro has decided to put on one show a month with the band. Because of this change, the band members are now always working towards a show. There is a steady stream to regular practice and performances in which they learn not only how to perform but also what to expect at a show, how to set up the stage, how to plug in their instruments, etc.
“I just want them to become the best player and the most knowledgeable player that they possibly can be,” he said. “I want them to have the tools that I had to learn on my own.”
Salpietro spoke about the high standards which he holds for his students. He treats them with the same respect he would a musician his own age and expects the same type of respect, commitment, and work ethic from them. He explained that his students work very hard to be as good as they are. They aren’t treated like children who all get participation ribbons but as true, seasoned musicians who have to learn how to accept criticism and grow from it.
The students typically meet once a week and practice with the guidance of Salpietro and four other musicians.
“We meet every Wednesday night from 6 to 8 p.m.,” he said. “We have four music mentors. We have Gary Faria, Joseph Rebelo, Dennis King, and Danielle Hasket.”
Along with the band’s weekly practice on Wednesday nights, they are also allowed to use the practice room whenever it is available. Salpietro rents out the room to other bands to practice but All Star Band members can typically get as many extra hours of practice a week as they would like.
“They can come in and practice any day and they do,” Salpietro said. “It’s really awesome because we’ve facilitated almost a 24/7 place for them to practice with all the equipment there and it’s all top of the line gear.”
After students leave the program, they are fully prepared to join the music world.
“You came here and you learned the tools,” he said. “Everything here that you learned you can go and do a gig with. You know how to set up a stage and prepare for the ensemble. You know how to prepare your song. You know how to conduct a practice. They learn everything here. It’s not just a recital where you learn your parts and play them.”
Salpietro spoke further on what he believes is the most important part of the All Star program. Although this wasn’t his mission when he created the program, it has become a characteristic of the program that he is most proud of – the ways in which his students gain confidence.
“We watch these kids go from telling me that ‘I am deathly afraid to step one foot on that stage’ to their playing every song in the set and they’re absolutely loving it,” he said. “Gaining that confidence and the team building skills to be able to get on stage is so important.”
Members of the All Star Band are all very close, calling this program their family. Salpietro talked about the confidence and team work that these musicians gain from being in the band. While some people may use sports to gain these skills, musicians work together in a band just as a football or dance team.
“This is the dark side. These are the other guys,” Salpietro said with a laugh. “They don’t really participate in that type of stuff. They play in a band. We’ve created that place to be able to go and gain those life skills. These are real deal life skills that they are going to use for the rest of their life and not only playing music but at their jobs.”
Salpietro doesn’t choose to shelter his students from the realities of both life and the life of a musician but he is careful when selecting venues for his students. With musicians as young as ten years old, he is very careful to not subject them to a bar full of drunks or any possibly dangerous situations.
“We play at bars but we usually rent the bar out for the afternoon where the only people drinking are the parents,” he explained. “That’s something that is really important to me. I don’t think at their age that they should be exposed to that kind of thing.”
One venue that Salpietro likes his All Star Band to perform at is the Narrows Center for the Arts, located at 16 Anawan Street in Fall River. Salpietro knew they had made it to a new level when they got invited to play there by the venue’s Executive Director Patrick Norton.
“He invited us to play at The Narrows and it was the best phone call I have ever gotten,” said Salpietro, who also taught music lessons for both of Norton’s children. “I am so fortunate to have a venue like The Narrows invite our kids to play at. It feels good.”
In fact, TJ’s All Star Band will be playing their next show at the Narrow Center on Sunday, November 20th at noon. Tickets can be purchased HERE.
While the All Star Band typically targets younger musicians, Salpietro is also interested in expanding this age range. Although he has never set an official age cap, he said musicians usually want to go out on their own once they’re around eighteen year old.
Consequently, Salpietro said he would love to host a separate, older group of musicians if he found people who were interested. He said people sometimes have uncomfortable feelings when they learn a new instrument later in life. He would like to be able to create a safe environment for older musicians where they can feel free to explore new instruments, mess up, practice, and perfect their skills.
“When you’re in your 30’s and you’re trying to play an instrument, where do you go?” Salpietro said. “You’re kind of embarrassed. You don’t want to go to an open jam and play the three chords that you know. You want to come to a safe haven like this where we’re all learning and we’re all sharing the same common interest. A place where if you make a mistake, I’m not going to laugh because I just made the same mistake a half-hour ago.”
Looking ahead to the future, Salpietro said he would like to see the program grow.
“I would love to expand things. However, I think I have expanded to the level of what we could financially handle,” Salpietro explained. “If I had numbers of like 30/35 people coming in, we would be able to do a lot more. That’s why I’m trying to build this. I really believe that this deserves so much more than it gets.”
TJ’s Music is located at 347 South Main Street in Fall River, Mass. Visit their website by clicking HERE.