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An interview with a professional musician

Gerry Saulter is a classical guitarist and music professor at Five Towns College in New York. He teaches a busy schedule of classes and is also one half of the internationally renowned flute and guitar ensemble, Serenade Duo.

Why did you chose to study music? 

To tell you the truth, I believe music selected me. Thinking back as far as I can remember, music has always been a part of my life.

My earliest memories include learning piano with my grandmother and getting a wonderful guitar from an uncle as a child. He played a bit and gave me a beautiful Gibson acoustic jazz guitar when I was just 7 years old.

serenade-duo

“One of the keys to being a good musician is the ability to listen”

As I grew older, I realized that music was very much a part of me. I first went to college as a business major, but found myself unfulfilled. After 2 years or so of working in retail management, my father recognized that I was not happy and he encouraged me to pursue a degree in music.

Both of my parents supported me earning at least a 4 year degree and wanted me to have a rewarding career. I guess you can say music is one of the basic tenants that leads to my happiness.

What advice would you give to an aspiring music student to boost their application for a music college?

One of the keys to being a good musician is the ability to listen. I would suggest that students listen to what the college is asking for when it comes to the audition requirements. I would also suggest to students to maintain a focus as it pertains to what they want out of a music degree. 

When I audition a student, I listen for a quality set of musical skills and I look for a student who shows the potential to be disciplined in their ability to listen, follow instruction, and have a clear focus as it relates to their goals.


What sorts of careers can students expect in the music industry?

I believe the industry is very diverse and that a good degree programme supports that diversity.

At Five Towns College we offer the Bachelor of Music degree with concentrations in Music Business, Audio Recording Technology, Performance, Composition/Songwriting, Music Theatre, and Music Education. A concentrated education gives you a great set of tools to emerge as an individual in the modern world of the music industry.

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“An education is easily the biggest investment in an individual’s future”

Is there anything you wish you'd known at the beginning of your career?

About 35% more repertoire! Make a practice schedule and stick to it.

What do you think a student should be looking for in a music college?

An education is easily the biggest investment in an individual’s future that a family will often make sacrifices to provide. I believe that students need to recognize that a higher education is not a right, but rather a privilege.

With that said, each student along with their family needs to patiently look in detail at each college they consider:

Each student and family needs to find what institution they feel the most comfortable trusting so the student can open his or her mind and learn to their fullest potential.


What was the highlight of your music education?

Well, earning a degree from Stony Brook University was a highpoint. Likewise, earning my Master's of Music from Five Towns College.

But I must say the highest point was in 1997. My wife (flutist, Michelle LaPorte) and I make up the flute and guitar ensemble, Serenade Duo. In late 1996 we played for a panel of judges and we won the Special Presentation in Chamber Music award from Artists International. We won the opportunity to debut at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

What we did with that opportunity was the real highlight. Long before the days of social media websites, we created an invitation letter to celebrate our achievement, much like a wedding invitation. We sent out the letter to our family, friends, and students and we sold out the house in less than 6 weeks.

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“I believe the greatest lesson I learned - make the most of every opportunity”

Our concert was very well received; Leo Ruiz, the late Director of Artists International called our performance “one of the best chamber performances he had ever seen in 25 years of presentations...”. He awarded us a 2nd presentation that evening backstage after our debut. Our career was officially up and running!

We played 4 more sold out concerts at Weill Hall and Merkin Concert Hall at Lincoln Center presented by Artists International and have not looked back since. I believe the greatest lesson I learned - make the most of every opportunity.

What is the best thing about being a musician for a living?

The joy of musical expression. In my case it is double the rewards as most of it is with my wife, so our tour dates are half work and half vacation! 

There is one specific joyful moment I’d like to mention. In 2003, we were honoured once again to play at Carnegie Hall. What we did with this award was create a fundraiser via the ticket sales. We collaborated with the Victims Information Bureau of Suffolk County, an organization located in the county where Michelle and I live.

Our sold out concert event raised over USD$10,000 for victims of domestic violence. Of all the musical highlights of our career, this was a very special event concert. We learned the true power of music that night.  

Your ensemble, Serenade Duo sounds fantastic. Would you like to plug that and tell our readers where they can listen to you?

Michelle and I founded our duo in 1988 while we were both students at Stony Brook University.

I thought she was the best player (and the best looking!) member of our class. We have always focused on being an ensemble, rather than two soloists coming together for a concert. Our music is contemporary, built with tonal themes and popular sensibilities. We tend to explore world cultures through composed musical works. Our 2012 summer international tour dates took us to London, and included recitals at St. Lawrence Jewry at Guild Hall Yard and St. Johns Church in Stratford, the official welcome center of the 2012 Summer Olympics. In November we played the American Church in Paris for a 3rd engagement. This spring we will be performing at St. Ann’s Church in Dublin, Ireland.

For more detailed information about us, please check out our website at: www.serenadeduo.com  

You can also visit our youtube channel: Serenadeduo