"From the second I started playing, I couldn't put it down," says Tommy Colletti of the guitar he first held at age 12. Now, at 37, Colletti is not only still playing guitar, he has made it his business to put guitars and other musical instruments into the hands of young and old alike. At his store, The Music Zoo, in Little Neck, he sells guitars and offers guitar instruction in Queens, Brooklyn, and Long Island. Colletti also offers a unique program where he rents school band instruments for just $89 a year with a rent-to-buy option — a boon to students and parents where area public schools have music programs, but few instruments. Colletti began giving guitar lessons when he was only 16. A lifelong Queens resident, he went to Queens College and graduated from the Aaron Copland Music Department. Then it was off to the life of a rock star guitarist, touring the Eastern Seaboard with various rock bands. He never stopped teaching, however, and his students continued to come to him for advice about guitars and guitar accessories, as well as lessons. Ten years ago, The Music Zoo opened on Northern Boulevard. For a while, it was only Colletti in the back of the shop giving lessons, but the roster of teachers quickly grew to 20. Every instructor is accredited and has graduated from a leading music school. The Music Zoo now offers private classes in piano, violin, clarinet, percussion, bass, voice, saxophone, trumpet, flute, and of course, guitar. Colletti and his team of musicians will take a student in whatever direction they want to go after a foundation of theory and musicality has been established. Colletti believes, "You learn more when it is something you're interested in." His students are a varied group, ranging from kids to doctors and lawyers, with interests from rock to classical. When teaching guitar, he turns conventional wisdom on its head and will start a beginner on an electric guitar rather than an acoustic if that is what the student prefers. "The more time you spend on an instrument, the better you're going to get, and if they spend more time on an electric, then that works," says Colletti. The Music Zoo is one of 12 stores in the nation to be known as a Gibson Guitar "superdealer”. Colletti was recently honored by Gibson by being flown to Nashville to help design a customized guitar that is sold exclusively through The Music Zoo. In typical New York-is-a-small-town fashion, Colletti got a tip a few years ago from his neighborhood deli man about a recording studio for sale, just a mile from the store. Once owned by the English band The Fixx, it was in disarray but Colletti bought it and restored it. It is now rented out for voice-overs and commercials, and is sought after by up-and-coming bands for its very reasonable rehearsal rates. Whenever the studio has a few unbooked hours, Colletti seizes the moment and uses the time to pursue his other career as a songwriter. Colletti seems to take great pleasure in the musical successes of those he comes in contact with — from his students, to his three talented nephews, to the fledgling bands rehearsing in his studio. He gratefully counts himself as one of the fortunate few who "truly have a job they love going to every day." For him, true happiness comes from being in the shop and hearing the "calamity of sound that comes from different instruments being played at once — I'm like a kid in a candy store!" For more info on the school instrument rental program, Tommy Colletti can be reached at: (718) 631-9292, or via www.themusiczoo.com.
Making Music: other resources
—The Music Edge (www.themusicedge.com) is a website devoted exclusively to teens who want to get into music making. It offers tips on choosing an instrument, advice from pros based on their own early experiences, forums where teens can share with each other, and more. —Weekend Warriors (www.namm.com/weekendwarriors) offers adults a place to get together and jam, practice and perform, all in a fun, pressure-free environment that is wide open to people who have never played a note. If you're looking for a way to break the 9-to-5 cycle and unleash your inner Roger Daltry, it's a great place to start. Check the website to find a program in your area; if there isn't one, a good place to start is your local music products retailer. You may learn about other music-making groups in your community, too. —The New Horizons Band (www.newhorizonsband.com) is a program specially designed for seniors who want to either get back into music or start from scratch, all as a way to have fun, meet people and enjoy the satisfaction of group accomplishment. The website provides links to local New Horizons Bands in communities across the country, and there's probably one near you. If you can't find one, the site contains advice for starting a local program, and people are also encouraged to contact program founder Roy Ernst at (607) 962-1125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. —And if you're a parent and don't want your own kids to put off their dreams, there's another resource that can give them a good start. Sesame Street Music Works (www.sesamestreet.com/sesamestreet/music), produced in cooperation with American Music Conference partner Sesame Workshop, is an award-winning program that offers tips and fun activities to get pre-school kids and their parents making music together. —The American Music Conference is a national non-profit educational association dedicated to promoting the importance of music, music making and music education to the general public. For more information, visit www.amc-music.org.