Cory Pesaturo ’08 on “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” and Bringing Accordion Back
“Any time Daniel Radcliffe plays [accordion], that's ‘Weird Al’ — but any time you hear accordion in the score, or polkas playing, that's me.”
Accordionist Cory Pesaturo ’08 felt honored to play the featured instrument in the recent feature film Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, but in NEC’s groundbreaking Contemporary Musical Arts (CMA) department, Cory’s less-common instrument is far from “weird.”
CMA is a haven for artists who specialize in mandolin, Marimba Lumina, oud, guzheng, and other instruments that are seldom found in traditional Western conservatories. Whether you play accordion or violin, the CMA program’s rigorous curriculum covers such a wide range that every artist must expand well beyond their instrument’s typical repertoire.
When it comes to this characteristic CMA breadth of style and scholarship, Cory’s most recent work is case in point: from recording popular accordion styles for the Weird score to performing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Elena Langer's Suite from Figaro Gets a Divorce, and delivering a fifth TEDx Talk on musicianship and improvisation, Cory reflects on his CMA education as an influence on his versatility, confidence, and mastery of his not-so-“weird” instrument.
New England Conservatory: How did studying at NEC help you on your path to success?
Cory Pesaturo: It's the versatility and the high-level teachers in the school. By taking a whole semester of this, a whole semester of that –– they really immerse you in it so that you know the topic at a foundational level. Maybe more importantly, every student there was extremely good or even better!
“You learn 24/7 –– you learn at lunch, you learn at breakfast, you learn at parties at four in the morning. You're always learning as long as you're paying attention and writing down notes.”
[Before NEC], I had won the National Accordion Championship at 15, and a legendary jazz trumpet player in Rhode Island, Red Lennox, told my dad, "if you want to become the best musician, you go to NEC. Period." Other schools laughed at the accordion. I was trying to apply to NEC and they simply told me to go to Ran Blake's house. I went over, hung out, and played with Ran. Then two days later, boom, they sent an acceptance letter. He loved the accordion, and everyone I had been in contact with was so welcoming about the accordion.
NEC really opened up my knowledge because of the Contemporary department [approach] being "let's do French, let's do tango, let's do Italian, let's do eastern European, let's do Russian, let's do cumbia, etc." And you don't get that at any other school, I haven't seen it in all my travels. I owe a lot to that department, and to Hankus Netsky, who I call "the Oracle," because he listens to you for 10 seconds and knows everything you need to work on. He's one of those rare breeds.
Who did you study with at NEC?
I tried to work with as many teachers as possible, so I never really had a "main" teacher. But if anybody was [in that role], it would probably be Hankus, because I recognized he had so much knowledge in every aspect of our field. I knew I wanted to learn from, hang with, and get a piece of everybody's mind. Bouncing around from Dominique Eade to Ken Schaphorst and Joe Morris – to Ran, Evan Harlan, Jerry Bergonzi, George Garzone – to Bob Moses, John McNeil, just everywhere.
Do you have advice for students?
In terms of music, just study music theory as much as you can. And as many styles as you can. Theory and listening are fundamental, and additionally, that's how you get better at improvising. It's all about what you put in your ear.