Dr. Jeff Calissi is an associate professor of music at Eastern Connecticut State University. He has performed and presented in an array of venues including PASIC, the Eastern Trombone Workshop, the International Tuba and Euphonium Conference, the National Conference on Percussion Pedagogy, and as part of the Eastern faculty percussion duo Confluence. Jeff’s compositions and arrangements are available from C. Alan Publications and Garden State Publications, and his writings on percussion can be found in Percussive Notesand Rhythm! Scene. He holds degrees from Radford University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Rhythm! Scene: If you weren’t a university percussion professor, what career could you see yourself having pursued?
Jeff Calissi: I went to college thinking I was going to work at a record label in New York City. I came in freshman year as a music-business major and had secured an internship in midtown Manhattan the following summer. At the same time, though, I also started teaching drum set lessons and soon found the feeling of helping students discover their own musicianship and performance was much more preferable to working in an office. In the fall of my sophomore year I changed majors to music education and never looked back.
R!S: What’s one thing in your institution or city/town (other than your school of music or music department) that you are proud to tell people about?
JC: Eastern Connecticut State University is the state’s only public liberal arts university. For me, that translates to anyone on campus wishing to lend their talents to the percussion studio is welcome. We have our fair share of music majors and minors and double majors, but we also have those who just want to continue playing music in college. I’m proud to tell people that fact because it creates a unique position to be in as a teacher, and one that adds variety to the studio and allows for large and chamber ensemble and world percussion experiences for any interested student regardless of major.
R!S: What’s one thing about you that your students would unanimously proclaim?
JC: My students would say that I am the “Best Sandwich Maker.” What that means is that after a student plays for me in a lesson, I say “compliment sandwich time,” which is when I talk about something I thought was good, then speak about parts they need to improve upon and practice for next time, and then end with a positive look at what they are doing and for the week ahead. I suppose I say that phrase so much, and to pretty much everyone in lessons, that at the end of last year the Eastern Percussion Studio had our version of the Dundies (from the TV show The Office), and I was given the “Best Sandwich Maker” award by the students.
R!S: What is your favorite percussion instrument and why?
JC: My favorite instrument is the marimba for several reasons, both as a player and composer. Out of the big three of percussion instruments, I think of the marimba as a combination of rhythm (from the snare drum) and pitch (from timpani), completing a kind of “hat trick” of percussion. I also see the marimba as the most musical and accessible for both performer and audience, not to mention the sound of rosewood being unique and beautiful. In my opinion nothing beats the resonant tone, especially from the low end of the instrument, and the rich sonority and timbre.
R!S: Where did you grow up, and what’s one interesting thing about your childhood(musically or otherwise)?
JC: I grew up in Northern New Jersey in a town called Ramsey. One interesting thing about my childhood was the school system’s music program giving me the opportunity to become a percussionist, which began in the fifth grade when I was given a drum solo part (on Roto-toms!) at the end of the year concert. Through middle and high school my life pretty much revolved around music and percussion, playing in concert band, marching band, jazz band, and jazz combo. My sophomore year, I had an opportunity to travel to Europe with members from a group of schools as part of a concert band and percussion ensemble; side note, playing with Brendan Buckley, who went on to become the drummer for Shakira. My junior year I had a drum set feature in jazz ensemble on a Latin tune where we won best rhythm section at a competition. My senior year we won marching band championships and represented the state in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, where I was center snare. If it hadn’t been for any one of those experiences, I would not be the musician I am today, and I will forever be grateful for the music teachers in the Ramsey school district.