Kevin Riordan: At Audubon school, it's like music to his ears

Caroline Schive, 10, of Haddon Twp., takes a lesson with Anthony Salicandro.
Caroline Schive, 10, of Haddon Twp., takes a lesson with Anthony Salicandro. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 22, 2013

I attempted to learn the clarinet in seventh grade - an experience about which I can hardly toot my own horn.

But I love music, and admire those who have what it takes to master the art and the craft of making it.

Which is why I recently visited the Conservatory of Musical Arts, a private school in Audubon where nearly 350 students are learning to do just that.

"I watch them develop, and the better they get and the more intense their achievements, the more they love music," says director and founder Anthony Salicandro.

"Some students get bitten by the bug," he adds. "It's a calling."

Salicandro began playing the saxophone professionally in clubs and casinos in the 1970s, and started teaching privately in the early '80s, after he realized that too many long nights on stage were damaging his hearing.

"I was playing with eight brass [musicians] behind my head, and the speakers were 10 feet high, and there was feedback," he recalls. "And after that, we went out to a club. It was everything that was possible to be wrong."

Now he performs occasionally with Minas, a Brazilian jazz combo.

A soft-spoken fellow who looks younger than his 60 years, Salicandro grew up in the business. His parents once owned the New Jersey School of Music in Medford. He established his school in Haddonfield in 1992 and moved it to East Kings Highway in Audubon last year. His sister, jazz clarinetist Gia Walton, is the codirector.

Students are as young as 4 and as mature as 70-plus. Classes in an orchestra's worth of instruments, as well as voice, are taught by 28 instructors, most of whom, like Salicandro, also teach privately and at local colleges.

Other offerings include jazz workshops and rock and singer-songwriter camps, with musical theater workshops for children, taught by pianist/playwright Andrea Green of Cherry Hill, beginning in April.

"The goal of the workshop program is the same as the conservatory's - for children to love music," Green says, noting that sometimes even well-meaning adults can discourage a young would-be player.

"We never, ever break the spirit," Salicandro says.

But in an era when someone who's digitally, if not musically, literate can create astonishing electronic sounds on a laptop, the conservatory emphasizes analog mastery.

"I insist they learn technique, but not for technique's sake," Salicandro says. Rather, a student who more fully commands his or her instrument "can be more free to make music," he adds.

"Students still need to learn how to read music," says flutist and harpist Maggie Bruning, who manages the conservatory. "We want to provide the tools to inspire them, so they can have music for the rest of their lives. The whole world of music."

That's pretty much what it sounds like during my visit, as the classical and jazzy sounds mix and mash-up in the hallways. It's a creative cacophony, one that Kaytlynn Capasso has been pleased to be part of for two years.

"I'm studying with the best," says Capasso, 18, a college-bound senior at Glassboro High School who studies the sax with Salicandro.

She chose the instrument on a whim eight years ago - her grandfather had played the sax - but the more and better she plays, the more she loves it.

"The sax is at the root of the jazz world," Capasso says. "I just love the way it makes me feel."

Salicandro knows all about the feeling. It's what he hopes to enable his students to experience. And when they do, "they light up," he says.

It's like music to his ears.


Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845 or kriordan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @inqkriordan. Read the Metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at www.phillynews.com/blinq.

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