By CHRISTOHPER TREACY
Just as it was in 2019 with Carnegie Hall, Fall River Arts Academy Director, Todd “TJ” Salpietro knew he couldn’t say no to a performance at Graceland.
On Thursday, April 7, 2022, twenty-two of his music students from the Fall River Arts Academy (FRAA) will rock the Guest House at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, and he couldn’t be more proud.
“I know some of the younger students don’t exactly get it yet,” he beamed during a recent chat. “But as they grow up, they’ll certainly come to appreciate it. And as for the parents, they’re really excited to have their kids perform not only at the home of the ‘King of Rock and Roll,’ Elvis Presley, but in Memphis, which is considered rock’s birthplace.”
The appearance on the Memphis stage—a 400-seat theatre on the Graceland property—is part of yet another honor bestowed upon the school: FRAA has been nominated for Music Academy School of the Year. The final chapter in this competition is tied into the trip to Memphis.
“FRAA is one of eight schools that’s up for the prestigious Music Academy School of the Year award,” Salpietro explained. “That’s amongst a group of several hundred other music schools across the country. We’ll be presenting in front of a panel of industry professionals at the Graceland Guest House on April 5, explaining our amazing growth— specifically, what approaches we’ve taken to grow our school to 550 music students. All eight schools presenting for School of the Year will be hosting student performances that week.”
For the music portion of the trip, Salpietro says there are two significantly different FRAA showcases planned for April 7 that will include students ranging in age from seven to sixty. The first, an early afternoon set at 12:45 p.m., will consist of ten vocalists singing with a combination of backing tracks and accompaniment supplied by instructor Giulia Khoury, as well as solo viola and piano spotlights.
The second showcase is an evening gig, slated for 7:45 p.m., which will feature a trio of band configurations: a house band, including Salpietro on drums with FRAA instructors Jim Denour, Nolan McGovern, and Giulia Khoury. The other two are plucked from TJ’s Music Allstar ensembles: Level Up and On a Thursday, both of which will play a four-song set.
“I’ll be participating as the house band drummer,” he said. “I’ll be performing a few songs with students and also with Luciano Jacques, an amazing 14-year-old multi-instrumentalist and relative of mine. He’ll play with On a Thursday during their set, and he’ll also feature during the house band’s set, singing and playing fiddle on the Charlie Daniels classic, “Devil went down to Georgia” to close the show. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get on stage to perform with him. This performance means a lot to us both… we’re looking forward to tearing the house down.”
Salpietro seems excited to get back to an ongoing trajectory of live student performances after the pandemic put a forced pause on his plans. He intends to continue building on the success of the school’s 2019 trip to Carnegie Hall where the FRAA players received a standing ovation.
“We’ve hosted some of our rehearsals, and you can just see how pumped everybody has been and how much preparation is going into this performance. My mission as director of FRAA is to introduce as many performance opportunities as possible that will inspire our students to really practice. Personally, I feel they practice more diligently knowing they have a higher profile performance coming up.”
In between presenting for the award on April 5 and the sold-out musical showcases on April 7, the group will enjoy a pre-show party for 75 people on a Memphis Riverboat dinner cruise with a live band, dinner, and dancing. The good news for the rest of us is that the April 7 musical performances will be live-streamed. Click HERE for more information.
“As far as I am concerned just being nominated and nationally recognized amongst this amazing group of business professionals is an honor to me,” Salpietro said. “But I’m going to give it my best to bring home the win.”