Q&A with WSSU Liberal Studies Department Chair Tony Artimisi

Recently, Winston-Salem State University professor Tony Artimisi was nominated for an Emmy Award for the category of Music Composition/Arrangement for the television series, “Ruby’s Studio.” Artimisi is an associate professor of music, teaching percussion, and is the chair for WSSU’s Liberal Studies Department. Artimisi spoke about his passion for music, his teaching career and what being nominated for an Emmy means to him.

How did you first become interested in music? When did you decided to turn it into a career?

The story of my interest in music very much follows the pattern of many other musicians: I grew up in a musically nurturing environment. My father is a guitarist and singer, my brother is a multi-instrumentalist, and my mother was always very encouraging with a deep appreciation of music. I don’t recall my exact age, but I was taking piano lessons as young as the age of five from the neighborhood teacher. My time as a piano student was short-lived and ended in favor of guitar lessons. I am also a failed guitarist. However, I started playing the drums when I was 9 years old, and soon began sitting in with my father’s band. His band played classic rock songs by The Eagles, The Little River Band, The Doobie Brothers, and other bands of that type. It was a lot of fun.


I attended Prof. Johnny Lee Lane’s “United States Percussion Camp” at Eastern Illinois University in the summers throughout junior high and high school. All of the teachers were world class, very positive, and welcoming. I made a connection with many of them including Ndugu Chancler (Michael Jackson, Miles Davis, The Crusaders), Joe Bonadio (Sting, Chuck Mangione), and William “Bubba” Bryant (George Benson, Roberta Flack), which motivated me to practice diligently throughout the school year with the hopes of impressing them the next year. I told my parents I wanted to be a professional drummer on the way home from the camp at the age of 13.


I earned the Bachelor of Music degree from Eastern Illinois University and moved to Nashville, Tennessee to pursue percussion as a career. In the six years that I lived there, I worked with many different recording artists and musicians including Dr. Bobby Jones and the Nashville Super Choir, Alison Brown, Jack Greene, Candi Carpenter, Joe Pace, and others. Those artists gave me the opportunity to tour internationally in large venues, record albums, and perform consistently on different television programs.


Oddly enough, I was doing all of the things I dreamed of doing as a drummer/percussionist and I didn’t enjoy it the way that I thought I would. I think that was a result of unrealistic expectations of the “fabulous life of a rock star.” Almost like the movie “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” I took a job as an adjunct teacher at Tennessee State University (TSU) when I moved to Nashville to have a steady income under the assumption that I would quit as soon as I was financially independent as a performer. I never quit the job because I soon found myself looking more forward to teaching than performing. As a result, I began the Master of Science in Music Education program at TSU. After graduating, I accepted an offer from Winston-Salem State University. I consider myself fortunate that I was able to recognize where my passion was leading me and have the opportunity to take the steps necessary to pursue it.


You teach about music business as well as percussion. What do students need to know about the music business?

First, and perhaps foremost, there is more to the music industry than performance. That gets the most attention because it is the most public, but a short list of music careers also includes music publishing, law, management, marketing, engineering, production, teaching, songwriting (which doesn’t necessarily include performance), therapy, concert promotion, instrument and equipment manufacturing, etc. There are a lot of ways to have a career in music that aren’t any less valid than a career as a performer. Students should keep their minds and options open to all of the possibilities.


How did it feel to be nominated for an Emmy?

This reinforces my answer about critical knowledge of the entertainment/music industry: I was fortunate enough to be a part of a really amazing team effort that helped the project succeed well beyond my expectation. I was hired to compose and record drums and marching percussion for a musical feature on a children’s program called “Ruby’s Studio” by the Mother Company in Los Angeles. The person who hired me is Christian Moder, a television and film composer who lives in Chicago. He has degrees in film scoring and composition and has composed music for McDonald’s, Toyota, Nickelodeon and others. We have worked together on several projects in the past few years. I recorded my part at WSSU and emailed the files to Christian.


At the time, “Ruby’s Studio” was a direct-to-DVD program. It has since begun airing on PBS stations, is streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime, and was nominated for an Emmy. It is an honor to have been a contributor to a project that was recognized by such a prestigious nomination. Additionally, it is particularly special that it was a project with Christian because he is a musician I have respected for a very long time. I am the same age as his younger sister and we grew up in the same neighborhood. It’s always a real treat to work with him. I am incredibly proud of him.


How has WSSU evolved over the last 11 years since you joined the faculty?

I am very proud to be on the faculty at WSSU. The leadership has been very supportive of accomplishments, ideas, and professional development. There is a tremendous energy on campus right now due to the fact that we are providing an environment that is facilitating the development of graduates who will be positive influences in their professional and personal circles in ways that we, as faculty and staff, are not able to imagine. I believe a lot of the credit has to be given to the fantastic student success efforts that have been implemented as well as the degree to which high impact teaching practices have been woven into a Liberal Arts philosophy. These are exciting times at WSSU!


What are some of your future aspirations?

I recently accepted the offer to serve as Chair of the Department of Liberal Studies which includes African and African-American Studies, Humanities, Interdisciplinary Studies, Philosophy, and Religion while continuing to teach courses in the Department of Music. This has been very rewarding. I hope to continue serving in some leadership capacity whether that is as Department Chair, Dean/Associate Dean, or some other role. I enjoy helping faculty and staff develop and implement their goals and then seeing the ways students benefit from them.


As a musician, I hope to be able to teach in some capacity. I will never fall out of love with that. I will also continue to record projects for different producers and artists, write articles and books that further the historical knowledge and pedagogy of percussion, and serve the community through workshops and master classes at schools and centers.

Compiled by Phillip Ramati



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