Ben grew up in St. Paul, MN and has a M.F.A in Jazz Piano Performance from The New School for Jazz. Music has always been a part of Ben’s life: “Both my parents play piano and I started taking lessons at age 3. Over the years I had a number of teachers who helped to instill the joy of making music. One of them, who I met around age 12 to begin studying jazz, was Nate Shaw. Much of what I do today can be traced back to my parents discovering Nate’s business card on the bulletin board of a coffee shop across the street from my junior high in St. Paul, Minnesota. I took private lessons with Nate and participated in a few summer jazz camps organized by a local band he played in called the Motion Poets. Those experiences inspired me to pursue a degree in music, which eventually led me to The New School for Jazz and later to work for Nate as he founded Brooklyn Music Factory.”
Ben gets to share that inspiration with his students during Club Keyboard classes. “We love being able to see students every day and really build a relationship with them and camaraderie in the group. Since we play a lot of games and act out the storyline together the classes are so much fun it doesn’t feel like “practice,” but they really do learn a lot in a short period.”
Ben would like to offer one piece of advice to his students: “Never stop learning, exploring, studying, striving and creating. Always have a teacher, coach or mentor. Whatever your interests are, wherever they take you, seek out others who inspire you and develop relationships with them.”
Benny grew up in South Hadley, MA and has a BFA in Jazz performance from New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. He started playing music at 6 years old. “My dad is a singer and blues harmonica player, my grandfather was a guitar player, my uncle is a drummer, and my brother is violinist. We would play music together at my grandfather’s house and I would sit on my uncle’s lap while he played drums.”
Aside from music, Benny has a passion for Environmental Activism, Collaging, Climbing Trees, Hiking, Biking, and Eating. Anything else that he’d like to share with the BMF community? “I capsized in a canoe last week and lost my Crocs.”
Most importantly, Benny would like to offer one piece of advice to his students: “Give yourself permission to make mistakes.”
Christina grew up in Houston, Texas and has a BM in Voice from the University of Oklahoma, as well as a master’s degree in Voice from the Conservatory at Brooklyn College. She started playing piano at 10 years old, and began taking voice lessons at 15. Her coolest gig? “I sang live and performed an aerial silks act with a band. Learning how to train my body and instrument for this was a fun challenge to tackle!” 😱
When she’s not playing music, you can find Christina in the air or upside down training for more circus acts! Anything else that she’d like to share with the BMF community? “I collect pink elephants, which is how I got my stage name Elee Pink.” 💕🐘
Most importantly, Christina would like to offer one piece of advice to her students: “Music isn’t about performing, it’s about sharing.” 🎶
Davis grew up in Annapolis, Maryland and has a degree in Drum Set Performance from Berklee College of Music. Believe it or not, Davis began his musical journey on piano at a young age. “My parents made me. When I was 9, I found a drum set in my neighbors attic while we were looking for legos. That’s when the real magic started to happen.”
Davis’s coolest gig? “I’ve toured around the world with actor turned musician, David Duchovny (yes, the dude from the x-files.) Last spring we played a show in Moscow and I played a drum groove while 3,000 Russians sang some famous Russian song. It was very strange and very cool.”
When he’s not playing the drums, you might find Davis taking care of his physical and mental health with activities such as rock climbing and running. Anything else he’d like to share with the BMF community? “I found a dead bird inside of my very first bass drum.”
Most importantly, Davis would like to offer one piece of advice to his students: “Never stop exploring.”
Find Out More Here: https://soundcloud.com/sunrides
Emily grew up in Jefferson City, MO and received a Bachelor of Music in Music Business degree from Oklahoma City University.
Emily started making music around seven years old when her music teacher asked her to get involved in the community theater. “I was immediately taken in and mentored by this community of artists who inspired me to learn as much as I could about music. I began studying piano and became fascinated by how songs were created. As I became more interested in songwriting and continued performing, I expanded my studies in voice and guitar. I am inspired by all styles of music and musicians, new and old, but the short list of artists who continue to influence me include Joni Mitchell, Brandi Carlile, Billy Joel, Kacey Musgraves, and Dolly Parton.”
Her coolest experience performing? “It is so hard to choose, but one of the coolest experiences was singing for Tony-award winner Kelli O’Hara in a masterclass. Her feedback was invaluable, but it was watching her work with such integrity, passion, and discipline to her art form that continues to be an example for how I want to be as a musician.”
When not making music, Emily’s favorite thing to do is travel and experience new cultures. “Whether in the U.S. or abroad, I never get tired of meeting new people and exploring the best parts of a city. I also love to hike as much as I can and spend time with family and friends.” Fun fact, Emily used to live in Dublin, Ireland while working for a local music publishing company.
One piece of advice she’d love to share with her students: “No matter how hard you try, you will never succeed trying to be anyone else so instead put your effort into being the best version of yourself. The world needs to hear what you and only you are able to say.”
Greg grew up in Yorktown Heights, NY and has a degree in Studio Production and Composition from SUNY Purchase. He started playing music when he was 12 years old. ”I was born and raised on MTV. My dad got me into 80s alternative at a very young age. Bands like The Replacements, The Smiths, Husker Du…”
Aside from music, Greg has a passion for biking. Anything else that he’d like to share with the BMF community? “ I LOVE cheesy reality TV.... it’s my one vice…”
Most importantly, Greg would like to offer one piece of advice to his students: “My advice is to listen, learn, and play with your peers. Keep creating and never stop.” 🎵 ❤️
Find Out More Here: www.yoursandmineband.bandcamp.com
What do you teach OR what is your role at BMF?
I am the extended day camp manager!
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Stuyvesant, New York, a farm town a few hours north of here.
Do you hold any degrees? From where/in what?
I have a Master’s in Curriculum Design & Instructional Technology from SUNY Albany. I have a Bachelor’s of Science in Elementary Education, Birth-6th grade, with a minor in Mathematics from SUNY New Paltz. I also have my TESOL certificate from St. John’s University.
Fun fact! Share anything else about yourself that you'd like to share with the BMF community:
One fun fact about me is that I am very adventurous! I have gone sky-diving, bungee jumping, zip lining, and have my motorcycle license!
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Bubbly, passionate, and friendly
What are your favorite things to do for fun?
Hiking, singing, cooking for friends and family
What is your passion?
Making everyone in the world happier, especially kids!
Where did you grow up?
Stuyvesant, NY (upstate)
What do you love about Brooklyn or NYC?
I love getting to learn about all of the different cultures within our city.
What do you love about working with kids?
I love that kids have heart's of gold, open minds, and bright imaginations!
What are your 3 core values in life?
Reverence for life, compassion, and community.
What would be your number one piece advice for kids who are figuring out who they are?
When I was a kid, I felt different from a lot of people and like I wasn't understood. When I grew up, I met all sorts of people who had similar interests and ideas as mine. Know that if you're feeling misunderstood or alone, somewhere out there, there are other people who share the same feelings, interests, and values as you do and there's plenty of people who don't but who will love you exactly the way you are.
Hilarie grew up in a small town in Eastern Kentucky, right at the base of the Appalachian Mountains, also known as the Cumberland Gap. Her hometown, Middlesboro, is hilariously known for being placed right in the middle of a crater!
She holds two Bachelor degrees from Western Kentucky University, one in theater with a minor in music theory and performance and the other in Community-Based Arts, with focuses on storytelling, community songwriting, and social justice. She is also currently working on a Masters Degree in Arts and Cultural Policy/Management from Pratt Institute, and will be finishing up in April 2021!
Hilarie started playing music at a young age. “When I was little, I wanted to do EVERYTHING my older sister did so I started taking piano lessons at age 4, to follow her lead, and just fell in love with music after that. My family has always appreciated music. My grandpa, who sang tenor in a southern gospel quartet, filled my ears and mind with musical stories. That was the beginning of my desire to find my own songs and ways of expressing them. He has always been an inspiration to me.”
Carole King was one of the first artists that really got Hilarie interested in songwriting, and she grew up listening to King’s music with her parents. She is also deeply moved by the words and music of Florence Welch, Rhiannon Giddens, Maggie Rogers, and Joni Mitchell. When not teaching at BMF, Hilarie enjoys playing Bluegrass music, so these types of artists are inspiring her a lot right now!
What was one of Hilarie’s favorite and most rewarding musical/theatrical experiences? Working with TimeSlips Creative Storytelling in Morgantown, KY on an immersive theatre piece called Wendy’s Neverland. The piece took place in Morgantown Care and Rehabilitation Center. “I was able to be both a choral leader and make music alongside the coolest elders you’ve ever met and their care buddies, fabulous musicians, and artists from around the U.S. The piece was all about embarking on a journey of belief and how when we, collectively, believe in ourselves and in others, we can accomplish anything! Which is a lesson I’ll carry with me forever!”
When not making music, Hilarie loves to travel, spend time in the mountains, learn new languages, and play with her perfectly adorable and fluffy black cats! She also loves to do anything and everything that involves a community of people. Fun fact about Hilarie: she spent a summer living in a barn in Northern Ireland as an apprentice to a storyteller, who is now a dear friend and mentor. She also plays the Celtic harp and speaks Italian!
Hilarie would like to offer one piece of advice to her students: “The most powerful tool you have is your voice. Your voice can create change, it can make waves, it can be expressed in so many ways and is so unique to you! When you believe in your voice, you can create extraordinary things!”
Favorite part of your job: I love helping families find the perfect band, private lesson, or camp! And I'm always blown away by the dedication and kindness of BMF's amazing teachers and staff. I LOVE that BMF is a community of people who truly understand the value of music-making for everyone, from little kids all the way up through adulthood. It's extraordinary to be a part of a community that brings so much joy to our families AND creates sustainable livelihoods for musicians. Anyone who's made a living in the performing arts knows how groundbreaking BMF's philosophy is and it's been thrilling to see how much we've grown over the years. I'm so excited to be a part of BMF's future.
When and why did you discover you wanted to be a musician, or work closely with music? I literally never considered doing anything other than singing. Somehow, even in my hometown of Wasilla, Alaska, where jazz was nonexistent and moose routinely ambled through my backyard, I always knew I would be a singer and live in New York City. The greatest stroke of luck in my life has been having parents and teachers who have believed in and encouraged me from childhood through the present day. Music has been a source of comfort, euphoria, healing, and happiness every day of my life, and my greatest ambition is to be of service through the music I make with others.
Fun fact: I wrote Ella Fitzgerald a fan letter when I was 12 and she sent me an autographed photo that I cherish to this day.
Bands/groups/projects: In addition to my solo endeavors (my first record, "The Great City," was released on Anzic Records in 2014 and my upcoming album, "The Late Set," will be released on Anzic Records on Oct. 2017), I'm a member of DUCHESS, a close-harmony trio in the style of the Boswell Sisters.
Find Out More Here: hilarygardner.com
Jason grew up in Bluefield, Virginia, a small town in the Appalachian Mountains. He attended the University of Virginia and majored in English with a minor in theatre, stating, “I always knew I wanted to teach, and even hoped to be a drama teacher. This is why I love the story and game based curriculum of Brooklyn Music Factory so much!”
Jason grew up around music. “On weekends we would go to my grandparents house. My Pa-Paw played the banjo, my uncle who played the guitar and sang, and my Ma-Maw and dad would dance on the porch. Getting that regular intimate experience of live music made me always want to learn how to play. Plus I would sing and dance at home and pretend to be Michael Jackson as much as possible.”
As a child, Jason took piano and guitar lessons but neither stuck. It wasn’t until he learned the spoons at 25 and began jamming with friends that he began to take a real interest in playing music. As an adult, Jason returned to the mountaintop to live with his Ma-Maw & Pa-Paw and focus on learning the fiddle and Banjo. Eventually, he moved to New York, started a weekly jam with some friends, and met Nate Shaw while walking around Brooklyn playing his banjo!
Jason’s coolest gig? “Once I visited a Zen monastery in California for a number of weeks. They decided to hold an informal talent sharing for all the Zen students there, and it just so happened that Joan Baez was there to unwind & relax before heading out on her tour. They asked her if she would perform a few songs in the sharing and she said yes, so they put her right smack dab in the middle of the set of 20 Zen students. I happened to be #10 on the list so after I played a couple of songs on spoons & harmonica, she went on right after me. Technically you could say I opened for Joan Baez ;-)”
Most importantly, Jason would like to offer one piece of advice to his students: “Inspiration is precious and shouldn’t be taken for granted. So when you feel excited by something in music - a song, a beat, a chord progression, even a note - follow that and see where it takes you.”
Favorite part of your job: I try to make sure the whole BMF community has what they need to create awesome music together every day.
When and why did you discover you wanted to be a musician, or work closely with music?: Nate and I were in a heavy metal cover band together in college. I played the drums!
Fun fact: A movie--"Trail of the Lonesome Pine" starring a young Henry Fonda--was made about a (real!) family feud in Kentucky, involving my Tolliver ancestors. Henry Fonda played a Tolliver!
Bands/groups/projects: Annual family holiday video!
Josh grew up in the Hudson Valley and has a Bachelor of Music in Percussion Performance with a concentration in Jazz Studies from SUNY Fredonia. He started playing music at 10 years old. “In band class, they took us into the cafeteria and told us to write down what instrument we wanted to learn. I told my friend “I want to play the drums” and he said “you have to put PERCUSSION or they won’t give it to you.” The rest is history!”
Josh started out playing grunge and garage rock, but has since fallen in love with prog rock and early jazz. His favorite bands are Yes, Tool, and Nirvana. His coolest gig? "Opening for Pete Seeger on the docks of the Hudson River when I was 19.”
Aside from music, Josh has a passion for cooking, running, and drawing.
Most importantly, he would like to offer one piece of advice to his students: “Always play with joy, find the fun in everything you do!"
Kai was born in Cedar Rapids, IA but grew up in Blair, NE. IN. He has a BA in K-12 Music Education from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and an Associates in Contemporary Writing and Production from Berklee College of Music. As a child, music wasn’t difficult for Kai to find - It ran in the family! “The first time I remember playing music was when I would attend my Uncle Jim’s children’s music shows. He goes by “Mister Jim”! I started really getting into music when I joined choir, and found the trumpet in 5th grade. However, my love for performing music came from playing in my High School garage band “Those Guys”. We covered all the early 2000 alt-pop/punk hits. Just best friends playing music together and we got the attention of the whole town (of 8,000 people…)”
Kai’s coolest gig? “I’m a member of the psyche/rock band Evolfo. Honestly I find everytime we play to be so cool but recently, we shared a bill with Steve Earle and the Dukes. It was at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco and Steve was celebrating the 30th anniversary of Copperhead Road (great record!). Great town, amazing music, and a sold out show.”
When Kai isn’t playing music, you might find him exploring the great outdoors! “Any opportunity to fish, swim, or run around outside - that’s where you’ll find me.” Kai is also a self-proclaimed Star Wars Mega-Fan.
Most importantly, Kai would like to offer one piece of advice to his students: “Do everything you can to retain your voice. That was some advice that came to me a little too late. Don’t worry about what anybody thinks and speak from your heart. Translate that energy and passion into what you have to say musically and you’ll never go wrong.”
Find Out More Here: www.evolfo.com
Kaitlin grew up in Miami, FL and has a degree in Music Therapy from Berklee College of Music. With this degree, she was able to work for a year doing music therapy at Mount Sinai with patients in chemo/radiation and in rehab. Kaitlin got her start playing music at a very young age, stating “I’ve Always sang and played. My mom was a jazz singer and my dad a jazz pianist. I practically grew up in the theater.”
When she’s not teaching, Kaitlin can be found writing music for her band Pinkie Promise, a local Brooklyn band (currently working on their second album! Keep those eyes peeled…) Kaitlin's inspirations? “I'm REALLY inspired by the local rock bands in Brooklyn right now but always find myself coming back to classics like Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone, Neil Young, Black Sabbath, and Fiona Apple.”
Most importantly, Kaitlin would like to offer one piece of advice to her students: “Let yourself be obsessed! If you love a song, love it loudly and learn it! If you follow the thread of interest you'll never get bored. :)”
Find Out More Here: https://pinkiepromisemusic.wixsite.com/pinkiepromise
Favorite part of your job: I cherish being a child's first music teacher. In MiniKeys, I love creating a playful, successful experience that will lay a foundation for their lifelong love of music.
When and why did you discover you wanted to be a musician, or work closely with music? Everyone was singing in house growing up. My Mom sang in MGM musicals and Broadway and my Dad sang Opera. I was a shy kid and as a teenager loved The Smiths as much as Stephen Sondheim. Music gave me confidence and a sense of belonging. Fast forward years later, I was performing with a theatre company in hospitals and shelters. It hit me how deeply music can reach any population with any ability. I studied my Master's in Music Therapy at NYU and worked in early intervention and with dementia patients. I love leading group singing and building community through song.
Fun fact: I sang on The Grand Ole Opry stage but surprisingly not country music.
Bands/groups/projects: Raising my daughters is a big project right now. Slowly working on a collection of lullabyes. These have been passed down and a few are original.
Mike grew up in Pittsburgh, PA and received a BM in Music Theatre from Baldwin Wallace University. He started taking piano lessons when he was 5 years old! Mike says he started “crooning oldies to my grandma who pushed me to sing as much as I could.”
A few of Mikes musical inspirations are Ben Folds, Michael Franks, and Frankie Valli.
He shared one of his coolest gig experiences with us: Touring the country in the Broadway National Tour of The Band’s Visit. He is also an expert tap dancer!
When not making music Mike is a self-proclaimed coffee aficionado, and also loves video games. “I love sourcing single origin coffees while learning the origins of both the roaster and the farm the beans originated from. I start every morning with a ritualistic manual brew. I’m also big into video games- challenge me in Smash Bros. any time!”
Most importantly, Mike would like to offer one piece of advice to his students: “As long as the music you are playing makes you feel energized and alive, you are doing it right!”
Find Out More Here: mikecefalo.com
Favorite part of your job: Absolutely it's building a sense of self in my students.
When and why did you discover you wanted to be a musician, or work closely with music? I was playing piano in a blues band in Hong Kong (of all places).I was 21 yrs old & living abroad studying Chinese for 3 hours a day. Digging the food and the massive culture shock. It was a Sunday night gig that I did every week. I was just a wide eyed kid who saw everything as a possible. And then one song (a minor blues in E...I remember it perfectly) I played a chord on the piano and all of a sudden felt something shoot through my body that I'm not sure I had ever felt before. It was bliss. It was joy. It was totally real and physical and emotional. That one moment was when I realized that I needed to keep doing music for the rest of my life. My life has continued to be finding ways to feel that daily through music.
Fun fact: I have been to Bali twice to play with a friend who lives there. I'm always willing to travel for adventure.
Bands/groups/projects: Gowanus Reggae And Ska Society & J Granelli's trio: Mr Lucky
Find Out More Here: GowanusReggae.com
Favorite part of your job: I love the sense of community and teamwork at Brooklyn Music Factory. I feel like everybody supports each other and we're all stronger happier people because of it!
When and why did you discover you wanted to be a musician, or work closely with music? I was fascinated at how music can tell a story when I was a kid. I loved writing my own songs and finding ways of sharing my story with other people. I learned a little later in life that music is even more fun and exciting when you're committed to creating your story with other people! That's what making music is all about for me.
Fun fact: When I was a kid I did a lot of competitive public speaking and placed 11th in a national competition!
Bands/groups/projects: Four Corners (modern vocal jazz quartet), Juliet Varnedoe Quartet (early 20's swing music), Nich Mueller and Culture in Flames (contemporary singer-songwriter), Father Knows Best Session (weekly free jazz session in Bushwick, Brooklyn)
Find Out More Here: nichmueller.com
Perry grew up in San Francisco, CA and received a Bachelor of Music in Studio/Jazz Guitar from USC, and a Master of Music in Jazz Studies from NYU.
He was 10 years old when he started playing his Dad’s acoustic guitar. Major inspirations of Perry’s are Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Joni Mitchell, Ella Fitzgerald, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Bill Frisell and Wayne Shorter.
One of Perry’s coolest gig experiences was playing the main stage at Montreal Jazz Festival for 20k people.
Besides playing music, Perry enjoys yoga, sports, cooking, hiking and camping. And pizza! Perry says, “Bay Ridge has the best pizza in all of Brooklyn.” :)
Most importantly, he would like to offer one piece of advice to his students: “It’s okay to try new things in music and feel challenged on your instrument. That’s how you grow as a musician.”
Find Out More Here: perrysmithmusic.com/
Peira is Co-founder and Camp Director of Brooklyn Music Factory. She was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. Peira started playing music at a very young age, and loved to play the piano in her family living room. She began voice lessons at 9 years old, and started writing her own songs in middle school. “Once I discovered the power of writing your own music, I never looked back!”
Peira’s most treasured musical experiences have been when she’s had the opportunity to see artists she loves in small, intimate venues. “There’s nothing like being in a small room, watching a performance of an artist you admire, and feeling like the music is right on top of you. I love that.”
Aside from music, Peira is passionate about the environment and making our planet a better and cleaner place. “I love that saying, There is no Planet B. Feels like there’s no better way to sum it all up.” Peira lives with her awesome husband who she met playing in a band 25 year ago. They now have two amazing kids and love playing music together as a family.
One piece of advice Peira loves to share with her students: “Create without limits. Creativity is hindered by rules. Allow yourself to be free and you’ll be amazed at what you can create.”
What do you do at BMF?
Where did you grow up?
Do you hold any degrees? From where/in what?
When did you start playing music? Why? Who are your inspirations?
I started playing music and singing when I was about 6 years old. My first audition was for Annie at the age of 6.
What are your passions aside from music?
I love the theatre, dancing, and learning about history. I am also very passionate about my teaching, and the lifelong learning process.
If you could give one piece of advice to your students what would it be?
Find the thing that makes you want to practice, and do it fully. Don’t let others’ expectations of what your passion should look like tell you how to pursue it.
Fun fact! Share anything else about yourself that you'd like to share with the BMF community:
I am a passionate Mets fan!
Sergio grew up in the South Bronx and has a bachelor’s degree in Composition and Guitar Performance from Florida State University. He started playing music at 14 years old. “ My sister was at a party and was randomly given a nylon string guitar that only had 4 strings. She came home with it and said I could have it. That night changed my life.” 🎸
Sergio’s coolest gig? “I played a protest show at Foley Square in the city. We went up right after Mayor Bloomberg spoke. Linda Sarsour, one of the organizers of the women’s march, introduced us on stage. Still the highlight of my musical career.” He cites Prince as a huge influence on him and his playing.
Aside from music, Sergio has a passion for comics and even makes some of his own! “When I’m bored at home I create different stories and then draw them out.” ✏️
Most importantly, Sergio has an important piece of advice for his students: “Love your instrument the way you love ice cream. Both are extremely sad when you drop them.” 🍦 😂
Find Out More Here: bodegadream.bandcamp.com
Tyrone grew up in Temple Hills, Maryland. He has a double degree in Classical/Jazz Bass from Eastman School of Music and a master’s degree from Berklee College of Music. Tyrone has been playing music for most of his life. “My father began teaching me recorder when I was very young, around 3 years old. He’s definitely been inspirational! Fast forward to my tween years while I was playing guitar, one day I discovered Jimi Hendrix. The rest is history.”
Tyrone’s coolest gig? “Being on the road with Rodney Green’s band - Jackson Miller.” Aside from music, Tyrone loves to bike, read, and has recently found a new found passion for creating visual art!
Most importantly, Tyrone would like to offer one piece of advice to his students: “Musically speaking, follow your instincts and be yourself.”
Our team comes from all over the map from California to Nebraska, Florida to Texas, Australia to Sweden! We are not just a music school; we are a mission-driven company intent on growing a body of 100,000 students worldwide with the tools needed to connect with others and build something bigger than themselves through music. Playing & performing in bands. Writing & sharing songs. Jamming around the campfire or around the world. We grow musicians for life and are changing a generation of music-making families.
"The most fun thing about being a part of the BMF community is all the opportunities they offer to engage kids. They are really good at it. It’s a really high quality & well run operation, and has sparked something special in my child. And they’ve been amazing during the quarantine with the switch to online lessons & other opportunities for remote learning. Highly recommended!"
- Andrea, a Brooklyn Mom