November 4, 2016

A Life Guided by Music

Matan Kogen ‘18

GOA choir director Mr. Nicholas Kaminski was born into a life of music and describes his family as “the Kardashians of polka.” However, he wasn’t born a musician. His musical prowess is the product of years of training.
Kaminski's father, Grammy-nominated Gerry Kaminski, got into polka through his parents and, despite his skill with the genre, spent his whole life trying to distance himself from it in favor of scoring movies, but turned back to it whenever he needed money.
This is kind of natural talent has helped many musicians achieve greatness. Unfortunately, it has also added pressure for the musician’s children to be as good, if not better.
Kaminski started playing piano at the age of four. Kaminski’s father didn’t care whether his son had much fun learning music, hiring skilled teachers rather than gentle ones.
“First, I went to this music studio, with a guy in a room - it was a dark room - and I never saw the guy’s face, his name was Jules,” Kaminski said. “The room was so dark that I could only see his hands as he turned the pages for me.”
Later on, Kaminski switched to a new teacher who was a “Russian lady who was really mean to [him], and she would hit [his] hands with a ruler, and say ‘You have limp wrists!’” He added that he never learned the woman’s name, she made him cry and frequently told his mother that he needed to practice more.
Despite these negative experiences, Kaminski always loved music and especially enjoyed writing music, arranging his first piece by the age of 13. Unfortunately for Kaminski, his rendition of Aquarius Let the Sunshine In wasn’t great and he never got anyone to perform it.
When the time came for Kaminski to start college, he knew he wanted to attend Mason Gross, the Rutgers school of music. Kaminski auditioned for the piano program but was placed into “Beginner Piano Group 1,” essentially ignoring his 14 years of formal training.
Kaminski was wait-listed for the voice program, which he had auditioned for as a backup. He somehow even managed to be the only person accepted to the organ program, for which he had not auditioned. With some luck, Kaminski was moved off of the wait list for the voice program, eventually earning a Music BA with a concentration in Voice.
Though Kaminski’s professional life currently revolves around music, he didn’t jump straight there from college. In fact, after college, Kaminski didn’t even work exclusively in music, but his musical background followed him everywhere.
One of Kaminski’s first jobs after college was working as a telemarketer for a home security company. While all of his co-workers were reading from scripts, Kaminski memorized his and became so confident that he used accents on his calls, using a New York accent to earn the respect of New Yorkers and Scottish to peak the interest of New Jerseyans.
Today, his background in voice helps him in directing the Golden Ochtaves. Though many of the choir’s songs are in Hebrew, Kaminski, who was raised Presbyterian, says it’s easy for him because Hebrew is so similar to Latin, the language of Catholic liturgical music. The only hard part for him, he added, is the “ch” sound.
Kaminski has added much-needed depth to the choir, pushing them to perform gospel and classical music. He told the choir last year, after returning from the Kolot HaYam music festival and competition, that he would never be great at arranging the kind of pop music they would normally perform, but that he would always make sure the choir was singing every note correctly, paying attention to dynamics and other often-ignored details, but, when done correctly, would hugely improve any piece of music.
Kaminski and his father were never interested polka or vocals, respectively; yet when they embraced these talents and turned them into professions, they were both able to do incredible things, from being nominated for a Grammy, to scoring a movie, to training the musicians of tomorrow.


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