Bill Marconi likes to say that he wants his students “to do everything they can” – that is, to use all the creative potential that is within them. That might take the form of encouraging students who play multiple instruments to try them out, or mixing and matching the members of a jazz band into different smaller combos.
For Marconi, doing everything he’s capable of involves drawing on all of his musical experience in jazz, classical and world music. At Settlement, he coaches both school-age and adult jazz bands, lead drum circles, and teaches individual percussion lessons at three community branches and at Settlement’s partner schools in the Music Education Pathways program.
Regardless of the age group he’s teaching, Marconi says he takes a holistic approach that encourages self-expression rather than outright virtuosity. “It’s more about falling in love with music than about becoming a great drummer.”
For that reason, he’s especially drawn to beginners, whether they’re older players returning to their musical roots or young musicians new to their instruments.
His work in Music Education Pathways provides the latter opportunity, as he offers instruction to students in Philadelphia public and charter schools, nearly all of whom are playing in an ensemble setting for the first time. Because of the potential for getting these students interested in music, Marconi calls his work with MEP at Lea Elementary and Hardy Williams Elementary “some of the most important teaching I do.” All the elements of being in a band – putting together instruments, gathering stands and chairs, the sense of order and harmony – are part of developing an arts-rich culture in Settlement’s partner schools.
In other ensemble settings, Marconi views his role as teacher and coach as “getting students to think in jazz terms.” With adults, he says, “you have more things and experiences in common, you can explain things a little more thoroughly.” Younger students need a little more grounding in recordings and history before he can introduce them to, say, the range of beats and rhythms commonly played in jazz.
After more than 35 years of teaching, he hears from former students who have stayed involved in music – everything from drumming in bands to playing on a practice pad at home. Before long, his current students will find that Marconi’s love of music is infectious, and it lasts. “I’m at the age where I just want to get as much done as possible,” he says. “I want to leave this place better than the way I found it.”