2016-10-19 / Features

Local Express

Michelle Marie

Michelle Marie, the founder and director of the music performance program, MMRockcamp, has performed with many R&B artists, including Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliot, Erykah Badu, Lalah Hathaway, Mark Anthony, Patti LaBelle, Jill Scott, Sheila E, BET Networks with the Beyoncé Band. Michelle Marie owns her own record label, and her jazz trio has performed at many festivals around the world, including Lucca Italia Jazz Festival, the Heineken Jazz Festival. This past August she was on WABC-TV’s weekly show, “Tiempo,” with Joe Torres. Her music is on iTunes.

MMRockcamp has played at the Fort Totten Independence Day Celebration sponsored by Councilman Paul Vallone; school events and Safari on Bell Blvd. In fact, Vallones’ son, Charlie, a drummer, guitarist and singer, has been enrolled at MMRockCamp for the three years. Another student, percussionist, Alexa Halvatzis, is the daughter of QSAC Vice President and President of the Astoria Civic Association Paul Halvatzis. Michelle Marie commented, “During camp sessions we all become close and it’s a wonderful experience to see how all the students actually become a band. We play all genres, but focus mostly on classic and heavy rock. The students love classic rock, metal, and R&B – from The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, to ACDC, Van Halen and Metallica to Rihanna.”

QG: What was your impetus behind starting MMRockcamp?

MM: In 2008, I had a successful Guitar Ensemble Summer Program at Queens College. In 2010, I was getting called for high profile performances and tours, and I started to reflect while I was on a three-month gospel tour with band members from the Beyoncé Band. Coming back everything is the same, but one feels different. I felt the urge to start my own music performance program, and in 2013, I took a chance and started MMRockcamp. I rented space from the Knights of Columbus on Bell Blvd. and 35th Avenue. They were very supportive of what I was trying to do and with only five students the story began. I bought a drum set, bass amp, and small PA system at first, now we are almost a full production company. I’ve added a lighting system, 16-channel mixer and more.

I also grew up watching my mother, Carmen Severino, who is an accomplished vocalist, work with much success in what still is a man’s world. She was very competitive and never accepted no for an answer. She became the Queen of the Jingles. She was signed to William Morris Agency and is the voice behind many commercials, such as Crest Toothpaste, Hanes Panty Hose, Cafe El Pico, Cambell’s Soup, Salem Cigarettes, Goya products, and many others. She went on tour and recorded with Tito Puente, then later signed with the Epic/Columbia Recording label and recorded in Mexico. So I grew up taking the music world very seriously, but I enjoyed seeing my mother perform, going to rehearsals, and I saw her discipline in music. Without it for sure you will be lost in this very competitive field.

Most important to note growing up, and probably the main reason I started my music program, was that it was so hard for me to just play. Being a girl who played guitar was not accepted and I always wished I had a place to go where I could just go to play my guitar. I was often told, girls should sing, forget about guitar, but then I fought back and practiced very hard. I knew I had a tough role in my life to prove my validity in music. So there is a hole inside me from my personal experience that I have from growing up. It was a battle for me to just play. I had no role model except my mom. The only teacher that played a big role in my life was my high school music teacher, Mrs. Clarke. When the boys in the music club threw me out, she tested me by having me play The Beatles’ “Day Tripper.” She then took me by the hand threw the door open, and announced “Michelle is in the band. “

It was always a hassle, so one day I just decided to continue and teach myself. So I asked my dad if he could buy me some Berklee books and learned on my own.

So for me MMRockcamp is not a place for just girls, it’s a place for kids/teens who are interested in music and have a place to come and feel at home and play music in a comfortable, yet disciplined environment.

QG: What do you love best about the experience of it?

MM: My success is when I see my students perform! After all the work and time we spend together as a band we perform the finale concert. Everyone is nervous, and I hear the music from where we started and how things sounded and the methods I used to achieve the parts at each session. I then see them performing – I often get teary-eyed seeing all of them succeed!

QG: How has your experience with MMRockcamp informed your professional artistic career, and vice-versa?

MM: They are separate. The only true connection are my endorsers. I have several that I had to work hard for. It’s all based on your performance record, who you are playing with, It’s truly not something easy to get at all. So I am very proud of my endorsers.

They are all companies I truly support and so I bring my personal equipment to MMRockcamp. Guitar Strings from D’Addario, Gretsch Guitars, Seymour Duncan pickups, effects from Eventide, MXR, Reunion Blues and Fender. So the students connect with my gear and of course my endorsers have been so supportive of the rockcamp. Of course, now that camp is following me on jazz magazine interviews the question pops up often. I was invited to ABC Network’s Joe Torres’ show for an interview to talk about my music, but the main focus was MMRockcamp.

QG: Was there something in particular about Queens made you want to begin MMRockcamp here?

MM: I live in Bayside, and I love Bayside. I am originally from the Bronx. My family moved to Flushing when I was about 11 years old.

Over time, I understood why my family moved first to Flushing and then Bayside. I feel Bayside is the best! The students love the location, especially in the summer. They all need a break to get out of our rental space, cause I do work them hard, and so Bell Blvd. is perfect. We have options from Subway, Ralph’s Ices is always a request and 7- Eleven, Press, they like Jackson Hole, but the camp really loves Trattoria 35, which I think I can call it our official lunch location. We even have our own table always set aside for us.

QG: What are some of your favorite places in Queens?

MM: I love the Bayside Marina. I often rent a boat there and just ride out from the marina and enjoy the fresh air. I often go to Douglaston Bay, there is a nice park with benches. I go there to reflect. I love Astoria. It’s very exciting, all the nice cafes. I love to ride my bike all over Queens – including Kissena Park, and the bike trail at Cunningham Park. I love the outdoors and sports is the machine that keeps me alive I think. I surf out in Long Beach. So all in all, there are days that I am just consistently going, and being outside at these beautiful parks is a wonderful option to have so close to home.

This column was originated in July 2013 by Nicollette Barsamian.

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