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Jeff Calissi - Associate Professor, Music

D.M.A., University of North Carolina, Greensboro


Jeff Calissi

Jeff Calissi has performed and presented at the conferences of the Percussive Arts Society, the College Music Society, the National Conference on Percussion Pedagogy and at the Center for Mallet Percussion Research. Jeff’s compositions and arrangements are available from C. Alan Publications and Garden State Publications, and his research and writings on percussion can be found in Percussive Notes Journal and Rhythm! Scene Magazine. He received a Bachelor of Music in Music Education from Radford University and both a Master of Music and a Doctor of Musical Arts in Performance from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro where he was inducted into Pi Kappa Lambda national music honor society.

How did you end up being a music professor?

I went to college thinking I was going to work at a record label in New York City. Freshman year I was a music business major and had secured an internship in midtown Manhattan the following summer. At the same time, though, I also started teaching private drum set lessons and soon found the feeling of helping students discover their own musicianship and performance was much better than working in an office. In the fall of my sophomore year, I changed majors to music education and never looked back.”

What do you like most about teaching at Eastern?

“Being a percussionist means having proficiency in more than a singular musical instrument and teaching at a liberal arts institution is rather similar. For instance, my research is on the communicative and musical processes of the 18th century rope drum and during my sabbatical I studied the ways in which the instrument and the music of the time was integrated into the military and cultural life of Colonial America. It is because of this research, and having a broad knowledge of music history and the instruments of the percussion family, that I was able to design the curriculum for two seminar classes in Eastern’s Liberal Arts Core: “The Music of Communication” and “The United States of Music.”

What do students say about you?

“My percussion students would say that I am the ‘Best Sandwich Maker.’ What that means is that after a student plays for me in a lesson, I usually say ‘compliment sandwich time,’ which is when I talk about something I thought was good, then speak about parts they need to improve upon and practice for next time, and then end with a positive look at what they are doing and for the week ahead. I suppose I say that phrase so much, and to pretty much everyone in lessons, that when the Eastern Percussion Studio had our version of the Dundies (from the TV show “The Office”), I was given the ‘Best Sandwich Maker’ award by the students.”


My favorite percussion instrument is the marimba for several reasons. It is the most musical and accessible for both performer and audience, not to mention the sound of rosewood being unique and beautiful.

Jeff Calissi performing on stage with students

What is your favorite instrument?

“My favorite instrument is the marimba for several reasons, both as a player and composer. Out of the big three categories of percussion instruments, I think of the marimba as a combination of rhythm (from the snare drum) and pitch (from timpani), completing a kind of ‘hat trick’ of percussion. I also see the marimba as the most musical and accessible for both performer and audience, not to mention the sound of rosewood being unique and beautiful. In my opinion nothing beats the resonant tone, especially from the low end of the instrument, and the rich sonority and timbre.”

Describe your formative years.

“I grew up in northern New Jersey in a town called Ramsey. One interesting thing about my childhood was the school system’s music program giving me so much opportunity to develop my musicianship, which began in the fifth grade when I was given a drum solo part at the end-of-the-year concert. Through middle and high school my life pretty much revolved around music and percussion, playing in concert band, marching band, percussion ensemble, jazz band and jazz combo. My sophomore year, I had an opportunity to travel to Europe with members from a group of schools as part of a concert band and percussion ensemble. My senior year we won marching band championships and represented the state in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade which was a featured story on the front page of the newspaper. If it hadn’t been for any one of those experiences, I would not be the musician and educator I am today, and I will forever be grateful for the music teachers in the Ramsey school district.”