Not long after Greg Tsafos started teaching in Settlement’s Music Education Pathways program last fall, his students at Hardy Williams Elementary School noticed something. He was giving group lessons to trumpet and trombone players, he had advised one trumpet student on switching to the baritone, and he had brought in his main instrument, the tuba, for a demonstration.
One student asked the question that a lot of them had wondered: “You know how to play every instrument, don’t you?”
Tsafos could only laugh and shrug – he had been nailed. “I always wanted to play everything,” he says now, at the start of his second year teaching at Settlement.
A Philadelphia native and a graduate of both Creative and Performing Arts High School and Temple University, Tsafos first started out playing trumpet in elementary school and has now played tuba for 15 years. Along the way, he tried out clarinet, spent four semesters in choir during high school, and served as a teaching assistant for a college marching band.
Why try out music in all these various forms? It’s for the same reason he tells his MEP students at the start of the year: “I’m here to help you learn to love music, because I love music.”
After majoring in music education at Temple – thus learning the basics of every type of instrument – Tsafos went on to pursue a degree in tuba performance. After years of focus on the largest member of the brass family of instrument, Tsafos had to brush up on his trumpet and trombone skills to provide instruction for MEP, and now he’s teaching individual instruction at Settlement’s branches as well.
“I try to show all the different aspects of each instrument,” he says. For his MEP students, “I can bring the tuba in as a special treat.”
The tuba provided one of Tsafos’ most formative teaching experiences: leading sectionals and mini-lessons as a graduate teaching assistant with the marching band at the University of California Los Angeles. If he can get 24 college-age tuba players to work together, elementary band must be a snap, right?
Not quite, but his first year with MEP offered some impressive highlights. During one brass sectional rehearsal, his students decided to take a music-educational spin on the TV talent show “The Voice.” A student would play part of a song, and then each of the other brass section members would turn around and say one thing they liked about the performance. It led to a very positive, supportive experience for these beginning band students. “I was really happy that they came up with it on their own,” he says.