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Scholarship Honors Distinguished Alumnus and Drums of Thunder Conductor Louis D’Amico ’73

New endowed scholarship to benefit music education majors in perpetuity

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After music educator Louis D’Amico spoke at the John J. Cali School of Music Student Awards Ceremony on May 3, he received the 2017 Honorary Distinguished Alumni Award in accordance with the event program schedule.

The Drums of Thunder founder and conductor, however, was caught off guard and quite unprepared for what followed: the announcement that an endowed scholarship had been created in his name to benefit music education majors in perpetuity.

“To say I was surprised is an understatement,” D’Amico recalls. “I was shocked, speechless and overwhelmed. It took until the next day and beyond to begin to digest the honor that was given to me. There are no words that can fully describe the feeling of appreciation that I have knowing there is a scholarship endowed in my name forever.”

D’Amico was equally gratified to receive the honorary alumni award. “To be acknowledged in this way is beyond any recognition one could dream of,” he says.

“Louis D’Amico is a dedicated and passionate music educator,” says Rose Cali, a longtime member of the Montclair State Board of Trustees and chair of the Advisory Board of the John J. Cali School of Music, which is named for her late husband. “He has also mentored thousands of students at Hillside Elementary School in Montclair, where he established the Drums of Thunder to engage students in understanding that collaboration and teamwork are the core of music. Their collective success speaks to Louis’ vision and tenacity that continues to inspire generations of students.”

D’Amico, who graduated with a degree in music education from Montclair State in 1973, has taught for 40 years at the nearby Hillside Elementary School, where he currently oversees Drums of Thunder, a nationally acclaimed percussion ensemble. Over the past 35 years, the fourth- and fifth-grade drummers have performed everywhere from the Today show to NBA and NFL halftime shows.

“His work at Hillside and with Drums of Thunder is remarkable,” says Cali School Director Robert Cart. “In honor of that work, Louis’ friends and family, especially parents of children who are, or have been, part of the Drums of Thunder, gathered resources and funded the new Louis D’Amico Endowed Scholarship in Music Education.”

For longtime Montclair teacher D’Amico, music education is critically important. “It keeps music alive,” he explains. “Without it, we will eventually lose the core to our souls.” Fittingly, the Louis D’Amico scholarship will be restricted to exceptional students who are applying to the Cali School’s Music Education program. Currently, 50 percent of the students enrolled in the School are music education majors.

D’Amico’s advice to aspiring music teachers is simple: “Know the student in front of you, who you are teaching,” he says. “You are not only teaching a young person to sing or play an instrument, but you must know how to inspire their hearts and minds with the interpretation and feeling of music.”

D’Amico has garnered other recent honors. In December 2016, the New Jersey legislature passed a resolution honoring D’Amico’s 40 years of work as a teacher. In March, the Montclair Township Council recognized his work with an official proclamation.

D’Amico especially cherishes his ties with the University. “The heart of my being will always remain within Montclair State and the John J. Cali School of Music,” he explains. “The feeling of being remembered each year connected to helping young students pursue their musical dreams, and to be remembered within a school gifted by an incredible man, John J. Cali, and his wife Rose, is an honor beyond belief. My contributions were not accomplished alone – I share this honor with my many students and their parents.”

If you would like to contribute to the Louis D’Amico Endowed Scholarship for Music Education, please visit