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Meet Mark Vialva, music teacher at The Park School in Brookline

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The Park School
Meet Mark Vialva, music teacher at The Park School in Brookline
Mark Vialva during his tenure as Arillery Cannoneer Section Chief in the Marine Corps. (Photo: Photo courtesy Mark Vialva)

Students often hear that grit and resilience are the keys to being a successful student. The newest member of The Park School’s music faculty, Mark Vialva, is a example of these character traits.

Author: Kate LaPineMark Vialva plays trumpet with The Park School Jazz Band.

Mark was born and raised in Connecticut. His family was musical, but his path to music was solely based on his ears: he didn’t see the point in learning how to read music. He admits he didn’t like school, but he absolutely loved everything about music. Based on support and encouragement from his family he made it through high school and in his senior year he enlisted in the Marine Corps with the hope of auditioning for the Marine Corps Band. He signed a four-year contract and despite his enormous talent, he didn’t make the band was because he couldn’t read music. He had no choice but to put down his beloved trumpet and pick up a gun. He went through boot camp in South Carolina and was then stationed in North Carolina to serve as an Artillery Cannoneer Section Chief. Trained to carry out multiple missions, Mark deployed to Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Djibouti, France, Spain, Sicily, and Turkey from 2004-08. That experience made him realize how important it is — at some point —to prepare for the real world.

“I made lifelong friendships in the military and experienced a lot at a young age, which helped me get my act together,” recalls Mark. But he knew his passion for music would not be entirely realized unless he had a formal music education. He entered Berklee College of Music in 2010, received an Outstanding Scholar Award for outstanding academic accomplishments in 2011, and graduated in 2013. He did some observation work at Park in 2010, returned as a student teacher from January – March 2013, was a substitute teacher in the fall of 2013, and joined the faculty in September 2014.

Author: Tony Rinaldo PhotographyStudents at The Park School learning to play the recorder.

Even though Mark didn’t realize his dream of playing in the Marine Corps Band, he knew he wanted a career in music. His early resistance to school in general is what led Mark to realize he had a role to play in music education. “Park students are lucky to have music education, unlike many public schools which continually suffer from a lack of funding,” says Mark. He teaches Grades II, VI, and VII, as well as the School’s jazz band. Improvisation is important to him, and he feels that it gives the kids a real creative outlet within a structured environment. He incorporates improvisation to Grades II and VI in different ways like using body percussion and African drums. With the Grade VIII and IX jazz band he does more focused melodic improvisation work, where students convey feelings through their instruments and play their own ideas on the fly, but within the confines of a specific chord. “Adults and kids often listen to music and don’t know what is happening aside from understanding the lyrics,” explains Mark. “A proper music education should equip a student to understand and be able to identify a few things in a song. For example, what time signature a song is in, what key a song is in, what genre a song may fit into or even the historical context of a song.”

Mark is currently playing trumpet with a “yet to be named” Boston band that plays jazz, fusion, neo soul, and some blues. They’ve booked some gigs at Ester restaurant in Dorchester in the upcoming months. He also continues to perform at Berklee and is booked at several Simmons College events.

Mark is an enthusiastic ambassador for music education, because it offers an outlet for self-creativity and expression. He loves the sense of community he has found and says he’s never met any student at Park, or any other school for that matter, who didn’t love music.