Darryl Kniffen on keyboard, with Gary Miller on vibraphone, playing at South Street Cafe, Jan. 12. (Banner file)
Darryl Kniffen on keyboard, with Gary Miller on vibraphone, playing at South Street Cafe, Jan. 12. (Banner file)

ARLINGTON -- Arlington Memorial High School and Middle School will have a new instrumental music teacher and band director this fall, and he has a lofty goal: To transform his students into lifelong musicians.

Darryl Kniffen, who describes himself as a jazz drummer and composer, was recently hired to replace Phalen Gallagher, who submitted his letter of resignation to the school board earlier this year. Kniffen has taught elementary music for five years at Twin Valley Elementary School in Wilmington and taught once a week at the Readsboro Central School in Readsboro.

"Bridging the gap between in-school music and at-home music," is how Kniffen described one of his primary goals when he begins teaching in Arlington next fall. He will teach instrumental music and the middle and high school levels, as well as direct the bands for students in grades four through 12. "I want every student in the band to learn two instruments," he said, "A classic band instrument, as well as a modern pop instrument, like the guitar, keyboard, drums." So many students, he said, leave high school and never play their band instrument again. He hopes that by helping his students diversify, they'll remain engaged with music long after they graduate.

"Music is a way of understanding the world," said Kniffen, when asked about his general music philosophy, "You're not really educated if you don't have a knowledge of the arts." He went on to describe an understanding of music as being an integral part of good citizenship.


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"That type of understanding, that has to do with imagination, and creativity, and sensitivity," he explained, "Students can use the skills and knowledge they gain in my classroom and apply them to the entire aesthetic world."

Kniffen said he focuses on teaching three "big ideas" about music: Expressiveness, craftsmanship, and innovation. He prefers project-based learning, and has already begun speaking to students about what they'd be interesting in working on. He said projects could include creating music videos, covering modern music, songwriting, or "anything that is relevant and useful to students."

Kniffen holds a bachelor's degree in music education from Crane School of Music at the State University of New York-Potsdam, and is currently working on his master's degree.

He is a frequent guest speaker at his alma mater, on the subjects of curriculum design and project-based learning.

Recently, he has played at the South Street Cafe in Bennington with a jazz trio consisting of himself on keyboard, Gary Miller on vibraphone, and Dave Banulis on electric bass.

Kniffen also mentioned that the music department is looking for musical instrument donations. Anything from band instruments, to keyboards, guitars, and drums would be greatly appreciated. Any monetary donations to the AMHS Music Department are tax deductible and can be dropped off at the school or mailed to the AMHS Music Department at 529 East Arlington Road, Arlington.

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB