Shortly after we welcomed Eric Novod, Head of Performing Arts, at the beginning of this school year, he dove head-first into planning the largest event of the year — not only in New York, but worldwide across all Dwight campuses: our global concert at Carnegie Hall!
We applaud Mr. Novod’s leadership and sat down with him to learn about his own musical journey, and commitment to teaching and building self-confidence in students.
When did you discover your love of music?
Music has always been a part of my life. Though there are no musicians in my family, they’re all big music fans, so music was always playing and instruments were around the house. I had a toy acoustic guitar, xylophones, and bells, and then I got a junior drum set when I was five or six. That was it — I was hooked right away! I started taking percussion lessons and learned to read rhythms. In high school, I played classical, marching band, and jazz percussion and started rock bands outside of school. I went on to Rutgers University to study music and history, and combined my interests by getting a Master’s degree in Jazz History and Research, also at Rutgers.
What came next?
I became a music writer in grad school, where students were encouraged to publish in the world of jazz journalism. I wrote for Modern Drummer magazine, a handful of music encyclopedias, and the former website, jazz.com. I also became a recording studio producer for artists across genres: pop, rock, folk, jazz, and reggae. Producing is a big responsibility and something that I love. Above all else, it’s about connecting with musicians on their very personal art and helping them to realize the best versions of their vision. Being a music producer has a lot in common with being a teacher — developing long-term goals while carefully plotting short-term improvements.
What was your path to education?
My long-term plan always included teaching. Shorter term, I was a full-time touring and studio musician for eight years after grad school. I traveled nationally and worldwide, which included being on the road for the entire 2009 Vans Warped Tour, the largest music festival in the country, with a reggae band called Westbound Train. I also wrote articles, gave private percussion lessons, and taught as an adjunct professor at Brookdale Community College in New Jersey. After touring slowed down, it was time to pursue teaching full-time.
I began at Hanover Park High School in New Jersey, teaching concert and jazz bands, music technology, and marching band percussion. After five years, I became the Education Director at Lakehouse Music Academy in Asbury Park, which is connected to a professional recording studio. With 65-70 student bands that rehearse weekly and perform, we were incredibly busy! After three years, I joined the Dwight team.
What is your educational philosophy?
My aim is to build self-confidence and self-motivation in students from the very beginning. If those two things are both truly developed, then the skills, the work ethic, the process, and everything else will fall into place. I focus on those two elements at the beginning of a student’s musical journey because I don’t want to provide all the answers or explicitly teach every aspect of a skill right away. I want students to explore and discover an instrument or music software on their own, so they can absorb whatever they can first. Then I can guide and help shape their actual skill sets. I’ve found that it’s the best way to build student confidence and motivation, and help them to take ownership of their musical goals. From there, the sky's the limit!
What classes do you teach?
I teach music in grades 8-10, introducing students to digital composition of popular song formats in one trimester (the other two trimesters are dedicated to theater and visual arts). When students enter ninth grade, they select projects involving traditional instruments and voice, and/or digital composition and mixing skills. We focus on composing music for TV and film, as well as group and/or solo performance; rhythm and harmony advancement; and original music composition for student portfolios. When students move on to higher-level music courses, they engage in more critical analysis, formal composition, and have continued opportunities for live performance.
Vita Zambetti teaches grades 1-5 and Michael Ferrari teaches grades 6-7 and 11-12. We work together on project ideas, coordinating performances and ensuring a smooth musical path from grade 1 all the way to grade 12! We also each instruct different after-school ensembles, including choirs, bands, and small ensembles. All of us see many talented students whose musical sparks of genius are also amplified in Dwight’s Music Conservatory, where over 20 professionals teach private lessons spanning a wide range of instruments, from guitar to harp, as well as voice, music composition, and audio engineering.
What do you enjoy about teaching in an IB school?
The answer is global-mindedness for sure! Teaching music in the IB curriculum enables us to bring in so many different types of music from around the world that don’t normally pop up in a non-IB music classroom. The scope is wider and the richness is deeper when teaching in a global context. Additionally, my philosophy and preference for extended exploration and project-based learning are well-matched with the IB ethos.
Congrats on directing Dwight Schools’ return to Carnegie Hall in your first year! Tell us about the experience.
I want to thank Dwight’s global music faculty and the countless teachers and staff who came together to make the 2020 music festival and our global concert at Carnegie Hall an extra-special and successful event for everyone. It was months in the making and their dedication was inspiring. It was truly a uniquely rewarding experience.
The opportunity to connect music faculty and student-musicians and singers around the world from every campus in one shared pursuit does not exist anywhere else. I’ve coordinated some big concerts and festivals before with professional musicians, yet what our students accomplished is more impressive! Talented performers from every Dwight School first auditioned and then practiced on their own campus for months prior to coming together to execute a combined concert in less than a week — it was just amazing! They enjoyed some of the unique benefits of being part of Dwight’s global family, forging friendships, and collaborating through the universal language of music. The week spent together rehearsing, learning in classrooms, and socializing created lasting bonds, making the culminating concert at Carnegie Hall almost the icing on the cake. It was fun, intense, and went by in a flash. I tried to remind students to take a moment whenever they could to look around and appreciate what was happening!
Tell us about Dwight’s music recording studio and how students utilize it.
Located on the lower level of the Performing Arts Center, it’s equipped with: a professional-level digital mixing console, studio monitors, individual headphone mixers so students can customize what they’re hearing, and lots of instruments and microphones ready to use. It’s exciting that students writing original songs will be able to record their own music here and then share it with the world. We’ll be introducing a club offering them a pathway to write, arrange, record, and release original music soon.
What’s your favorite music to listen to and play?
Jazz is number one. I’m shamelessly obsessed and have tried to listen to as many recordings as I can get my hands on! I also listen to Motown, indie rock, singer-songwriters, classical, and more. I love playing jazz, too.
What’s a little-known fact about you?
I’m a lifelong New York Mets fan. I share the same thing with all classic Mets fans: a heavy dose of Spring optimism followed by “we’ll see what happens once the season starts.”
What’s your spark of genius?
I think that my spark of genius is using music to enrich the lives of others. Whether it’s family, friends, or students, I’ve always found myself connecting with people through music and guiding them in unique musical directions. This may be a serious music student or a friend who has never played a note. My “runner-up spark” is the combination of being calm and relaxed while still having very high expectations!
We know that Mr. Novod’s spark — and runner-up spark — are enhancing the music learning and performing experiences for Dwight students in New York and around the world!