by Lauren Vogel Weiss
You’ve probably seen the name Sandy Feldstein on a snare drum book on your music stand. Or a keyboard book in your music library. Or the back of a DVD lying next to your TV. Whether it was published by Henry Adler, Alfred Publishing, Columbia Pictures Publications, Belwin Music, Warner Bros., Carl Fischer, or PlayinTime, Sandy Feldstein’s name--as either author, editor, or producer--is on thousands of publications. Just who is this man behind the byline?
Feldstein, who has served as a mentor for many others, joins several of his former mentors and teachers (such as Henry Adler and Alfred Friese) in the PAS Hall of Fame. Let’s trace this young drummer’s journey, which ultimately placed him in some of the top positions of the music industry as well as on music stands around the world.
Born Saul Feldstein on September 7, 1940, the baby with the sandy-colored hair was quickly nicknamed “Sandy.” “My mother used to say that my first three words were ‘Mommy, Daddy, drum!’,” Feldstein says.
While in elementary school, Sandy became a performing mascot for the Freeport High School Marching Band on Long Island in New York. By age 12, he began studying mallets with Glenn Brown, who was the marimbist with Xavier Cugat. “There are pictures of me at my bar mitzvah playing vibes with the band!” Feldstein says with a laugh.
When Sandy was a sophomore in high school, Brown told his aspiring young student that he had surpassed his teacher on the drums and drumset. Brown set up an “interview” (to be considered as a potential student) with Henry Adler.
“My father and I took the train from Freeport to New York City, which was about an hour,” remembers Feldstein. “Then we took a subway and walked the last several blocks. Mr. Adler listened to me play and sight-read. Then he said, ‘You do everything wrong, kid, but you’ve got a lot of talent. I’m willing to take you on as a student.’ At which point he turned to my father and said, ‘It’s $25 a lesson in cash. Is that okay?’ And that’s how I became a student of Henry Adler’s.
“Henry never followed a clock. He taught a certain amount of material and, depending on how much you knew a week later, he would determine how much more to give you the following week. Sometimes the lesson lasted 15 or 20 minutes; sometimes it lasted two hours! It was challenging and you did everything: snare drum, traditional reading, Latin percussion, drumset, and everything related to percussion.” For the next three years, Feldstein was allowed to leave school early once a week so he could travel to his lessons with Adler. During high school, Feldstein also had his own band and worked at least two nights a week.
“Other than the fun I had playing with my group,” he recalls, “at that time I had no idea that I wanted to teach or be involved in music. I was a jazz fanatic and loved playing the drumset, but I didn’t know how I was going to make a living doing it.” So for no reason other than his best friend was going there, Feldstein enrolled at the Crane School of Music, State University of New York at Potsdam.
“There was no percussion teacher there,” he explains. “The school didn’t even own a marimba or vibraphone; I brought my own. But I learned so much from three teachers: Bob Washburn, who played a little bit of timpani but was an incredible composer and musician; Bill Musser, who conducted the wind ensemble; and Burt Stanley, who conducted the symphonic band. Even though they weren’t technically proficient in percussion, they basically said, ‘You know how to play your instrument. We’re going to teach you how to make music with it.’ They opened up my ears on how to play my instrument musically rather than just worrying about technique. It was a marvelous experience.
“Bill Musser asked me to score something for the marimba to fill out and support the lower woodwinds so it would sound like a chorale and not someone taking a breath,” Feldstein continues. “No one had ever done that. So by the early 1960s, I was writing articles about using the marimba in concert bands and wind ensembles. Since they were giving me piano scores to use, I wrote the first book that taught mallet players to read bass clef.” Mallet Technique for Two Mallets and Four Mallets and Mallet Technique for Treble and Bass Clef were soon published by Henry Adler (eventually taken over by Belwin).
Every summer during college, Feldstein would return to New York and study with Adler. “I also started teaching in his studio,” he adds, “so I had the opportunity to teach with some of the greats. The two ‘babies’ were me and Roy Burns. Tommy Igoe’s father, Sonny Igoe, was one of the teachers. Phil Krauss was the mallet teacher and Doc [Alfred] Friese—who taught Saul Goodman—was the timpani teacher.
“I went for my first timpani lesson,” recalls Feldstein, “and Doc asked me to tune the drums. As I reached for my tuning fork, he cried out, ‘No! You can’t play timpani if you don’t have an A in your head!’ As I turned around to walk out, he said, ‘Young man, you forgot something. My fee is $25!’ I gave it to him, but I must have looked puzzled so he said, ‘This is probably the most important lesson you’ve ever had.’ For a week I had that tuning fork in my ear, so by the next lesson I could tune the drums without having to play a pitch first.”
Feldstein earned his Bachelor of Science in Music Education degree from Potsdam and returned to New York to earn his Master of Arts in Music Education degree from Columbia University. During that time, SUNY-Potsdam invited him back as a full-time percussion teacher. “Everything was going great for me,” Feldstein recollects. “I was doing some studio work and people like Bobby Rosengarden [drummer for The Tonight Show] were giving me their second jobs. There was no way I was going to become a teacher at a college in upstate New York! But Phil Krauss and the other guys in Henry’s studio sat me down and said, ‘This is an offer you can’t refuse. Even though we’re the major players in New York, if the business gets crummy, we don’t have the credentials to teach. Take this job, even for a few years, and if you want to come back to New York and be a player, we’ll get you started right where you are now—but you’ll always have the credentials to fall back on.’ So in 1963, I started teaching at Potsdam. I loved it and never looked back.”
As one of the few full-time college percussion instructors in the country, he soon became involved in a new organization, PAS, serving as the society’s third President from 1968–72. “PAS changed the industry,” Feldstein says. “What’s happening in the pit of a marching show would not be happening if it weren’t for PAS. The organization has had a vital role in building the awareness of percussion and the percussion industry, as well as percussion education. When PAS started, it was more of a college/classical type of organization, but I always pushed to include everyone and everything, including drumset.”
During Feldstein’s term as President the PAS Hall of Fame welcomed its first inductees. What is Sandy’s reaction to joining some of his former teachers in the PAS Hall of Fame? “I am surprised and extremely excited,” he says. “It’s probably the highest award of recognition you can receive as a percussionist or someone in the percussion industry.”
During summer breaks at Potsdam, Feldstein would return to New York to work on his doctorate at Columbia. After five years, he wanted to take a year off to finish his degree. “I asked Henry Adler if he knew someone who could substitute for me for a year and not screw up my kids!” Sandy recalls. “He recommended Jim Petercsak, who started teaching at Potsdam in 1968.
“About that same time, I got a call from Morton Manus, President of Alfred Publishing. He had seen the books I had written and was interested in having me write percussion books. I was concerned that if I spent time writing a book that used photographs, that when they hired an educational director he would prefer drawings, and then all my work would be wasted. So I told Morton that when he hired an educational director to let me know. By the time I had driven back from Long Island, he had already called my wife, Wendy, to offer me the job.
“I was working on my thesis, so I told him I’d try it one day a week to see if I liked it,” Feldstein continues. “After two months, I called Petercsak and asked him if he’d consider staying at Potsdam. He’s been there ever since and I started my career in music publishing.”
Feldstein began as Alfred’s Educational Director and then became Executive Vice-President. “We moved the company to California and I was there for 20 years,” he explains. “In 1989, I was asked to take over as the President of Columbia Pictures Publications in Miami, which also owned Belwin. It was an interesting homecoming because Belwin owned the Henry Adler catalog, which I knew intimately because I had edited or proofread almost every book in that catalog: the Cirone book, the Roy Burns books, the Vic Firth timpani solos—I wrote the piano accompaniments for Vic when I was 20 years old! So I started rebuilding that catalog.”
Feldstein pauses to thank the three most important people in his life: his wife Wendy, son David, and daughter Tracy. “When I got the idea to leave Alfred after 20 years, we had a family meeting. When I suggested moving across the country because there was a real challenge at Columbia—to properly develop a wonderful catalog—they said, ‘Go for it, Dad!’ Without their support, none of these twists in the road would have been possible.
“Around that same time, we entered the video concept of education,” Feldstein continues. “One of the companies I thought was doing the best job was DCI in New York, so I suggested to Paul Siegal and Rob Wallace that Columbia Pictures Publications buy their company and let them run it and have the freedom to expand. They agreed and that really changed the direction of percussion education.”
Since Columbia was owned by a venture capital company, one of Sandy’s jobs was to, at some point, sell the company. In 1995, Warner Bros. bought the business and Feldstein remained on as President of the combined company (Warner Bros., Columbia Pictures, and Belwin). “After three years, I had enough of the corporate concept,” Feldstein chuckled. “Alfred had been a family-owned company, and since Columbia was a venture capital company, they let me run it as if I owned it. At Warner Bros., I was spending more time writing memos than being creative, which was not something I enjoyed. So I left.”
Sandy took a year off and began his own company, PlayinTime Productions. But he was soon drawn back into the corporate world to run Carl Fischer following a request from the founder’s grandson. “PlayinTime was growing fast enough that I really needed to devote more time to it, so after four years, I relinquished my position as President of Carl Fischer.”
PlayinTime Productions has numerous ventures, including the Yamaha Advantage band curriculum, two Ignacio Berroa books, a series of four books that Vic Firth and Sandy wrote together, a new book with Giovanni Hidalgo, and a series of DVDs in conjunction with Remo called The Rhythm Party. One recent development is publishing and distributing the printed music and DVDs of Wynton Marsalis Enterprises.
In addition to his many years on the corporate side of percussion, Feldstein has also been an advocate for music education. “If you’re lucky enough to earn a living doing this, part of your responsibility is giving back,” he explains. He has served on the NAMM board, is currently on the International Foundation for Music Education (a NAMM research committee), and is chairman of the NARAS (the Grammys) Educational Committee as well as the Boards for Bands of America and VH1 Save the Music. Feldstein has also given clinics in almost every state in the country and around the world.
Perhaps his most impressive “claim to fame” is that, as an author and/or composer, he has over 700 books or pieces published. One of his most well-known books is Alfred’s Drum Method, co-authored with Dave Black.
“I had met Sandy five years earlier during a meeting with Louie Bellson regarding some new jazz charts for publication,” remembers Black, currently Editor-in-Chief, School & Church Publications, at Alfred. “A few months after I began working there in 1985, he asked me to co-write a successor to the [Roy] Burns and [Haskell] Harr methods. That book turned out to be what put me on the map. Sandy really took me under his wing and taught me a lot about writing books.”
Some of Feldstein’s other “bestsellers” include his Practical Theory books, a series of three volumes; his band methods, both the Yamaha Band Student (Alfred series) and the Yamaha Advantage; his Practical Dictionary of Musical Terms; and his Snare Drum Rudiment Dictionary. He is also proud of being commissioned to compose a piece for chorus, band, and orchestra celebrating the 150th centennial of MENC. But what is his all-time favorite piece? “Whatever I’m working on right now,” Sandy chuckles. “The thrill you get when your first piece is published doesn’t go away. It still happens when you get your 700th piece published, too!”
Has the music publishing business changed over the past four decades? “It’s always been an area where the entrepreneurial spirit works,” Feldstein replies. “People can write something that works well with their students, or works well for them as a player, and then actually produce it themselves—that has to continue. But the major publishers have seen the value in the percussion area and have gotten much more involved, including producing DVDs. You could always get a snare drum book published, but now there are many mallet and percussion books, too.”
Besides teaching and writing, what does Feldstein consider his greatest accomplishments? “I’ve had the opportunity to work with some talented people who are now in high positions in our industry—in education and performance as well as manufacturing and publishing,” he says. “I hope I’ve given them some inspiration and maybe some information that has helped them be successful. And the same holds true for the artists I have collaborated with. When I work with someone on a book, I hope I have given the author some insights into the educational processes, into writing, and into publishing, which will make his second book better and his third book better yet. I hope I have inspired musicians to want to give back by developing materials that will help others learn. No matter how big a star is as a performer, he or she still gets a certain joy out of seeing a book or a DVD in print.”
Does Feldstein think of himself as a percussionist or composer? “Percussion has always been my first love and I think it always will be,” he smiles. “But I think my biggest thrill is that I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the greatest people. During my tenure at Belwin, at Columbia, at Warner Bros., at Carl Fischer, at Alfred, and now with my own company PlayinTime Productions, I’ve had my finger on thousands of percussion projects. I’m privileged to have worked with those artists and been able to guide them in building libraries of educational material that has helped our art develop.”