Guitar Class in the First State
Number 24: The State of Delaware
By Thomas Amoriello, Jr.
NAfME Council for Guitar Education Chair
In this edition of “50 States of Guitar Class,” we visit the First State with Brian Drumbore, who has been a guitar educator at Mount Pleasant High School in Wilmington, Delaware, since 1996. Brian has served on the NAfME Council for Guitar Education as the Eastern Division Representative and currently serves on the Delaware Music Educators Association Executive Board as the Editor. He is a native of Seaford, Delaware, and received his Bachelor of Science Music Education and Master of Arts Music History from West Chester University of Pennsylvania. The NAfME Council for Guitar Education would like to thank Brian for sharing the story of his guitar program with the NAfME membership.
Please tell us about your school and overall music program.
Mount Pleasant High School (MPHS) is a suburban high school in north Wilmington, Delaware. The student population is usually between 1,000 and 1,100. We are one of three high schools in the Brandywine School District (Brandywine and Concord High Schools are the other two). If you have ever visited Bellevue state park, we are the high school you can see from its walking trails. We are close to Philadelphia (~18 miles) and 2.5-ish hours from either New York or Washington. We have two very artistic communities in our feeder pattern (Bellefonte and Arden—home of the famous Arden Gild Hall) and in the city have access to The Queen theater as well as Opera Delaware and the Delaware Symphony Orchestra.
Please tell us about your own personal musical background growing up and your collegiate experience.
I grew up in a suburb of Allentown, Pennsylvania, and attended K-12 in the Whitehall-Copley school district. I started playing saxophone in 5th grade and continued that throughout the remainder of my schooling, and majored in saxophone in college. In high school, I picked up an electric guitar and took a few lessons, but never really focused on it as I was starting to prepare for college auditions, etc. Throughout college I continued to “muck around” with guitar just enough to pass all of my requirements without having to attend classes for it, but that was about it. When I started teaching at MPHS in 1996, I had three periods of pull-out lessons each day. After a few years and the introduction of high-stakes testing, pull-outs were cancelled, and I had to find a way to fill three periods of class. I suggested to administration to begin a guitar class. It started in 2001 with five students and has since grown to four sections, averaging 12–18 students per class.
What obstacles did you face when you were first hired at your school?
None really, as I wasn’t teaching guitar at the time, I was a straight-ahead “band guy.”
What kind of classes related to the guitar do you teach?
Three (usually) sections of guitar 1 and one section of guitar 2.
What would you like to say to the non-guitarist music educator who is about to or interested in incorporating the guitar into their program?
You can do it. The first year of my guitar class, I swear I was two pages ahead of them in the book. The next year, I was marginally better than most of the kids in the class. Then in year three I got my first bona fide, long-haired heavy metal shredder named Shawn. That kid could play. I figured he’d tear me apart when he realized I couldn’t play as well as he could.
“In guitar, it’s much more of a community. I have no problem hearing a kid play something and ask them to show it to me so I can learn it.”
Though a band nerd in high school, I grew up on steady diet of Metallica, Anthrax, Bad Religion, Misfits, Dead Kennedys, etc., so on day one I started talking to him about his metal influences. I gained his trust that way, and for the rest of the year, put him in charge of as much stuff as I could. For example (and I still laugh when I tell classes about this 15 years later), one thing I find new players struggle to remember is that on a rest you actually have to stop the strings, or it’s just a longer note. So every time we’d hit a quarter rest in something we’d be playing, I’d say “rest.” Well, one day they still weren’t getting it, so Shawn, from the back of the room, starts growling “REST” on each rest in his best metal voice. He was in charge of rests for the remainder of the year.
I say all of that to tell folks it doesn’t matter that you can’t play as well as some of the kids you’re going to get; they can learn from you—Shawn learned that there are other ways to notate music than ASCII tabs on the internet—and you can learn from them. I think in the band world there’s this notion that you have to be the be-all, end-all source of knowledge in the classroom. In guitar, it’s much more of a community. I have no problem hearing a kid play something and ask them to show it to me so I can learn it. I have kids teach songs to each other (we have a thing we call “fun song Friday”).
Do you have any success stories you would like to share about students (musical and non-musical)?
I would say a most recent success story is a kid who just graduated named Grayson. I first had him in 10th grade in a guitar class, and he was already a player, and I think signed up for the “easy A.” Well, when I wanted him to read notation, etc., we butted heads for quite a little bit, then worked through it, then he really started to open up. Over the next two years, he took IB Music and all of our engineering classes and would ask me questions about music theory, etc. [every time I saw him I think ] In his senior year, he was the sound engineer and recording guy for every concert we gave in the auditorium, did all the mastering of the recordings, and produced them for distribution. He’s now college-bound for audio engineering at Loyola. It was amazing to see this kid go from “just a player” to a total musician.
What do you tell your talented students who are planning to pursue music or guitar studies in high school or college after they finish with you?
I tell them to follow their passion. I think there’s a notion in high school right now that kids have to go to college to major in things that are “guaranteed jobs” when they get out. And of course, the focus on STEM classes (yes, it should be STEAM). And I think every parent gets nervous when their kid comes home and says, “I want to be a musician.” BUT, if they really want to study it, go for it! If they ask me early, I encourage them to get classical lessons as soon as they can (I’m a mediocre classical player at very best), since they’ll really need that for auditions. I had a student teacher a few years ago who was a guitar major, so that was great to be able to show them that, yes, guitar players can teach band too, if you want.
What kind of future do you see for guitar in music education in the Delaware school system?
My HOPE is to see it grow more and more across the state. It’s such a great way to reach “the other 90%” of kids in the school who don’t do traditional band, choir, orchestra.
What type of arrangements and/or transcribing have you done for your school performances?
Only a little. I have taken a few songs and arranged them for three-part ensembles or a little bigger, but I’ve also stolen some arrangements from great guitar teachers (with permission of course) and bought some great arrangements too.
Do you do any musical performance or activities outside of your public school teaching duties?
I try to play at least a few musicals a year. (I love playing guitar for musicals!) I play with a local chapter of The American Recorder Society (don’t judge me ), occasionally work with a local community band, that sort of thing. During the school year, we have two “free form” concerts in the year where kids perform mostly pop music, so I’ll try to accompany a few kids in their songs there.
Any last thoughts to conclude our interview?
I’m excited that guitar is starting to gain more of a national standing as a bona fide musical endeavor. Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, etc. have been doing a great job of this for years, and I’m happy to see it spreading. The guitar kids of the world have as much to offer to their school’s musical community as the band, choir, orchestra kids do.
Past “Guitar Class in 50 States” articles:
- Number 23: The Buckeye State (Ohio)
- Number 22: The Yellowhammer State (Alabama)
- Number 21: The Sunflower State (Kansas)
- Number 20: The Great Lakes State (Michigan)
- Number 19: The Lone Star State (Texas)
- Number 18: The Bluegrass State (Kentucky)
- Number 17: The Golden State (California)
- Number 16: The Show-Me State (Missouri)
- Number 15: The Keystone State (Pennsylvania)
- Number 14: The Last Frontier State (Alaska)
- Number 13: The Beehive State (Utah)
- Number 12: The Peach State (Georgia)
- Number 11: The Cornhusker State (Nebraska)
- Number 10: The Gem State (Idaho)
- Number 9: The Old Dominion (Virginia)
- Number 8: The Aloha State (Hawaii)
- Number 7: The Land of Enchantment (New Mexico)
- Number 6: The Sunshine State (Florida)
- Number 5: The Grand Canyon State (Arizona)
- Number 4: The Ocean State (Rhode Island)
- Number 3: The North Star State (Minnesota)
- Number 2: The Silver State (Nevada)
- Number 1: The Garden State (New Jersey)
About the author:
Thomas Amoriello Jr. serves as the chair on the NAfME Council for Guitar Education and is also the former Chairperson for the New Jersey Music Education Association. Tom has taught guitar classes for the Flemington Raritan School District in Flemington, New Jersey, since 2005 and was also an adjunct guitar instructor at Cumberland County College, New Jersey, for five years. He has earned a Master of Music Degree in Classical Guitar Performance from Shenandoah Conservatory and a Bachelor of Arts in Music from Rowan University. He is the author of the children’s picture books A Journey to Guitarland with Maestro Armadillo and Ukulele Sam Strums in the Sand, both available from Black Rose Writing. He recently made a heavy metal recording with a stellar roster of musicians including former members of Black Sabbath, Whitesnake, Ozzy Osbourne, Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Rising Force, and Dio that was released on H42 Records of Hamburg, Germany. The record released on 12-inch vinyl and digital platforms has received favorable reviews in many European rock magazines and appeared on the 2018 Top 15 Metal Albums list by Los Angeles KNAC Radio (Contributor Dr. Metal). Visit thomasamoriello.com for more information.
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