JB Maroncelli’s approach to teaching drumming is a bit unorthodox. He likens himself to Mr. Miyagi, Pat Morita’s character in the Karate Kid movies. Maroncelli writes his own exercises, names them, then has students play them, perfecting one skill at a time. Then he shows them how all of those individual moves allow them to play the entire drum kit.
“Kids see that and go, ‘Oh!,’” he says. “But they also learn where that single stroke, double stroke, paradiddle, flam or whatever that rudiment I show them is, how that applies to the drum kit — and they have these epiphanies. So in that regard, I’m a little unorthodox. But the result speaks for itself.”
Maroncelli, who was a band teacher at Teller Elementary School in Denver for eight years, has twenty-plus years teaching not only drums, but also piano, mallets and bells.
“It’s not just boom-chucka-boom-chucka-boom,” he says. “It’s the whole, full-on...using both hands on the kit. I don’t teach kids to play cross-handed. I teach an open style so that kids play both sides. That’s what translates to the mallets, is being able to use both hands. There’s a method to what I do.”
Maroncelli, a longtime drummer who’s played with a number of local bands, fell into teaching at Teller almost accidentally. After dealing with alcoholism and getting sober 26 years ago, he quit performing live, fearing it would lead back to drinking. He got married and started a family, and his life changed.
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“I wasn’t much into music [anymore] until my son got into it in band in school, and then they asked me to help with the drums because somebody heard, ‘Oh, that kid’s dad plays drums,’” Maroncelli says. “And it turned into me being the band teacher. The whole thing evolved, and here I am all these years later.”
After leaving Teller because of budget cuts in the arts program, Maroncelli continued to teach students at his home, not far from the school.
“It was not anything I ever planned,” he says. “But it turned into a business. Before I knew it, I had ten to fifteen kids. Then it was like, ‘Johnny needs a snare drum.’ Well, let me go on Craigslist and see if I can get you that. Pretty soon I had a garage full of equipment.”
His business eventually took over his house. His kids would come home and go straight to their rooms because Maroncelli would be banging around in the basement, living room or garage. Gear was everywhere.
About a year and a half ago, Maroncelli turned his house full of music gear into a storefront called Denver DrumZ and Music, across the street from Teller Elementary. But after a year in that small space, business tripled, and he knew he had to move.
Around that time, a building at 420 Broadway became available. Last December, Maroncelli and his two partners took over the space, which totals about 5,000 square feet. They’ve outfitted four 250-square-foot rehearsal rooms with drum kits, amps and PAs, built a stage and prepared the front retail and lesson space for an official opening on April 20. They plan to build a recording studio in the future.
In the meantime, Maroncelli is transitioning from his current job as wine buyer at Capitol Heights Pharmacy. He’ll offer classes at the drum shop several days a week before leaving the pharmacy at the end of May and going full-time at Denver DrumZ and Music.
Maroncelli says putting drum kits in the front window has generated interest from foot and street traffic; the store has already sold eight drum kits. And while the space isn’t officially open yet, a few bands have already started practicing there, paying $20 an hour in rental fees. Eventually, the shop hopes to rent out rehearsal rooms from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., with appointments made online.
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“There’s enough for all of us,” he says. “We’re not looking to put anybody out of business; we’re not looking to step on toes. We’re looking to do our own thing, and based on the location, we think we’re going to be able to do it.”
Similarly, he doesn’t see Denver DrumZ and Music necessarily competing with other drum retailers like Rupps Drums, which Alex Simpson took over a year ago. While the emphasis will be primarily on selling new and used drum gear, Maroncelli says he eventually wants to sell other music equipment, too, adding that he knows someone with hundreds of guitars who will put some of them on consignment.
The shop’s stage will be available for small concerts, open-mic nights and recitals; the main room could also be used for art shows or poetry readings. And this summer, Maroncelli says, the store will look into hosting band camps.
“We’re going to do everything we can to utilize the space so that it pays for itself,” he says. “How this unfolds into whatever we can utilize it for is still kind of unfolding.”