Mike Blancafor

December, 2017


Percussionist Michael Blancaflor is an active Performer, Educator and Clinician in Southern New England and the Tri-State Areas. Originally from Berlin CT, he received a Bachelor of Science in Education and a Bachelor of Arts in Music from the University of Connecticut at Storrs. His percussion teachers include Rich Baccaro, Peter Tanner, Thom Hannum, David Dion, Bill Reynolds, Peter Coutsouridis, Mike Clark, Rosemary Small, and Alexander Lepak. Michael has performed with the Boston Crusaders Drum and Bugle Corps, the Connecticut Hurricanes Drum and Bugle Corps, Hartford Symphony Orchestra, New Haven Symphony Orchestra, Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra, The Chelsea Symphony, Greenwich Village Orchestra, Astoria Symphony, New Bedford Symphony, Norwalk Symphony among other ensembles throughout New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.  

His Off-Broadway Drum/Percussion credits include "Found" (2014 Atlantic Theater Company) and "Once Upon a Mattress" (2015 Transport Group).  Regional Credits include “Chicago” (2016 Ivoryton Playhouse), “Little Shop of Horrors” (2016 Playhouse on Park), “Sister Act” (2016 White Plains PAC) and “West Side Story” (2017 Ivoryton Playhouse).

As an educator, Michael has worked with 7th Regiment Drum and Bugle Corps, Connecticut Hurricanes Drum and Bugle Corps, University of New Haven Marching Band, Hall High School, Cheshire High School, Dodd Middle School, Norwalk High School, Trumbull High School, Stamford High School, Simsbury High School, Rockville High School, Lyman Hall High School, Norwich Free Academy and Thom Hannum’s Mobile Percussion Seminar to name a few. Michael is a member of the Vic Firth Education Team.

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Check out the below interview with Mike!

What is your background in music- Do you have roots in Connecticut? Feel free to also tell us a little bit about yourself.

First of all, thank you to the Connecticut PAS for giving me this honor.

I was born and raised in the state of Connecticut. My parents and 2 older sisters immigrated to the USA in the 70’s from the Philippines. Shortly after, my parents had their first American Born child, me. Music was a part of the household growing up. My father has a great tenor voice. He would sing constantly in the house and car in the crooning styles of Frank Sinatra and Matt Monro. Both Parents sang in the Church Choir and like many Filipino-American families, the Karaoke machine was not very far away. I took piano lessons for a few years where I learned how to read music and had a basic facility for the instrument. I Played piano until I reached the 4th grade and saw an instrument demo from the High School where someone played a snare drum. I remember how it sounded and looked. I then said to myself, “I want to do that!”. From that point I put away the Thompson’s Piano method books to make way for the Buddy Rich Book, Syncopation, and Stick Control. I can't thank my parents and family enough for putting music in the house and placing me on my journey where I can pursue the art form.

Another phenomenon that occurred in my youth was MTV.  When MTV first started, you could actually watch videos of the popular music of the time. I was immediately drawn to the likes of Van Halen, Prince, Michael Jackson, Hall and Oates, Huey Lewis and the News, The Police, Run DMC, The Beastie Boys and so many artists and acts from the late 70’s through the 80’s. For a fan of music, MTV was cool all the way until the shows like “Remote Control” and “The Real World” which was the beginning of MTV not playing music or videos.

When I got to High School, I immersed myself into the performing arts. I Played in the Marching Band, Concert Band, Jazz Band, Chorus, Drama Club, Madrigal Singers as well as playing in Rock bands with fellow classmates (an activity I don't see young people doing enough of these days). During this time studying privately with a great local Drum Teacher Rich Baccaro who really put me in the right direction with my hands, the Drumset and reading.

After High School, I studied with Thom Hannum and Dr. Peter Tanner at UMass Amherst which made a huge impact on my life and set the tone for me on how I need to work in order to become successful. Another one of my friends and mentors during this time is Dave Dion who was a big part of my development and motivation of excellence. Thom Hannum and Dave Dion are two gentlemen who had a huge influence in my teaching and writing during those influential years. I grew up a lot that year into my DCI experience with the Boston Crusaders in 1994 and my first teaching gig with the Norwalk High School Marching Band and another great mentor, Jeff Smith. At this point I transferred to the University of Connecticut where I studied with Dr Rosemary Small and Dr Peter Coutsouridis. I was fortunate enough to take a few lessons with Alexander Lepak when he subbed for Dr. Small. 

After UConn, I moved to New York City.  My first 5 years were spent working at the SYFY Channel (then SciFi Channel) in their New Media division or website, SCIFI.COM (now SYFY.COM). I met a lot of great people there, many of which I'm still friends with today. During this time I'm playing in bands, Percussion Freelancing on the side, keeping my orchestral chops up with The Greenwich Village Orchestra, writing for the Norwich Free Academy back in CT and working a full-time job at Scifi.com. #FormativeYears  My time at SciFi came to an end which basically spawned my full-time Percussion Freelance era that has been evolving to the present day.  

You have had success in Connecticut, and New York as a freelance percussionist and educator. Tell us a little bit about what you feel has brought you success networking and making a career as a percussionist.

I think I bring a positive energy to whatever project that comes across my path and I think that goes a long way. I do my best to make sure the situation has everything it needs from me to be successful. My need to make the client happy and put as much passion and artistry into the situation drives me to try to be better everyday. On the playing perspective, I think my diversity in skill set is my best asset. In the freelance world, one can’t say no to any gigs but have to be confident in whatever comes. Therefore the work needs to be done to make it happen making time for practicing and maintenance a constant battle. Respect for the artist and project is a big one. As much as I want to be the artist, most freelancing situations isn’t about me. I try to give the artist and project what I can offer at that moment and have the willingness and creativity to make sure they get what they want at the end of the day. I think people want to work with people they can hang with and have the skill set to get the job done. I’ve been fortunate to get some calls.

Currently, what is taking up the majority of your time as a performing musician?

Musical Theater has been a majority of my performing the last few years. I’ve been fortunate to get regional and Off-Broadway work as well as local and smaller productions. Orchestral work with the Chelsea Symphony, Norwalk Symphony, Riverside Orchestra, New Haven Symphony and Hartford Symphony. This past June 2017, I had the honor of premiering the newly orchestrated 3rd Movement of Frank Picarazzi’s Vibraphone Concerto with the Chelsea Symphony at the DeMenna Center for Classical Music. It was such an exciting and humbling experience to play new works.  In this case, composed by my very dear friend/composer and fellow Percussionist Frank Picarazzi (who I’ve known since my undergrad at UConn) - talk about someone who needs their own “Artist Spotlight”, Frank is the real deal!

With a busy schedule, how do you find yourself so successful keeping track of your commitments and events?

To be honest, I don’t think I find myself so successful at that! I have my .mac calendar that is my master schedule and I try not to think too far ahead. I’ll schedule stuff in the book but I try to take things monthly then weekly. Sometimes projects are longer in scale and I need to account for practice time during the week to keep things moving forward. The projects and events are constantly on my mind and I have to keep reminding myself to keep good records in the master schedule.

Have you found the music scene in Connecticut to have a decent amount of opportunity for percussionists and musicians?

I’m still learning about this one. There’s a lot of space to be creative. There are also some good venues to play these days in Hartford, New Haven, Black Rock etc. There are many patrons of the arts in CT. The opportunities are definitely there for the singer songwriter thing or band thing but unfortunately, For working musicians, I find there are not enough paying gigs for the amount of talent in CT. Maybe this is a problem everywhere and a sign of the times but it is a grind. For the working musician, there are only a few Union gigs left in the state. And for Percussionists, the people working those jobs are great Drummer’s and Percussionists and people in their own right. There is a long line of just-as-talented people who would love to get called for those gigs. The best we can do is put ourselves in the mix by networking. I think the scholastic education and teaching opportunities are definitely there for Percussionists and Musicians. I’ve been fortunate to work in communities that support the arts and have found value in services that I offer.

Tell us about your experience and role working on Mozart in the Jungle- how did you land the opportunity, and how has this helped create more opportunities, if any, as a percussionist?

MITJ has been a pleasure to work. I can thank it all to my network and relationship with the Chelsea Symphony. My very good friend, Conductor Matthew Aubin (who I’ve also known since my undergrad at UConn) became a conductor with the Chelsea Symphony and put me on the Percussion list. I played a few concerts when they needed players and sometimes they’d get called for corporate work. One of my first with them was a fashion show playing Gershwin. It was quite the experience. The Chelsea Symphony ended up getting the call for the Pilot of MITJ to fill in the background and be the “New York Symphony”. I was the Timpanist in the pilot. I remember the filming took a few days and we are only on screen for a few minutes at most. The experience opened my eyes to a whole other world of TV and Film production. Long days but a great experience. It got picked up for Season 1 and the writers ended making a character out of the timpanist. In doing so, opened up a position for me to be the actor’s Timpani Coach. The part ended up being played by Broadway Bassist and contractor, John Miller who plays “Dee Dee” on MITJ. My job would be to make sure he looks good on camera. I would take his music and give him performance instructions to make him look as authentic as possible (as time allotted) behind the Timpani or whatever he may be drumming on screen. Here we are 4 seasons later!  It’s been a great trip!  My association with The Chelsea Symphony and MITJ has led to some other background work. I was background for a movie adaptation of the book “Bel Canto” with Julianne Moore and Ken Watanabe which was another great experience.  As a Percussionist, I’ve recorded some segments for the upcoming season of MITJ which was very exciting.  Here’s to hoping for Season 5!

What advice do you have for percussionists who are trying to break into the freelance percussion scene?

I’ll answer this one like a list:

Keep playing and keep networking.

Make sure you have your own reliable gear.

Stay positive, Network, do good work and good things will happen.

In order to get considered you need to put yourself in the mix.

All the cliches are true.

Be as professional as you can.

Bring extra pencils and erasers.

Buy a cheap bass drum pedal and keep it in the car for emergency.

Same thing for a music Stand, stick bag with Sticks and brushes, cymbal felts and a hi hat clutch.

Learn to play as soft as you play loud.

Learn to play as slow as you play fast.

Try to always get it in writing so there is no Grey area.

Keep Learning.

Be early, Be Ready

Let us know if there is anything else we should know about you!

I don’t know. If you want to know more, you guys can find me on the interwebs! I do want to say that I’ve done my best to be an advocate of excellence in Drumming and Percussion Education. I’ve been very fortunate to have had the opportunities to make such an effect on students and programs whether it’s with a Marching or concert program, Percussion Ensemble or Drum Corps. I’m very proud of all the students I had the honor of teaching as well the programs that I’ve worked. #EastCoast