Music man

Gary Grisafi worked as a construction safety specialist and a Republican leader of the 53rd Ward, but his guitar always remained a close companion.

Sounds of suc­cess: Castor Gar­dens res­id­ent Gary Grisafi opened the Grisafi Mu­sic In­sti­tute in Ben­s­alem. TED BOR­DE­LON / TIMES PHOTO

It took him a few dec­ades and a hand­ful of for­ays in­to oth­er ca­reers, but Gary Grisafi has fi­nally opened a mu­sic store in Ben­s­alem, the Grisafi Mu­sic In­sti­tute.

He first picked up the gui­tar at 13 as a kid liv­ing in Ox­ford Circle, and with the sup­port of his fam­ily at­ten­ded the Phil­adelphia Col­lege of Per­form­ing Arts.

Grisafi worked as a con­struc­tion safety spe­cial­ist and is Re­pub­lic­an lead­er of the 53rd Ward, but his gui­tar re­mained a close com­pan­ion.

A Castor Gar­dens res­id­ent, Grisafi has played at “al­most every” At­lantic City casino since 1986, toured with the USO from 1985 to 1988, played on the Ra­chael Ray Show, and has played with a vari­ety of loc­al bands.

“Be­ing in­volved in polit­ics and be­ing an en­ter­tain­er and teach­er are sim­il­ar in a way,” Grisafi said. “You have to com­mu­nic­ate, in­ter­act and listen to many dif­fer­ent per­son­al­it­ies, many dif­fer­ent age groups and back­grounds. Be­ing open minded and com­pas­sion­ate is es­sen­tial in both mu­sic and polit­ics.”

Grisafi has been teach­ing mu­sic for more than 25 years, as well, at loc­al mu­sic schools. He said that he de­cided to open GMI after real­iz­ing that there wer­en’t as many mu­sic schools avail­able to area res­id­ents who wanted to flex their cre­at­ive muscle.

“I wanted to have my own school and I had an op­por­tun­ity this sum­mer since two loc­al mu­sic stores closed up and the mu­sic pro­gram is be­ing cut from the schools in Phil­adelphia and loc­al school dis­tricts,” Grisafi said. “Through the years, I worked with many ex­per­i­enced pro­fes­sion­al mu­si­cians and I’m now able to em­ploy some of them at the Grisafi Mu­sic In­sti­tute as teach­ers.”

Po­si­tioned on the second floor of a shop­ping cen­ter near the I-95 Wood­haven exit, the GMI fa­cil­ity was built vir­tu­ally from the ground up by Grisafi, who had the school re­modeled with sev­en sound-proof classrooms and a ren­ov­ated lobby area.

Grisafi said that the teach­ing staff at GMI has more than 200 years of com­bined teach­ing ex­per­i­ence, and that the school is open to stu­dents of all ages. 

“If you are an adult with little time to prac­tice, we plan a strategy for ef­fi­ciency so pro­gress can be made,” Grisafi said. “Teen­agers get­ting ready for col­lege and want to pass a mu­sic en­trance ex­am and au­di­tion are also wel­come.”

GMI caters to stu­dents look­ing to play rock, jazz, blues, clas­sic­al, coun­try, funk, folk and op­era. While Grisafi’s primary in­stru­ment is the gui­tar, the oth­er teach­ers he em­ploys are skilled with a vari­ety of in­stru­ments, in­clud­ing per­cus­sion, bass gui­tar and the pi­ano.

Ac­cord­ing to Grisafi, the teach­ers at GMI are “work­ing to give back to their com­munity,” and that pri­cing for les­sons is likely af­ford­able for most area fam­il­ies.

While most mu­sic les­sons re­quire a mon­et­ary pay­ment, Grisafi had some pro bono ad­vice for those look­ing to be­come mu­si­cians.

“My ad­vice for young play­ers is to prac­tice every day, listen to many styles of mu­sic, learn how to read mu­sic, jam with oth­er mu­si­cians as much as pos­sible, have fun, ex­per­i­ment and start a band,” Grisafi said. “Listen to as many play­ers as you can from a vari­ety of styles. A mu­si­cian will learn more and ad­vance quick­er when cross-pol­lin­a­tion oc­curs among many styles of mu­sic. When this hap­pens, the play­er will learn what mo­tiv­ates them and they’ll be driv­en to learn more.” ••

For in­form­a­tion, vis­it gary­gui­ or call 215-820-8553. GMI is loc­ated at 1542 Bris­tol Pike in Ben­s­alem.

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