As a small child, Chad Cianfrani, Head of Oakwood Friends School in Poughkeepsie, had siblings that played flute and saxophone. “Klipsch speakers that seemed bigger than a refrigerator woke us up each Saturday morning at 6 a.m. with their subtle 100+ dBA delivery of Pavarotti,” he says. “I played piano for a short time in second grade, but never managed to progress past ‘Hot Cross Buns,’ and thus my musical talents migrated more towards the listening than the creating.”
Flash forward multiple decades to the start of the 2015-2016 academic year at Oakwood Friends School and the newly renovated home of the school’s music program in the Lane Theater music space. Cianfrani was lucky enough to dive headfirst into the program and spend time with students and their teacher, Ted Messerschmidt.
“During the day, we progressed through courses on Music Composition, Songwriting, Introduction to Guitar, Ensemble, and Orchestra,” he explains. “In typical Ted fashion, the maestro even managed to schedule in a few 30-minute private one-on-one student lessons.”
In the first class of the day, Music Composition and Songwriting, the surround sound speakers filled the classroom with samples, tracks, and full versions of many different songs. Moving seamlessly from hip-hop to folk to rock to classical to country, the class listened to a song and then dissected both lyric and structure.
“Having never focused critically on Katy Perry before, I was impressed to see the similarities in structure to the samples from The Beatles; Jay Z; Peter, Paul, and Mary; and George Jones,” he says. “Defining and identifying extended metaphors, similes, puns, and circular structure thematically tied the lesson to the music surrounding us.”
After a short break, the music continued in the second class of the day, Introduction to Guitar. Cianfrani was given a guitar and pick. “As a group we warmed up with a ‘simple’ six-note exercise. Within seconds my classmates were plucking a familiar tune, the introductory riff from a Jethro Tull song, I believe. Within seconds, I was not so successful. This would clearly require work and a great deal of patience from the instructor.”
The student next to Cianfrani worked with him, physically moving his fingers to the correct location, and with a bit of strained effort, the sounds emerged. Cianfrani says, “As we progressed to chord exercises and transitions, it became clear that my role in this class would be as an observer. I was profoundly impressed throughout the remainder of the class and the remainder of the day by the engagement of both our students and instructor.”
Throughout the day, students were constantly asked to play, share, think, listen, and support each other. They covered multiple topics and themes and were encouraged to bring their own diverse experiences and varied musical tastes to the discussion. In turn, they were exposed to a vast array of genres, topics, and musical themes. Cianfrani concludes, “It also became quite evident that in order to progress past a strained six-note riff, I will have to schedule multiple private lessons with Ted.”
Oakwood Friends School, founded in 1796, is an independent, coeducational, college preparatory day and boarding school serving grades 6 to 12. Guided by Quaker values, Oakwood Friends educates and strengthens young people for lives of conscience, compassion, and accomplishment. It fosters a diverse community of students and staff in an atmosphere of mutual respect and enrichment, sensitive to the world and its needs.
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