Friday, January 23, 2015

World Percussion Ensemble with Jonny Peiffer

You've heard of a Jazz Band, a Concert Band and a Bluegrass ensemble - but have you ever heard of a World Percussion Ensemble?
World Percussion Ensemble, one of PMAC's newest ensembles, offers a unique look at percussion that we often don't see. Comprised of percussive instruments that hail from all over the world, feel as though you are travelling far and wide when you play instruments from Cuba, the Carribean, Brazil, Peru, West Africa and beyond. With its explosive West African beats or steamy Latin American rhythms, World Percussion ensemble will get your whole body moving.

Jonny Peiffer, who brings West Africa to the states with his band Shango and hammers out sultry jazz tunes with his jazz septet Sojoy, is the perfect man to lead such an exciting new ensemble. We've asked him a few questions about World Percussion and what it's all about:

PMAC: Your World Percussion Ensemble is one of PMAC’s newest – and most original – ensembles. Could you tell us a little more about it and what drove you to create this unique opportunity here at PMAC?

Jonny Peiffer: Where I come from, percussion instruments are no less musical and expressive than strings or reeds or vocal chords. Where do I come from? Waukesha, Wisconsin. What am I talking about? Well, that’s just what I’ve always been exposed to - groups like Michael Spiro’s 'Bata Ketu’ and ‘Bata Mbira’ groups, Max Roach’s M’BOOM Ensemble, Keith Terry & Crosspulse, Airto Moriera, Mickey Hart, even STOMP. The examples are endless of beautiful music being made using what are often considered merely auxiliary instruments.

PMAC: What is different about the World Percussion Ensemble than a concert band or a jazz band?

JP: We will not be concerned with key signatures and chords for one. Does the heart-beat have a key signature? Do your footsteps and hand-claps have a chord progression? Do the waves of the ocean and wind through the trees need transposing into concert key? We’ll be tuning into something entirely different - the language of the elements. These are the elements that people have been communicating with in certain cultures for centuries and millennia, elements that have been the cause of great celebration and joy. And let’s not forget rhythm and syncopation. Sure, there might be one or two pieces in a concert band repertoire that are syncopated and multi-rhythmic, but ALL of our repertoire will be lively in its syncopation and rhythmic complexity.

PMAC: Is this an ensemble that any kind of percussionist could participate in? What new things might a set player learn? What new things could a mallet player learn?

JP: Yes, all percussionists are welcome. But they may be asked to try something they are not used to. The set player might learn to deconstruct their set and see where each different part came from, the various origins of the drum-set, and reconstruct it in an entirely different way, maybe introducing brand new sounds and discarding others. The mallet player my learn the resonant value of all the percussion instruments, that they all have a voice that speaks if asked the right questions, not just pieces of wood and metal that are designed to fit in a perfectly tuned scale - although that is also useful. The mallet player may also realize the relationship between their instrument and other non-pitched instruments. Everyone will be invited to expand their listening skills and knock down a few preconceptions about what music is.

PMAC: You’re a well-rounded musician who plays in multiple different genres and settings regularly: a 20+ piece Afro-beat band called Shango, your jazz septet Sojoy, teaching one-on-one music lessons here at PMAC and composing your own music. How do all of those things come together and shape who you are as a musician and a teacher?

JP: I am a composer, a performer and a listener. I am a musician, a dancer, and a cook. I don’t see boundaries and limits. So I encourage my students to not see boundaries and limits either, but instead to focus on obstacles as chances to climb around.

PMAC: Why do you think it is beneficial for students and professional musicians alike to make music with their peers?

JP: Well, my peers are all better than me, so they motivate me to get to their level. Plus, to no small extent, the bandstand and the rehearsal room is the only place I get to see certain people and spend time with them in a meaningful way. So I make sure that continues to happen as often as possible. Your peers teach you things about yourself you could never learn on your own. Plus it’s really really fun.

PMAC: What is one thing you are looking forward to most about running this new ensemble?

JP: I am looking forward to challenging percussionists of all backgrounds and unleashing them - a percussion ensemble is to a percussionist what the pack is to the dog.

Thank you Jonny! Check out World Percussion Ensemble and our other adult ensembles on our website!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


If you've stopped by PMAC lately, you've probably noticed a new face at the desk. We'd like to give a warm welcome to our new Office Assistant, Kate Bogosian! With a big smile, a kind heart and a hard working attitude - Kate is an awesome addition to the PMAC team. Next time you stop in - be sure to introduce yourself and say hello!

Kate has been working and immersed in the arts for many years. To officially welcome her to PMAC, we asked her a few questions about who she is and what she enjoys.

PMAC: Welcome to PMAC! Are you an artist yourself? 

Kate Bogosian: I am! I studied photography at the University of New Hampshire. I work almost entirely in film and enjoy collecting old cameras. People are my favorite subjects because I enjoy the challenge and enjoy breaking the boundaries we develop with other individuals 

PMAC: What other experience do you have working in the Art/Music world? 

KB: I was the Visual Resource Center Fellow my senior year at UNH. There I learned about digitization and art preservation. Although Slides are becoming a rare form of art, I find them an important part of the history of art. My other important personal experience in the art world was interning at Drift Gallery in Portsmouth. I received hands on experience with Alison Goodwin, learning all the aspects of running a gallery from curation to hosting an opening. I also got a chance to meet amazing artists and to become involved in the community. 

PMAC: Who was your favorite/most influential teacher?

KB: My most influential teacher was Paul Dumonowski, my very first photography teacher. In 7th grade I was placed in Paul`s Darkroom Photography class at the Worcester Center for Crafts. Paul is an amazing artist himself and believed in discipline as well as fun. He is one of the kindest and most patient humans I have come in contact with. He remains a part of my life to this day and we still meet up for artist critiques and pot luck dinners. 

PMAC: Who is your favorite visual artist?

KB: What kind of question is that?! AH! I used to sneak-read Diane Arbus books which my parents thought I was too young to look at. She has pretty much set the bar since. 

PMAC: If you were a musician, what instrument would you play?

KB: Definitely would have to be an instrument I could play while dancing...

Thank you Kate! 

Sunday, January 18, 2015


PMAC: As PMAC's Art Therapist, can you tell us how an art Therapy session differs from a private drawing lesson? Can you tell us the similarities?

Cara Langevin: There are several different ways to approach the art therapy modality: art in therapy and art as therapy. I think that both are valid and equally healing. At PMAC I use the art as therapy model, because it suits the environment and culture of the school. 

Artmaking in any form is healing, so in that way art therapy and drawing lessons are very similar. Also similar is the way both AT and art lessons help teach clients how to process, plan, edit, execute, and evaluate. Giving people tools to help frame and work through problems via creating something is extremely powerful. 

Art lessons and AT differ in several ways also. AT is treated as therapy and is provided by an art therapist. I'm trained in art therapy and clinical mental health counseling and also work as a therapist in private practice. At PMAC, clients fill out clinical intakes, read clients' rights and responsibilities, and sign consent forms prior to session 1. We work together to create a treatment plan with goals and objectives, and I write progress updates as necessary for parents of younger clients. All information is kept confidential. As we work together and form a relationship, I help create directives for clients that blend AT and therapeutic techniques specific to their situation.

PMAC: What drove you to become an Art Therapist?

CL: I knew I wanted to become a therapist, and I've always been an artist. As an undergrad I majored in Social work and minored in Studio Art. I found a grad program in Boston that combined my two passions. Art Therapy is the love-child of Psychology and Art. 

PMAC: Where do you draw inspiration to make art?

CL: People. I love faces and portraiture work of any kind. I like contrast and tension in paintings coupled with linework. Pop/urban/contemporary art with strong female figures is a huge source of inspiration for me. Sometimes my clients make their way into my work unintentionally (sometimes intentionally), and sometimes I'm inspired by the season or my mood. 

PMAC: What artists are most influential in your own art/life?

CL: Audrey Kawasaki, Kelly McKernan, Amy Sol, Tran Nguyen. I highly recommend googling them. It's Thanksgiving for your eyes.

PMAC: If you were a musician, what instrument would you play?

CL: The squeeze box mostly because it sounds beautiful, but also because I'd want to say squeeze box all the time. 

Thanks Cara! Check out our Music and Art Therapy Page here.

PMAC Special Student Interview: Dennis Souto of the New Horizons Band

Dennis Suoto (left) plays Saxophone with fellow band members.

On Friday, January 16th, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dennis Souto about what he loves about making music. He was one of the original members of the New Horizons Band at PMAC in 2003 and continues to make music today, 11 - almost 12 years later. Dennis, who was new to his instrument when he started, has played saxophone in multiple bands at PMAC.

PMAC: What is your favorite part about being in the New Horizons band?

Dennis Souto: New Horizons Band gives me to opportunity to play music with other people, since I never played music growing up.

The two things that I really enjoy about being the the New Horizons band are playing in a group - and my wife and I have been here since 1979. When we started at PMAC we met a bunch of new people. I love the friendship  and camaraderie of PMAC - it's almost more fun than learning how to play!

PMAC: What is your favorite part about helping out in the New Horizons Beginner Band?

DS: The stuff that they're struggling with, I remember struggling with it myself. I feel for them and where they're at and I get a big kick when they finally break through what they've been struggling with. Two of the guys who are in it started in their 70's but I started in my 50's - it's interesting to see the different adversities that come with learning an instrument at different ages - and I feel indebted to helping them learn.

PMAC: What made you start playing music in your 50's?

DS: I always wanted to play, I always loved music and I always loved the saxophone but I never saw a way I was going to be able to do it. One day my wife showed me a PMAC brochure and I knew this was my way. I was still very nervous when I made my first note on our first day. You know it's interesting, I remember Russ saying that you can join a chorus and there are plenty of choirs, but there was no where to play as an adult but now you can do that here!

Thanks for speaking with us Dennis! If you're interested in the many ensembles PMAC has for adults - at any level - check out all we offer here!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

FACULTY SPOTLIGHT: Virginia Macdonald

PMAC: What is your teaching philosophy?

Virginia Macdonald:  I believe that people learn best when they enjoy what they are doing, so I try to make lessons fun with some variety.  I will use hand percussion to reinforce new rhythms we are learning, and games to teach and practice things like naming notes and key signatures.  It is so disappointing to meet adults who were turned off to music because they had a negative experience as a child.  I love people, and I love music, so if someone comes in to a lesson and hasn't practiced we will work on practice techniques. If they've forgotten their book we will work on sight-reading techniques.  There is always a lesson that presents itself depending on the day and the student.  I want people to leave feeling good about themselves as musicians.

PMAC: What is kindermusik? What inspired you to get involved with it?

VM: Kindermusik is, in my humble opinion, the best early childhood music program on the market.  It has been developed by experts in early childhood development, musicians, and educators to promote learning not only the basic building blocks of music in a natural and fun way, but to enhance development of motor skills, social skills, and language development. There are different curricula for each stage of a child's life - baby, toddler, preschooler and young child.  I became a licensed Kindermusik educator after the birth of my first child. I realized that despite being a musician and teacher, I only knew one lullaby.  When I called the 800 number to find a local Kindermusik teacher I was told there were none in the rural area of NH I was living in, so I decided to take the training.  It was at the training that I met a music therapist for the first time which planted the seed for my returning to school to pursue my masters in the Music Therapy field.

PMAC: What are some of the benefits of making music early in a child's life? 

VM: Music is such a natural part of being human.  As a society we have gotten away from music making as part of family life, with most people getting their music in a very passive way where it has almost become just background noise.  Studies repeatedly show that active engagement with music stimulates many different areas of the brain, lighting it up like fireworks.  Making music early in a child's life helps develop healthy engagement with others, as well as listening skills

PMAC: When did you begin playing an instrument? How did that shape your life?

VM: My first memory of feeling like a 'musician' was in kindergarten during field day.  While grades 1-5 had races and such, I remember my class choosing instruments from a basket and marching around the field playing.  I began formal piano lessons when I was 7, then clarinet when it was offered at the end of 5th grade. Music was my most dependable and constant companion during the awkward teen years.  My parents were my biggest fan club and were always encouraging me to further my musical development. 

PMAC: If you were a visual artist, what would your medium be?

VM: Ooh, that is a tough one.  I find I have little patience with myself and the visual arts.  I like splatter painting.  That's it, I'd be a splatter painter. 

Monday, January 05, 2015

FACULTY SPOTLIGHT: Mike Effenberger and Nick Phaneuf talk about PMAC's Rock program

Left to Right: Chris Klaxton, Mike Effenberger, Nick Phaneuf
and Jim Dozet, all members of PMAC's Rock Faculty
Whether it's our weekly rock band program throughout the school year, or one of our week long summer camps, the Rock Program builds musicianship through the music of today.

Led by Nick Phaneuf and Mike Effenbeger, both of Tan Vampires fame, PMAC rock bands provide opportunities for students to work with music mentors in our faculty throughout the year who have first hand experience. Students learn how to run a band, work creatively and productively with their peers, and create and work towards an end goal.

PMAC rock band is not just for guitarists, bassists and drummers - we welcome wind and string instruments too! And for younger children who want to learn rock and pop in a group, we now have Junior Rock Explorers.

PMAC: What is your teaching philosophy?

Mike Effenberger: I'm most interested in getting students to learn to look for different ways to think about situations. The more aware of possible paths they are, the less likely they are to get stuck or stop looking for a way around, through, or over an obstacle.

Nick Phaneuf: If you can teach a kid to work hard at something they care about they will not only be a successful musician they will be a successful person.

PMAC: What are the benefits of participating in Rock band?

ME: Good, cleanish fun. Playing music with friends and making new ones.  Learning new music and opening to new sounds and ideas.  Learning to work on group dynamics via band situations.

NP: Playing music is predominately about connecting with other people. It is fun to be in a room with others and create something.

PMAC: What drives you to make music with others?

ME: I've learned more about life from playing music with others than just about any other way.  Everyone has very different ways of describing or approaching almost everything. Music can be a way of translating a whole worldview without saying a word, if things are working well.

NP: It feels a bit like breathing: I can elect to not do it for some amount of time but then another part of my brain takes over and forces me to resume.

PMAC: What real life skills can you learn for working in a close-knit group with your peers?

ME: Individual responsibility. It is important to me for kids to have experiences where they feel firsthand that the endeavor of playing their music works only if everybody works individually.  It's also important to me that students learn different types of conflict resolution skills when there is a disagreement.

NP: I think music can teach people personal responsibility in a way that few other things can. These bands set their own goals in terms of what songs they're going to play. They have a fixed timeline in which to accomplish that goal and there are no substitutes for each person in the band. Each student is responsible to his or her bandmates.

PMAC: What has teaching Rock Band taught you personally?

ME: Every band is a different scenario. I'm continuing to learn more and more different ways to explain concepts and approaches to music every time I work with a new student.  It's vital that we strike a balance between having a personal approach / clearly stated goals for the students and learning to adapt the message to reach each student regardless of their current perspective and experience.

NP: Rock band has taught me that teenagers think singing as a punishment until they actually do it on stage. Then it's usually difficult to get them to stop.