The fact that Rock Island Sound is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year is music to owner Paul Bessolo’s ears.
By Janice Llanes Fabry
The fact that Rock Island Sound is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year is music to owner Paul Bessolo’s ears. The prelude to getting there spanned two continents. The shop on 619 Milton Road offers topnotch musical instruction of all kinds — piano, string and wind instruments, brass, drums, and voice. In addition to lessons for all ages and levels, a retail space accommodates both sales and rentals of musical instruments and accessories, as well as repairs.
Growing up in Argentina with a pianist for a father in a household that appreciated music, Bessolo exhibited precocious talent. Fondly recalling an old family photograph, he said, “I started playing piano at 2, with dad’s pipe in my mouth.”
He also developed a love for rock ‘n’ roll early on. “I was obsessed with the Beatles, the Stones, and Queen, even though I couldn’t understand a single word of English. I’d play along with my mom’s broom,” he said.
Before long, he enrolled in piano and guitar lessons and played for 16 hours a day. Although he wasn’t thrilled about having to take prerequisite classical training that focused on theory and solfège (a method to teach pitch and sight reading), he is grateful for having solid foundation and preaches it to his students.
“When you arrive at your instrument, you shouldn’t have to worry about reading or assimilating notes. You should just be able to play,” said Bessolo, who went on to study classical composition at the Universidad Nacional de Musica in Rosario in central Argentina.
Deciding to move to the United States at 21, he landed at JFK with his guitar and $700 in his pocket. An Argentine friend, who had relocated previously, found him a studio apartment in none other than the idyllic village of Bronxville, where Bessolo still resides. Enterprising by nature, he perfected his English, posted flyers in coffee shops throughout Westchester, and started giving lessons in piano, guitar, bass, and voice. He played in various cover bands in clubs in New York City and New Jersey. He also pursued a bachelor’s degree in Music Composition at SUNY Purchase.
“For four years, I had breakfast, lunch, and dinner in my car,” he said. “I’d go to school in the morning, give private lessons in the afternoon, then rehearse and play with Sonic Nova at night. It was hard, but I loved it.”
Bessolo feels that opening up a music shop in 2005 was a natural progression. Instead of traveling to his students’ homes, he was able to centralize his efforts and teach more students than ever. Since most of his lessons were in Rye at that point, the space on Milton Road struck a chord. When he first opened Rock Island Sound, the lone instructor gave lessons all day seven days a week.
Today, he owns two more locations on Main Street in Tarrytown, and employs 20 teachers, all of whom are experienced, active musicians with degrees. Rock Island Sound also offers Jam Clubs for kids, teens, and adults. “The key to music is mastering your instrument by playing with other people,” noted Bessolo.
In Rye, the face clients are most familiar with is Manager Cécele Hager, whom Bessolo calls, “the rock in Rock Island Sound.” In Tarrytown, craftsman extraordinaire Vincent Saccoccio does all the precision string instrument repairs, from changing strings and set-ups to re-gluing bridges and necks, changing parts, and building custom guitars and basses. The store was awarded “Best Guitar and Repair Shop of Westchester” in 2011.
In addition, Bessolo has established an international presence on-line, where musicians all over the world buy his acoustic, electric, and classical guitars, sound equipment such as amps and pedals, and accessories.
Besides playing at home and performing sporadically with a group of young students at fairs and fundraisers, he is too busy overseeing the business to play much more. “But I still love music with all my heart to this day,” he said.
Stay tuned for Rock Island Sound’s 10th anniversary celebration in September and listen to Rock Island Sound’s CD on iTunes.
Hours: Monday through Friday: 11-8; Saturday: 9-5. For more information, visit RockIslandSound.com or call 417-2541.