Born and bred and classically trained musician Scott Milici is the new music teacher at the New Paltz Middle School, replacing the recently passed and beloved veteran music teacher John Anderson.
“Mr. Anderson was a teacher I had when I was a student who influenced me, so I have a very emotional connection,” said Milici, 23, a graduate of St. Rose College in Albany, where he received his undergraduate degree in music education. “I would take any position very seriously, as I’m passionate about music and music education; but I think because of my connection to this school and to this community, I feel an even greater responsibility to do my very best.”
The young teacher and musician said that he has felt “very welcome” at the middle school, adding that it has “helped to know a lot of the kids through my work at the Moriello Pool [where he has been a lifeguard for eight years] and with the Hawks [a year-round USA age-group swim team that he helps coach] and a lot of the teachers. There are many of them who were my teachers, and they’ve been incredibly supportive.”
When asked where his love of music began, Milici said, “My parents always appreciated and played music when we were growing up. They played a lot of classic rock like the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Elton John…so my brother [Dan, who is also at St. Rose studying music education] and I grew up appreciating good music and learning about it.”
He said that his Mom asked him what instrument he might like to learn to play. “She never forced me. I knew we had a nice guitar in the house, but I said ‘keyboard,’ and she said ‘Okay.’” Milici began taking keyboard lessons from a music student at SUNY-New Paltz and then continued with Julie Wegener, with whom he studied piano for years.
But he gained a real inspiration for music when his band teacher in the middle school, Charles Seymour, taught him how to play a blues scale on the piano. “I had been classically trained, which gave me a solid foundation; but when Mr. Seymour showed me some blues scales, it opened my world up.” So the young Milici, at the age of his students now, joined a band made up of himself and all teachers called New Paltz Rock & Soul. Soon other students joined in, and Milici fell in love with a broader range of music, combining musical talents within a band setting and performing live.
As someone whose New Paltz Central School District days aren’t too far behind him, he says that he remembers “trying too hard to ‘fit in’ in high school. It wasn’t until the 11th grade that I stopped worrying about ‘fitting in’ — whatever I thought that meant — and instead focused on all of the things that I loved, which included music, playing in bands, joining chorus, performing in school musicals, the drama club…that’s what I enjoyed and everything became much easier and more fulfilling once I pursued what I was passionate about.” Milici teamed up with fellow NPHS students and had a great run with the band the Basics during those years.
In fact, the only sport in which Milici participated during his high school years was the sport that he still enjoys (along with running and cycling): swimming. “I was part of the swim team, which was a great experience,” he said.
As he began thinking about college, he realized that “music was my strong suit — it’s what I loved.” With the guidance of his parents, Claire, a special education teacher, and John, owner of the Clip Joint hair salon in New Paltz, he also realized that job security was an important part of his college choice. “I love performing, being in a band; but I also understood that being able to get a job after graduation was important. I enjoyed teaching kids how to swim and just being around them and knew that there was a magic combination there.”
To that end, Milici received a talent scholarship to St. Rose for his musical abilities and pursued and graduated a rigorous music education program. During his years of college he was in a popular band, A Sound Decision, that played a combination of blues, rock and funk. “There were times we were playing gigs once, twice a week, and I enjoyed it immensely, having the audience dancing and appreciating our music.” He said that it was difficult to part ways with the performing lifestyle, as most of his fellow band-members were Music majors and hell-bent on making it in the music industry. “It was me, but there was that other part of me that wanted to impart music to kids, who was passionate about music education, so that’s what I put my energy and focus toward.”
Thus the new job at the middle school, which he said has been an “awesome and incredible challenge,” and he’s just beginning. “What’s challenging is that I have three separate grades with three different curricula, and unlike high school, this is not an elective. So my challenge is to reach those students who might have an affiliation or passion for music, as well as those who come into the classroom with little desire for the subject.”
But the beauty of a young teacher is that Milici is very fluent in all of the current music and pop culture, as well as the historical aspects of music dating back to the Renaissance. “Music plays such an integral part of all of our lives, as well as these students’ lives, whether they recognize it or don’t. Music is a fundamental and beautiful part of human culture. It’s pure joy and magic and elusive, and yet rooted in American history as well as global history.”
“If I can give these students some tools to understand music better, to enjoy it more, learn about its historical context, how it evolved, get them to sing, to play an instrument rather than sit home and play video games, then I believe I’ve done something worthwhile. I love when the chorus takes ownership of a song. At first they might be timid, insecure, but after a while they come together as a group and want the song to be powerful, to sound great, to perform it. That’s what this job is all about.”
Right now he has his eighth-grade class learning about music history from Bach and the Baroque musical period all the way up to blues and jazz and the influences that precipitated these various genres. “I had one mother stop me in the parking lot and ask if I was the new music teacher,” recalled Milici. “I said that I was, and she told me how happy she was when her son came home and asked to listen to a jazz CD I had mentioned in class. That felt great, because it was unsolicited, and some student in my class was inspired enough to go home and break out a jazz CD and try to appreciate it more. That’s what makes this job so exciting.” ++