This Is Rutherford
This is Jason Majerczak
By Jennifer Ersalesi
Photo credits: Jason Majerczak
As a young child, Jason Majerczak (Rutherford High School Graduate-1994) knew that music would always play an important role in his life. Raised in a home where music surrounded and inspired him, Jason knew that he wanted to be able to incorporate music into as many aspects of his life as possible. Jason decided to become a Music Educator and after 23 years he has proven his dedication and has been honored for his amazing achievements throughout his career. One of his high school friends and RHS bandmates, Brian Tonner, explained, “Jason always had a fire of excitement that lit a fire in everyone around him. He was very motivational.” This is Rutherford spoke with Jason about his career, family and his love of music.
TIR: When and where did your love of music begin?
Jason Majerczak: I was raised in a house of constant music in Rutherford, New Jersey. My mother sang in a women’s barbershop choir, my father played the guitar, and my sister played percussion. There was always music in our house from James Brown to Michael Jackson. We would put on lip sync shows in our front yard and living room for our family. It was an amazing environment to be in as a child.
Photos from Jason's days at Rutherford High School:
TIR: Who and what inspired you to pursue music, specifically percussion?
JM: There are really too many to name! When I was very young, I can remember pretending to play on my Fonzie guitar with my father in our basement. I got an Animal (from the Muppets) drum kit when I was young and beat it to shreds. I think I was also inspired early on by watching my sister play piano and percussion. It just seemed like such a cool thing to do.
I became really interested in percussion when I started taking private lessons with an amazing teacher Albert Cutro. He was my neighbor’s private teacher (I loved hearing her play, too), so I wanted to try it as well. He really turned me on to so many different areas of percussion, not just a drum set. I also had a very supportive band director in high school, Mark Cloeren. He really allowed me to be myself and to strive for excellence. He is the one that pushed me to do drum and bugle corps.
“Jason was one of my first students in my short teaching career and has grown to be an amazing educator. father, and husband. He’s been at this thing for a long time and attacks it with every bit of positive energy as the 16-year-old version of himself.” Mark Cloeren
TIR: Tell us more about your experience with the Bushwackers, an all-age Drum and Bugle Corps in New Jersey.
JM: My band director in HS was involved with the Bushwackers. He, along with my percussion instructor, Joe Itkor (another early inspiration for me), encouraged me to join. I went to the auditions in 1992 (I was 15). My parents were extremely supportive and drove me to Harrison, NJ, every weekend with some other RHS students. I played in the quad line there until May but got moved to the front ensemble. This was humbling for sure, but it allowed me to explore other areas of percussion that I had not yet played. I returned to play in the quad line the following year and stayed there until 1995. I had some amazing instructors and mentors there, Dave Hall, Robbie Robinson, Tim Hamel, Billy Carnes, and tons of others! It was an amazing experience.
TIR: In addition to the Bushwackers, you also were part of the Cadets of Bergen County. Tell us more about what it was like to be part of the Cadets.
JM: The Cadets are one of the oldest and most celebrated Drum and Bugle Corps in the country. They are a DCI (Drum Corps International) group that includes participants up to age 22. I auditioned for the quad line in 1996 and made it. The group toured the country, performing night after night in different states. It was definitely one of the hardest experiences I have ever had. However, I credit my teachers there, John Burbank and Willy Higgins, for molding me into the person I am today. I do not know where I would be if not for that experience.
Nat Pongpanich, a childhood friend and RHS bandmate, told TIR, "I remember how confident and positive Jason was when we were in high school band together. We were so young, but he was already so passionate about music and music education. Jason pretty much ran our drumline and he was serious and disciplined about the music, practice, and performance. I still play drums and I credit Jason a lot for sparking that joy early on in me."
TIR: How did your participation in the Bushwackers and Cadets help you prepare for your career?
JM: These experiences were of extreme value in many ways. The rigor of being on the road and trying to make absolute musical and visual perfection taught me to work hard every day and strive for excellence. I also gained so much knowledge from watching how the staff worked and how to rehearse properly. It really prepared me to teach competitive high school marching band and drumline.
TIR: You were the instrumental music teacher at Upper Darby High School for 16 years where you really dove into the writing component for the marching band and indoor drumline. Since then you have been the director and designer for Upper Darby as well as many other schools. Why do you enjoy that aspect of your job so much?
JM: I actually started writing more out of necessity. I seemed to have an early knack for the creative design element. I credit Mr. George Thompson, former guard instructor at UDHS, for really teaching me that aspect of the game. Through the years, I found that I had a definite vision for what I wanted our shows to look like, and I was often unable to communicate that to other writers. After many years, it is one of the components that I really enjoy. I love taking an idea, something that is just in my head, and developing it for the world to see. The collaboration process is also great. I have gotten to work with some of the most amazing people in my area over the years.
Mark Geist, an Instrumental Music teacher, who works with Jason told TIR, "A common refrain among Jason’s students is that they consider themselves “lucky to have him.” His constant pushing of his students to go beyond what they think is 'good enough' echoes his own motivation. He once told one of his ensembles 'It’s fun to be good' and that focus on being good brings out his students’ enthusiasm for music, and one only needs to go to one of his concerts to hear that. I’ve said many times that I consider Jason to be very, very good at what he does, and I feel comfortable speaking for everyone when I say that we are all incredibly proud of him."
Christopher Labonde, Music Teacher, "Jason is the ultimate colleague. He is a tremendous resource for all things musical, but he is also a champion of music education, and a vocal leader within the music department, and someone who rightfully commands the respect of his peers. Regarding his accomplishments: I remember when I was new to the district and watched his high school ensembles perform and I was totally blown away by the quality of the music his ensembles were presenting, and also the professionalism and attention to detail that he and his students demonstrated. Jason holds himself to an incredibly high standard, and his students learn to do the same from his example. His students develop a very real sense of appreciation of music, as well as the determination and dedication necessary to meet the standards that he sets for them."
TIR: In 2013, the Upper Darby drumline won WGI World Championships? How did that accomplishment make you feel?
JM: It was definitely an amazing experience. We had really worked hard for a few years to get to that point. The most amazing part was really being able to show the kids that if they worked hard enough, greatness would come to them. It is something I have always preached. There are so many limitations put on people due to their economic status, race, gender, etc., but music is one place where we are all equal, and with enough hard work and dedication, they can be successful.
Barbara Benglian, Music Program Director, Upper Darby High School told TIR, "Jason Majerczak is the consummate, artist, teacher and friend. His connection with students allows him to have success in any organization that he instructs. From a World Class Drumline and amazing Marching Band at Upper Darby High School to building the Instrumental program at Drexel Hill Middle School, he has achieved the excellence that reflects his dedication and commitment to all that he does."
TIR: You have also been the visual caption head and designer for United Percussion. Can you tell us more about that role?
JM: I had the pleasure to be the visual caption head and designer for United Percussion. This is an independent World drumline based out of South Jersey. It was a fantastic experience. Being able to teach kids that were on such a high level was exciting. There is another level of expectation that you can have teaching college-level musicians. It was fun being challenged to see what we could come up with to challenge them.
TIR: Currently, you are the Instrumental Music Director at Drexel Hill Middle School. What do you enjoy most about your position?
JM: One of the things I love most about teaching middle school is defying the expectation that middle school music can’t be “good.” I see endless potential in every one of my students, and I love watching them find that potential. Sometimes, they may not even know that it is there and may fight me on it, but once they figure it out, it is magical. The team I get to work with is also fantastic. Through many changes in our school, we have all dedicated ourselves to keeping a high standard for the kids to reach. Our number one goal is to make music fun and give each student something to be proud of. For some of these kids, it may be the only reason they come to school.
Matthew Alloway, Principal Drexel Hill Middle School, explained, "Working with Jason is fantastic! As a teacher, he meets all the expectations of presence, commitment to students, pride in his school, and enthusiasm for his work. When he told me of his status in the competition for the Music Educator's Grammy Award, I was proud but not shocked to hear that a former student would nominate him for this honor. Jason has been a major figure of instrumental music in Upper Darby Schools for years, dating back to when he was the band director at the Upper Darby High School. Jason is very likely the number one staff member in the memories of thousands who have had the pleasure to work with and learn from him."
TIR: This year you are one of the Top 10 Finalists for the 2020 Music Educator Award. This is quite an honor! How are you feeling about this incredible recognition?
JM: I am extremely humbled by all of this. For 23 years, I have simply gotten up and tried to teach to the best of my ability. My goal is to have music inspire my students as much as it does me. I was so grateful when a former student Andrew Latini, who is now a senior, nominated me. I never expected this to go any further than that initial nomination. No matter what the outcome, I am proud to represent my school and all of my students. What has been so cool about all of this has been hearing from former students, students that I never knew I had affected. It is very emotional for me.
Mark Geist, Music Teacher, told TIR, "I first met Jason before I finished my undergrad during a field-placement study prior to my student teaching. Two years later I spent the fall working with the marching band; it was during this experience that Jason’s constant tweaking, innovating, and reinventing his product and his craft became apparent to me. Jason is never finished improving his groups or their music, and his outside the box thinking has won his instrumental groups several prestigious awards over the years.
Matthew Alloway, "Jason is a consummate musician, always drumming out some tune that is stuck in his head, or putting music to the natural timbre of the school environment, traffic outside, shuffling of students in the hallway, etc. My favorite image of Jason is that inevitable moment in every concert when he conducts a piece of music so enthusiastically (hands are flying, baton swishing) where his shirt and jacket spring loose like Mickey's robe in Fantasia."
TIR: Do you still play the drums or any other instruments?
JM: With such a busy life, it is hard to find time to do much outside playing. I play in a small jazz trio made up of faculty members. I am always playing all the instruments with my students (except the flute-it is my arch enemy (laughs).
TIR: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
JM: My free time is usually pretty booked up. I am usually my kids’ Uber driver to all of their activities. I write marching band shows for numerous groups in the Pennsylvania area and all over the country. I am currently teaching the band and drumline at Ridley HS, which is in the community where I live. I am also a marching band judge for the US Bands circuit (formerly CMBC, which is where we competed in Rutherford).
Mark Geist explained, "The Indoor Drumline’s 2013 WGI first place finish ranks among Jason’s finest accomplishments, but the strength of the programs he works with is universal wherever he goes. Living and breathing teaching music to the degree that he does is one thing, but doing it while raising a family with four children, all of who are doing great things themselves is another. I don’t know how anyone can have the boundless energy that Jason does, but what he has been able to accomplish and the amount of success he’s had is something I, and many others, look up to."
TIR: Tell us about your family.
JM; I am so grateful for my amazing family. My wife, Carie, was an English teacher at Upper Darby and started as my Colorguard instructor (yes, we met at band camp-laughs). She is now a reading specialist at Delaware County Community College. She is an amazing mother, teacher, and wife. Many women would not put up with some of the crazy schedules that I have. She has always been there to support me from day one.
We have four children. Our oldest, Jacob, is a sophomore at Ridley HS. He is a fantastic trumpet player and is heavily involved in music. Our daughters Chloe (8th grade), Cadence (6th Grade), and Camryn (3rd grade) are also extremely talented young musicians. Chloe plays the flute and saxophone, Cadence plays the baritone and trombone, and Camryn just started learning percussion. Their first love, however, is competitive cheerleading (never thought I would be a cheer dad, but I love it!). They are all so supportive of everything I do and are my absolute world. I do not know where I would be without their love.