By BRYAN LIN, senior
This year marks JP Stevens Band Director Mr. Andrew DeNicola’s 41st year of teaching. Mr. DeNicola, known affectionately to his students as “Dean,” was selected from over 30,000 music educators across the nation as a top ten finalist for the GRAMMY Music Educator Award. Although he did not win the award, there is no doubt that Dean has impacted the lives of his students as both a music educator and as a mentor.
Dean always knew he wanted to be a teacher but never knew what subject he wanted to teach. However, he eventually found his answer in high school: music. In his four decade-long career as a teacher, Mr. DeNicola’s contributions to both the music and the Edison communities have accumulated. He began as a band teacher at Woodrow Wilson Middle School in 1973, the year the school opened. A few years later, he was transferred to JP Stevens where he met many of his former students, and he has never thought about leaving in the 37 years he has taught here.
Mr. DeNicola urges all students to be smart while practicing or studying. As he says, “Practice makes permanent,” and actions can quickly become habits with deep ramifications. “Whether it’s about your career, your instrument, or just your life in general,” Dean says, “you should always practice something not until you get it right, but until you cannot get it wrong.”
“Even if you can’t do everything imaginable, at least do something.” Mr. DeNicola’s most cherished experiences are when his former students come back and visit. When students who have gone into non-music-related fields tell him that they still play their instruments in community bands or have passed their instruments on to their children, Dean says, “It makes me feel better that they have never forgotten their instrument and have never forgotten music.”
Mr. DeNicola has never told a student exactly how to succeed in his program. As he says, “If you want to be good, then you cannot take any shortcuts.” He opens doors to many opportunities, but all of his students must walk through the doors themselves. Although never explicitly stated, there is a level of expectation that Dean holds for both talent and behavior. When a student makes a mistake, Dean does not yell or scold but still lets that student know that he or she has let him down.
One of Mr. DeNicola’s greatest qualities is his extreme humility; he has never bragged about himself, even when selected as a finalist for the GRAMMY Award. At every band event, his students make sure that the audience knows that Dean is a top ten GRAMMY finalist, to which he responds while smiling, “Ah, get outta here, you rascal!”
One of Mr. DeNicola’s philosophies is that he does not believe in lecturing his students. At every turn, he encourages his students to do what they love and not be pressured by the expectations of others. Through his own experiences, Dean demonstrates that pursuing one’s dreams is most important. 37 years ago, he found his calling at JP Stevens. His time here has compelled him to contribute back to the community and inspire his students to be similarly involved.
“Find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” For him, being a band director is never considered “work,” but his life’s pride and joy. And for his students, Mr. DeNicola is an inspirational band director, a loving second father, and the man who has shaped them into who they are today.