By CHRISTOHPER TREACY
In a culture that places more importance on results than it does on the path chosen to achieve them, working towards intangible goals isn’t very popular. But what if the outcome was guaranteed?
The old joke asks, How do you get to Carnegie Hall? and answers, practice, practice, practice. If the route to Carnegie Hall was paved for you in advance, however, the practice would hopefully ensue. After all, who would want to arrive at that revered performance space feeling ill-prepared?
Todd Salpietro, founder of TJ’s Music on South Main Street in Fall River, Mass., and its educational offshoot, TJ’s Music Fall River Arts Academy, is testing that equation this season by scheduling a special performance for 40 students at Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall. The show is set for December 1st.
“We’re always seeking opportunities for students that will entice them to want to practice more and become better musicians, so anything that we can try and implement that will potentially bring those results is worthwhile,” Salpietro said during a recent call. “The Carnegie Hall performance is one of the numerous vehicles we’re using to create an incentive.”
Salpietro opened his store 22 years ago and his wife, Tamie, helps him run the operation, which has blossomed impressively: right now, they have just under 350 students enrolled in the academy, ranging in age from 5 to 77. For the Carnegie Hall trip, the age range of performers will be 7 to 50.
If the trip goes well, he has a few similar ideas he’d like to put into an annual rotation. He and Tamie will be heading to Manhattan to tour the building and work out logistics ahead of time. For the actual event, they’ll be providing bus service for the students.
“To me, it’s the most prestigious stage in America,” he said. “The Beatles, The Doors, Buddy Rich — so many amazing people have performed there. It’s something to be proud of, to say that you were able to play there at any time in a career, and I think it can make students feel like ‘these things are attainable, I can get there.’ The Weill Recital Hall is 268-seat capacity, which is perfect for us. The room is drop-dead gorgeous, the chandelier, the piano… there’s something magical about it. Nobody seems able to explain it, whether it’s the height of the ceiling, the carpet or the material on the chairs, but there’s something about how sound travels within that space that has made the best composers in the world look forward to playing in it.”
Salpietro is a good man to have on your side when talking about achieving musical goals since his family is four generations deep in musicians, reaching back to his great grandfather. His first musical love was drumming (hence the mention of Buddy Rich), which was the impetus for opening his store when he was 25. Eventually, he was giving 75 drum lessons a week and touring with a Pantera cover band called Trendkill. Along the way, TJ’s became a full-service spot for all kinds of instruments and, in 2017, what was once a smaller curriculum of individual lessons grew into a large scale lesson-plan for an entire academy.
Now 47, having been surrounded by aspiring musicians his whole life, he understands that not everyone who dreams of having a career in music will make it… even if they practice diligently. And while his academy is firmly footed in hands-on instrument training, he has a healthy respect for new modes of learning. Salpietro realizes that potentially talented folks exist who might prefer taking a digital approach to developing their musical skills. To that end, he taught a Berklee College of Music affiliated high school class on how to use the digital audio workstation, Logic Pro. Still, for those looking to learn the old fashioned way, he feels a responsibility to help people give it their best shot.
In addition to planning two annual recitals where students can show off their progress, the academy uses a national rewards program called the Music Ladder System which keeps them striving for trophies and certificates. Those with aspirations to collaborate and learn about developing chemistry between players are placed in all-star bands. Salpietro says he’s looking into booking opportunities for the all-star bands, which would provide his most motivated students with the experience of performing for a live audience outside of a recital format. Exciting opportunities like these are part of what makes his operation an academy rather than just a place that gives music lessons. But for right now, he’s focused on launching the Carnegie Hall trip without a hitch.
“We’re here to provide an opportunity,” he said. “We’re catering to people with all kinds of dreams, and a majority of them are kids, but not all. Many might quit. Something like this trip will help keep people in the game — it could turn their interest around or get them through a plateau. We try and have fun at the lessons. We don’t want it to be angry or frustrating for the teachers or the students. And a lot of times, there hasn’t been enough practice, which is why the incentives are important. If they needed forty more hours of practice, this could be the thing that makes that happen, and then they get to feel great about the effort they made. It also gives them something to look forward to beyond the standard recitals.”
Enrollment in TJ’s Music Fall River Arts Academy is open, and signing up is as simple as picking a day and time (although some slots do fill up). With over 25 instructors that collectively offer lessons seven days a week, it’s designed to be as accommodating as anyone could expect. The range of instruments runs the gamut, including woodwinds, brass, guitar, bass, vocals, cello, viola, and violin. Salpietro says the rooms for lessons have recently been upgraded and some new ones were added. Renovations for additional space on a second floor are on the horizon.
“There are lots of places to take music lessons and we’re always looking at ways to rise above and provide something different than the others. For me and Tamie, who’s been with me through these last 15 years, this is our heart and soul.”
For more information about TJ’s Music Fall River Arts Academy, click HERE to visit their website.