Even after having some incredible career highlights, including playing with The Beach Boys, performing and giving masterclasses in Europe, and writing for Saxophone Today, Real School instructor Andrew Clark is first and foremost a teacher with a passion for music education.
Read on to find out if his beloved Red Sox would have been in the running for the pennant this year, if only he was playing second base...
The following article is an installment of our Faculty Spotlight series, which highlights the stories and experiences of Real School instructors.
Managing Partner and Woodwinds Instructor Andrew Clark, Real School of Music Andover
When you ask professional musicians why they decided to pursue a career in music, you'll get a wide range of responses. For some, it was a gradual series of formative events, like winning auditions, great performances, and being strongly encouraged by their teacher, which all added up to the realization that, "I'm good at this," or, "I should do this!"
Others, like Real School saxophone instructor Andrew Clark, will tell you about 'that moment' when they just knew that they had to become a musician.
And, to hear Andrew tell it, you'd never know that the moment for him was 30 years ago. It's so clear, it could have happened yesterday.
"I was so lucky to see James Brown one night at The Chance in Poughkeepsie, which is a well known night club," said Andrew. "It was the early 1980’s, and I think that I was eighteen or nineteen at the time. I was maybe twenty feet away from the stage, right in front and I never moved. I’m not sure, but I think it was Maceo Parker on alto sax that night. That performance convinced me that I had to become a professional saxophonist, no matter what the cost."
That moment launched a life-long pursuit of carefully developing his craft and sharing a love of music making and teaching. And when you hear the energy and fire that infuse his perfomances, you get the sense that 'the moment' is always close by.
As a writer, Andrew was a chief contributor to Saxophone Journal for nearly twenty years and is currently the 'Rock and Roll Saxophone' columnist for Saxophone Today. He contributes articles to the Real School blog on practical, how-to topics for parents and students, including a series on Getting Your Child Started Playing Band and Orchestra Instruments, on practicing, and on beginning music lessons as an adult.
Andrew started his own school, the Bradford School of Music, in North Andover (MA) in 2007. In 2012, he merged his school, teachers, and students with Real School to help lay the foundation for Real School Andover. With an outstanding team of instructors and a state-of-the art facility, the Andover Real School has become a tremendous early success story that is well-positioned for continued growth.
We were excited to learn more about Andrew's story, including how he got started, his teaching philosophy, advice for music students and parents, and what he's most excited about...
What age were you when you started music lessons, and who was your teacher?
Andrew: I started playing the alto saxophone when I was ten years old. My first teacher was Pete Stellato. He was an excellent saxophonist and teacher. I moved away in the eighth grade, but wound up meeting him again my first year of college. He not only gave me a great foundation as a beginner but also some important advice later on as a college student.
Did you play in your school band, choir, or orchestra?
Andrew: I participated in every school music organization and/or group that I could cram into my schedule during my years in public school. Pete Stellato ran the jazz bands at my middle school and organized clinics that brought in groups and musicians from all over the state. When I moved to Poughkeepsie, NY in the tenth grade, I had two wonderful teachers - Bob Shaut on saxophone and Bill McNary for choir and voice lessons. I was in concert band, jazz band, choir, madrigal choir and various regional student groups. I was also involved in musical theater.
Who have been some of your favorite teachers?
Andrew: I really have to mention all of my saxophone teachers. Pete Stellato gave me my start and when I found my old lesson books with his notes in them years later I realized how important he was to me as a beginner. Bob Shaut helped me build my skills in high school and prepare for college auditions.
Next, I studied with Bob’s teacher at SUNY Fredonia, the remarkable Dr. Laurence Wyman. He introduced me to advanced concepts on the saxophone and practice room strategies. After a year at Fredonia, I matriculated to Berklee and spent the first two years with Jimmy Mosher. He taught me how to play like a jazz saxophonist and gave me the best pep talk before my senior recital.
I also studied for two years with Joe Viola at Berklee, who is arguably the most influential saxophone teacher of all time. The list of his students would include literally dozens and dozens of the greatest saxophonists from the 1960’s through to today. As I was finishing at Berklee, I spent six months with Jerry Bergonzi and he was my last private lesson teacher. I wish I could go back for more with him right now! And finally, I have to mention Mike Antunes. I’ve never been in a lesson room with him, but he gave me the final pieces of information and guidance that I needed to become the saxophonist that I am today.
Who were some of your early musical 'heroes' or inspirations?
Andrew: I was in middle school in 1970’s when I developed an interest in music, which made me a prime target for groups like KISS and Aerosmith. I remember reading the liner notes of Aerosmith’s first two albums to find the name of the saxophonist. It was David Woodford. He was my first saxophone hero and reading his name on that album cover led me to find out about every other saxophonist in the world! We actually became friends around the time my first CD came out in 1999. I email him anytime something good happens in my career and he’s been so supportive and cool.
What are some of your favorite things to do outside of work?
Andrew: Outside of Real School, I continue pursuing opportunities to perform. And outside of music I like baseball, chess, fishing, and I used to bike a lot but not lately, my neighborhood has too many hills and fast cars!
What kind of musical projects are you working on?
Andrew: I’ve been blessed with so many wonderful opportunities over the past two years. I spent a big part of last summer playing with The Beach Boys, and this year I’ve been involved with several all-star revues that were put together to support veterans. I just did two shows this weekend with members of Boston, J Geils, Foghat, Johnny Winter Band and the SNL band. I’ve also helped produce some shows as well. I produced the Andover Day main stage concert and co-produced the Andover Cares event. And in November, I will head back to my home away from home in Sweden to play two shows and teach a master class in Denmark.
What brought you to Real School, and what do you like best about working here?
Andrew: I owned a lesson studio that opened in 2007. During the first quarter of 2011, Real School approached me about merging my lesson studio and working together to expand their company to a second location. We merged in 2012 and my teachers and students were the foundation for Real School Andover.
I like teaching the best, which is the obvious and quick answer! I still like having beginner students after all these years, it’s a lot of fun working with kids that age. I also have very advanced students that make me think really hard about music and how I approach it. And teaching helps me become a better musician - mostly by practicing the clarinet and the flute when a student cancels!
How has playing and teaching music made a positive impact on your life?
I can’t count how many times music has saved me when I was down. Everyone faces tough times in their lives - the universe will always present you with problems. When we combine the power of music with the spirit of community we can face anything in life. Music feeds the mind, restores emotional well being, and even helps develop some physical skills that we all need to be happy.
What are some of your most memorable teaching experiences?
Andrew: I have to say that teaching my first saxophone masterclass in Denmark back in 2006 really stands out. I felt so honored to be there. Many of the professional horn players in the Copenhagen area were in attendance and it was wonderful to share my experiences with them. I’ve been back several times since then and it is always a big event for me.
What advice would you give to aspiring musicians who are looking to develop their skills?
Andrew: Developing musical skill is like being an athlete. Treat your practice time like a team practice. Team practices are regularly scheduled organized activities structured around developing your abilities to their highest level and working towards goals.
If you miss a team practice or don’t try hard when you are practicing you let the team down and chances are you won’t get to play with the team. When it comes to practicing you have to be your own team - and then don’t let your team down. Schedule your time during the week and then schedule what you will do with that time. Sustained organized efforts always yield results.
What advice would you give to parents or caregivers?
Andrew: Don’t force anything. Help enable the young learner to grow with support and positive feedback. Encourage them to schedule their practice time on a regular basis like their homework time. Try to be at every performance they are involved in.
Andrew: One of my Berklee roommates asked me what was my goal in music. Before I could answer he told me his goal was to sell a million records. I told him my goal was to be the best musician I can possibly be and the rest will take care of itself. It’s been my life’s motto ever since and I am always working towards that goal. And that roommate? He never worked a day in the music business.
My future plans involve a possible trip to the past. I had a band for twelve years and two CDs - I broke it all up in 2006 shortly before I opened my lesson studio. I would like to be a band leader again but the business end of it always makes me a bit reluctant to start. As a freelance saxophonist, I just want to keep going forward musically and professionally. I’m so lucky that I get to play with the musicians and bands that I looked up to as a kid. It really is a dream come true.
If you weren't playing and teaching music, what would you be?
Andrew: I would be playing middle infield for the Boston Red Sox or the New York Mets. I’d probably play second base and hopefully bat second in the line up, but more than likely it would have been seventh or eighth. Shortstop is tempting, but I don’t think I would have had the best arm for those long range throws to first base.
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