The Modern Music Academy: Making Grammy Dreams Real on Grove Street

The co-owners of Montclair’s new The Modern Music Academy (MMA), Jarrett and Jenny Zellea, have a long list of music and entertainment accomplishments including drumming with Grammy-award-winner Santana, hob-nobbing with Al Gore for Live Earth, teaching middle-schoolers and high-schoolers jazz and drumline skills in both New Jersey and California, and producing a myriad of television shows – like American Idol – and live-streaming concerts of artists like Jay-Z and Linkin Park.  Oh, and one more thing: Jarrett also has a couple of Grammy awards in there somewhere.  Not too shabby.

These two New Jersey natives, currently living in Ridgewood, have returned home after years in Los Angeles to open a music school for adults and children.  The school’s focus is on helping its students become whole musicians.  Not satisfied with teaching chord and finger progressions, the Zelleas also offer hands-on lessons in song-writing, recording, video and audio production, and even music marketing.  The school’s goal is to help students “identify as musicians,” not just play an instrument.  All instructors at the MMA are credentialed teachers with degrees in music and education, and they are also working musicians.

A particularly intriguing option at this school is the intense Artist Development program.  Only available through a required audition, and only for artists up to age twenty-six, this is for serious musicians who can commit to success as fully as the instructors.  The Zelleas emphasized that if they feel they can’t help an artist, they will say so: “Our success depends on theirs.” When asked about the age restriction of this program, the pair talked about the goals: to turn a good artist into a marketable musician with a pop music contract. Therefore someone who is, say, 42 years old, has little chance of achieving that goal.

However, the less intense programs and lessons are wide open for those of us with less lofty goals and more life experience. Traditional music lessons in over a dozen instruments are offered. And lessons on the production side are designed to be both accessible and hands-on. The Ableton software used in the DJ technique classes, for example, is available commercially at different price and technical levels so artists can use it at home to practice.

Nestled on the same Grove Street commercial strip as Montclair institutions like Grove Pharmacy and Churchill Rugs & Carpets, the MMA hopes to begin a tradition of community activism and involvement.  Just recently, the school performed at a holiday party for business neighbors The Tutoring Club, and they are developing  relationships with nearby schools, businesses, and music venues.

Walking around the MMA’s various recording and lesson rooms, I noticed that once the doors were closed, sound seemed to halt. The stillness was palpable. Jarrett Zellea explained that the newly renovated facility has treated and sound-proofed walls to allow students to “really hear each beat, each note.”  Other rooms include an active recording studio, professional grade equipment for shooting and editing video and – hopefully soon – its own rehearsal space.

Those who have long harbored dreams of making it big – and those who just want to move past living room air guitar concerts – should take a look at the MMA website or call for more information about their programs. It’s never too late to make music.

For a look at the Holiday Video/eCard Jenny and Jarrett Zellea sent out this year, see below.

The Modern Music Academy is located at 129 Grove Street in Montclair, NJ. The phone number is 973.337.8624.

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