Beyond RHS: Ridgewood Musicians

As RHS students, our lives revolve around school and preparing for a future we cannot predict. This is comparable to artists’ speaking on how hard it is to make a career out of what they love. So, interested in their endeavors, I had the opportunity to meet a few Ridgewood musicians this week. They were generous enough to take a moment to talk about their musical passions beyond high school and to offer some advice. 

Soon, I realized they were just like us. Mack Brandon, a music professor at Ramapo College and Reverend at the Metropolitan AME Zion Church in Ridgewood, called himself “one of those kids who hung in the music wing” – not too different from our band hallway. Denise DeAngelis, lead singer of the Swingcasters and a Ridgewood realtor, called music her “escape” and “would sing for hours” in her room. Lisa Grace, lead singer of The Nines Acoustic, joined her first band in her senior year of high school and felt like “[she] had finally found [her] people.”

Although initially alike, life after high school varied for these musicians. DeAngelis found her confidence to perform during college. After graduation, she joined her “first ‘rock and roll’ band as lead singer.” Aside from taking a break to raise her kids while they were young, DeAngelis has “been singing in local bands and venues in the New Jersey/New York area for most of [her] adult life.” 

Lisa Grace decided to take the opposite route in her employment. Her publishing career took priority after not making an acapella group during college. In her thirties, she formed a jazz band and performed, but she soon had kids “and it took a backseat to other responsibilities.” After leaving the publishing business in her forties and joining different Ridgewood bands, Grace stated that “if I could do music full time, I would.”

Mack Brandon pursued music at the Conservatory at Berklee College of Music. His career then centered around music, which started with New York gigs. From there, he became Ben E. King’s music director for eleven years, and worked with various bands. He was an arranger for BBC television, opened for comedians and singers, and played on the QVC TV network. Eventually, he settled in New Jersey with his family. He taught elementary school students music in Teaneck, became a music professor at Ramapo, and went from playing the piano to being a pastor at the Metropolitan AME Zion church. His life in music is far from done. For now, he’s “just contemplating [his] next musical moves.”

Mack said that to be a musician, “you gotta be an entrepreneur.” He noted that the world has changed and “you can create your own audience” through YouTube and other platforms rather than relying upon a record label. Lisa Grace focused on going beyond natural talent and further developing music skills, working hard “so that no matter what happens, you can’t be disappointed in yourself.” DeAngelis remarked that whether music is a hobby, a career, or a side career, “you will find a way to have it in your life.” 

While specifics of the future may be uncertain, it seems clear that people will find a way to pursue their love of music. Whether as a lead singer, professor, pastor, or other things, we can keep music in our lives beyond RHS.

Jenna Benson
Staff Writer

Graphic: Gina Vaynshteyn

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