“The keyboard is like a magical foundation for every for every other instrument that comes after it.”
For this month’s Teacher Feature, we chose to interview the Molly’s Music teacher who plays the most instruments–7, not including voice! He’s toured internationally, everywhere from the Scandinavian countries to Edinburgh Castle. An incredibly accomplished musician with a fun, laid-back teaching personality, Benny was an obvious choice as a new team member. Book your slots with him now, if you have any interest in piano (particularly jazz piano lessons), clarinet, flute, violin, saxophone, trumpet, tuba, or voice lessons! He’s currently accepting students, but with such a unique skill set, we know he won’t have open slots for very long.
MM: Because you’re so versatile, let’s start with what instruments you play, how you got started with each one, and how long you’ve been playing them?
BR: I started playing piano in 4th grade, then started clarinet in 9th grade. In 10th grade I branched off onto saxophone and flute. Then in college, I took a series of instrument classes, where I learned all of the brass instruments, then string instruments.
MM: Who has inspired you musically?
BR: For classical piano, I am inspired by Frederic Chopin. For modern keyboard playing, I am inspired by Ray Manzarek of the Doors, and Donald Fagan of Steely Dan.
MM: What are some of your favorite instruments and musical genres, and why?
BR: I actually love all of the instruments, because of their separate individuality and uniqueness, especially violin, because of the discipline that it takes to perfect it. But if I was to pick one general favorite instrument, it would be the keyboard, because from there, you can branch out onto so many other different instruments. The keyboard is like a magical foundation for every other instrument that comes after it. If you think about it, many of our early famous composers (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, etc.) were keyboard players first (harpsichord, organ, piano). Then, because of their keyboard knowledge, they were able to go on from there and write all the instrumental parts to their famous concertos & symphony pieces.
As far as favorite musical genres, I do enjoy classical, because of its richness, purity and accuracy to music theory. But I also enjoy jazz, especially Smooth jazz. And then I also enjoy modern pop music, because of the constantly changing sounds & songs that are produced, and therefore the challenge to keep up with music that is new, fresh, and groundbreaking.
MM: What are your current musical projects?
BR: Right now I am engaged in two different musical projects: the first is a pop band entitled “Back to the 80’s,” a five-piece band that is playing 80’s pop music; the second is a classic rock band that is playing music from late 60s to mid-80s pop music.
MM: How do you practice, and how do you balance music with some of your other life goals? How do you help your students practice?
BR: I find that I must discipline myself to set aside a certain time of day in order to practice my music; then, I also encourage my students to do the same. The way I practice is to tackle the hard parts of the music first, in small sections at a time i.e. – 2 measures only, 4 measures only, etc, practicing these small sections over & over again at a SLOW tempo, until I master them. After they are mastered at that slow speed, then I practice them at a gradually faster speed, until eventually they are mastered at the proper speed.
This is the practicing technique I encourage my students to do also.
MM: It sounds like you’ve traveled a lot with your music. Tell me about touring, where you’ve been, and what that was like. Do you have a favorite place you toured?
BR: Yes, one of the most memorable touring experiences I have had happened with the Long Beach State University Choir under the direction of Mr. Frank Pooler, a world-renowned choral conductor. We toured all of the Scandinavian countries and were blessed to be invited to sing in many of the major cathedrals and churches in those countries. It was a hugely rewarding experience.
The second touring experience that stands out to me is performing with the Long Beach State marching band at the annual Scotland Military Tattoo Festival of Bands, held every year in Edinburgh Castle, Scotland. We did nightly performances there for 30 days straight, and it was also one of my most memorable touring experiences.
MM: If you were stranded on an island and only got to have one CD with you (I’m dating myself here!) which one would you choose?
BR: Since I love all different genres of music, all different styles, all different songs, it couldn’t be refined to just one CD. Therefore it would have to be a mixed tape CD of all my favorite pieces, which would include the genres of classical, smooth jazz, rock, pop, funk, and soul.