Ricky Grasso Accepts Position Of Visual Caption Head For NHS Band Program
For the past ten years, Sandy Hook resident Ricky Grasso has been dedicating his life to gaining as much experience as possible in the competitive world of drum corps.
After traveling all over the country performing and directing shows, Mr Grasso, 24, recently accepted the position of visual caption head for the Newtown High School (NHS) Band Program.
Mr Grasso sat down with The Newtown Bee in May, prior to leaving on a summer tour, to talk about his journey to becoming a professional in his field, and his mission to use his experiences to help his hometown students.
Getting In Formation
In 2007, as a freshman at NHS, Mr Grasso - who is not related to the founder of the Newtown school district's band program, Joseph Grasso - was introduced to the marching arts by a group of senior peers. He was inspired to audition for the school band and became a trumpet player that same year.
"I've been obsessed with it since then," Mr Grasso said. "It's the perfect way to be creative."
After three years of performing, his passion quickly grew from a hobby into a budding career when he graduated from NHS and joined the Connecticut Hurricanes Drum & Bugle Corps, based out of Seymour, in 2011.
The next year, former visual caption head for the NHS Band Program, Bob Findley, who worked with the program for 20 years, asked Mr Grasso to teach the Newtown band students tech marching as their visual designer.
While attending the University of Bridgeport for his bachelor's degree in communications, Mr Grasso auditioned for the Blue Knights Drum & Bugle Corps, a highly sought-after professional marching band based out of Denver, Colo.
"The student members are all under the age of 21 and they represent about 30 different states including Hawaii, as well as Japan and Canada," Mr Grasso explained. "It's pretty incredible."
The experience would change his life, as he became a trumpet player for the group in 2014, performing and touring the country doing shows in nearly 30 states that summer alone.
"Then in 2015, I had just recently graduated college, and they asked me to be on their administrative staff," Mr Grasso said. "I helped with the behind-the-scenes process of making a 150-piece marching arts program, plus 40 staff, run smoothly across the country."
Following a successful tour, Blue Knights asked Mr Grasso to return as tour director for the following season in 2016.
"[Now as tour director] my job is to make sure that our semi-truck carrying equipment, our semi-truck carrying food, the three support 12-passenger vans all hitched with trailers, and the four stagecoach buses get across the country in a safe fashion, and I make sure everyone is housed and fed," Mr Grasso said.
This summer, Mr Grasso set out on another Blue Knights tour across the country and will return to Connecticut on August 12 - just in time for the Newtown High School's two-week-long summer band camp to start.
The Student Becomes The Teacher
When he is not traveling the country with the Blue Knights, Mr Grasso shares his wealth of knowledge of the marching arts by teaching at local high schools in the area.
He has worked as the Brookfield Band Program's visual instructor for the fall, Masuk Winter Guard Program's Color Guard technician and design consultant, and is heading into his sixth year as Newtown Percussion Program's visual caption head for the winter.
Mr Grasso's winter percussion work with Newtown school includes writing the show and its overall design.
"I write all the spots of the floor of where they go, how they get there, and how they move," Mr Grasso said.
Ultimately, he says, the guidance he gives is not always about drill or technique.
In his eyes, the students not only represent themselves and the group, but also the town, and Mr Grasso explained, "It's more about teaching life lessons and teaching kids how to be more accountable than anything."
He added, "It's really important to me, anything that I learn on the outside to apply it to my students, just so they can grow as musicians, grow as performers, and grow as overall people in general."
Helping The Next Generation
By taking on his new position as visual caption head for the NHS Band Program this fall, Mr Grasso has the unique perspective of knowing exactly what his students are going through, because he has been in the same program himself.
"It's cool, because I feel like I'm in their shoes. I understand how they think, and I had the same director [before], so I get it. I find it's easier to connect with them and easier to teach with them, because I understand their mentality," Mr Grasso said.
That perspective will be beneficial as he goes on to help teach between 70 and 100 wind musicians. Under his guidance, they will learn how to march, starting from very basic techniques of how to do it.
Mr Grasso will also be in charge of teaching drill and incorporating body choreography - which means if he hears something in the music, he will represent it visually on the field.
The program takes place after school, consisting of three days of rehearsal during the week and 12 hours on Saturday.
"It's a huge commitment," Mr Grasso said.
Having worked nonstop the last decade to rise through the ranks of band and drum corps, Mr Grasso understands the time, energy, and sacrifices students make for the marching arts.
He is dedicated to helping his students thrive and looks forward to the opportunity to teach the next generation of students in this competitive and gratifying field.
Blue Knights Coming To Newtown
Mr Grasso also is excited to announce that on Friday, August 4, the Blue Knights Drum & Bugle Corps will be visiting Newtown High School to rehearse and perform for the students.
"It's like my marching experience coming full circle," Mr Grasso said.
Tours change every year, Mr Grasso explained, and it just so happened that this summer there was a New Jersey and a Massachusetts show scheduled in advance.
Since Connecticut would be en route between shows, he approached the NHS principal and band director about setting up a Newtown show and received permission.
"I want my kids to see this in action so they can learn from it; that's the main goal," Mr Grasso said. "I think it'll be really beneficial for the band program. I'm very excited - I can't wait."