Photo: Contributed Photo / Greg Martin /
ANSONIA-When Shelton’s Joe Shapiro purchased Banko’s in 2016 he vowed to make it “the center of the music scene in the Valley and beyond.”
So the former software programmer contracted with the city to take control of Rock the Valley, the annual summer music event at Nolan Field and rename it “Rock the Summer For Music Education”
“We’re going to do it Saturday, July 28 starting at 5 p.m.,” said Shapiro. “The event will still be free with food trucks and a beer garden. But this year we’re only having three performers. We’ll name the feature band on April 9.”
Shapiro said the event “so closely fits with our mission that I jumped at the opportunity.”
But that’s only part of Shapiro’s efforts to promote music education at a time schools are reducing these classes.
He’s created STOMP (Students of the Marking Period) in which area school music teachers nominate their top students. The student, their parents and teacher are invited to a ceremony at Banko’s, 360 East Main Street in which gift cards and certificates are given.
State Sen. George Logan, R-Ansonia,, who plays guitar and sings in his Jimi Hendrix tribute band —Electric Lady , presided over the most recent award session. Honored were Idalisse Martinez of Ansonia High School; Lea-Renee Tillotson of Ansonia Middle School, Jonathan Kish of Prendergast School and McBendict Mweze of Shelton’s Perry Hill School.
Beginning at 7 p.m. on the last Thursday of every month Aly Tatchol Camara, native of Guinea and an instructor for the New Haven School of African Dance and Drumming at Yale teaches a West African Drum workshop with a drum circle.
Every Tuesday at 7 p.m. there’s a come with your instrument jam session in the store which, during warmer weather, attracts listeners, who line the sidewalk outside with chairs, tables and refreshments.
“We alternate every week between jazz and players’ choice,” said Shapiro, who joins in with his guitar. “It gives the kids an opportunity to play with and be mentored by more seasoned musicians. I know my playing improved .”
Robert Nishti, who teaches woodwinds at Banko’s agrees.
“You put an instrument in the hands of a young person and let them perform in front of an audience of more than one and it does wonders for their self-confidence,” Nishti said. “They develop a sense of accomplishment in using the creative side of their mind.”
And now Shapiro is sending his instructors like Nishti to speak to area schools and youth groups.
“I remember being in Willis School in 1968 and Frank Banko (the store’s late founder) showing up with a saxophone,” said Nishti. “I was hooked.”
So on March 16 he’ll bring some instruments to the Ansonia Boys’ and Girls’ club as he speaks with the members and their parents.
“My goal is to make kids aware how fun music is and tell them how good it was for me,” Nishti said.
Now Shapiro, along with Natalie Hamilton, a singer and one of his employees, has created the non-profit Banko’s Music Foundation for Music Education. His donation was the first.
“My plan is to award a scholarship every spring to a high school senior who will be majoring in music in college,” he said.
He said they’ll be accepting donations at events like Rock the Summer as well as through the Banko’s Foundation
“Banko’s is a legacy in the Valley,” said Hamilton, noting that the store has been around since 1955. “We want that legacy to keep growing.”