Alex Fredkin, Managing Editor
SUNY Oneonta is blessed with many distinguished and accomplished faculty, one of whom is music professor Dr. Joseph Pignato. His experience in the music industry and efforts to always keep his classes current and interesting are some of the main reasons the school has such a rich Music Industry program.
He keeps busy outside of the classroom and still works in the industry today. In addition to teaching several classes at SUNY Oneonta, he has been the advisor of the Music Industry Club for eight years, advises the club Rock to Cure, directs the school’s jam band and directs the experimental music group.
Dr. Pignato grew up in a musical family and started playing drums at an early age. He went to UMass Amherst to study with his drumming idol Max Roach, majoring in communication and studying music. Even back then he was combining music and business. “There’s this interdisciplinary theme. When students come to me and say ‘I’m not sure what I want to do,’ I just tell them to do everything they like. It will work itself out.”
Dr. Pignato got his first job out of college as Director of Artist Relations at the drum company Latin Percussion. After some time at CMP Records he went back to school and finished his Masters at NYU through the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, constructing a multi-disciplinary degree in cultural studies with music composition. Since becoming a teacher at SUNY Oneonta he has gone on to get his Doctoral Degree in music education at Boston University.
He had always thought about getting into education throughout his time in the industry, and became more serious when he applied to volunteer at a new charter school in Hoboken, New Jersey. To his surprise they asked for his resume, and Dr. Pignato got his first-ever teaching job as a music and social studies teacher at the Hoboken Charter School. His inclinations towards non-traditional teaching blossomed there. In a keyboard class he and a colleague developed a program that let the students experiment with all of the new equipment, calling it the Digital Playground. The classroom resembled a real-life recording studio, with a lot of experimenting and moving around from station to station. This program became so popular that several trade journals and magazines wrote articles about it.
It is clear that Dr. Pignato loves teaching and is very passionate about what he does. When asked what his favorite part of teaching is, he responded right away, “The students. That’s an easy question to answer. There are great students here at Oneonta and I have great relationships with them.”
After working at one other school Dr. Pignato came across a job opening for a lecturer at SUNY Oneonta. He is now in his tenth year at the school and received tenure last year. Outside of SUNY Oneonta he often consults, working with other music businesses, schools and even doing some online teaching at Boston University. He stays very active as a performer and composer as well, specializing in the fields of experimental and improvisational music. His far-reaching interests are one of the main reasons he works outside of the classroom so much, but he always brings his knowledge back to campus. “If I just taught and I didn’t do stuff outside of class, the quality of my teaching quite honestly would suffer.”
Dr. Pignato keeps his classes updated based on his work outside of the classroom, student questions and the ever-changing nature of the music industry itself. “The hardest part about teaching is the lack of time,” he says. “There are so many things I would like to cram into a course that I need to make decisions on what I’m not going to get to.” But for Dr. Pignato, his students always influence the direction of the class; the same courses that he teaches will look differently from year to year depending on the students. On his style, he says “One of the dynamics of teaching that I love is that the students are driving what is learning.”
He helps his students achieve this by having them create projects rather than take tests as they would in traditional courses. “Good teaching is about making learning opportunities,” he says. Dr. Pignato hopes all of his students come away from his classes with a newly found ability to learn, saying that standardized testing can sometimes turn this off. “Most of your career will challenge you in ways where things are sort of clear but not certain. Intellectual curiosity is very important in general, but it’s really important for students that go into music. Broadening your palette is one of the greatest things you can do to learn.”
Dr. Pignato has been a jack-of-all-trades in the music industry and loves sharing his experience and what he has learned with students so they too can go on to have successful careers. When asked what his biggest piece of advice would be to students, he quoted MLB Hall of Famer Branch Rickey, “‘Luck is the residue of design.’ And what I would say to students is to make their own design.” Dr. Pignato is the first to admit that he has been very lucky in life, and that you do need things to fall in your favor sometimes. He shows his students that if you keep an open mind, take risks and always focus on your goals, you can have a successful career—in any field.