The East Side News Sits Down with Mr. Lanighan and Mr. McCluskey

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Source: twinvillagemusic.net

By Colleen Meosky (Mr. Lanighan) and Maler Suresh (Mr. McCluskey)

The Williamsville East music department looks much different now than it did a year ago, having undergone a multi-million dollar renovation and the retirement of both band directors. While Ms. DeGolia and Dr. Shewan are missed, the newly appointed conductors have brought their own unique energy to the stage, combining a comfortable tone with engaging lessons to create an excellent learning environment. Meet Mr. Lanighan and Mr. McCluskey.

Mr. Lanighan

Mr. Brendan Lanighan is the conductor of the Wind Ensemble as well as the Jazz Ensemble. Born in Baltimore but raised in Williamsville, the elite trombone player has returned to his alma mater for his first post in public school. 

Mr. Lanighan rejoined the band program while at East after quitting in middle school and then decided to pursue an undergraduate’s degree at the Eastman School of Music. He participated in college bands and local gigs until he decided to audition for the Glenn Miller Orchestra, a band originally formed in 1937 by Miller, a Grammy-award winning artist. When accepted, Mr. Lanighan spent all of 2017 into early 2018 touring with the group throughout all 48 continental states. Then, in the fall of 2018, he started his education at the Juilliard School. Mr. Lanighan simultaneously earned his master’s degree and toured internationally, performing lindy hop music for dance groups. His trips abroad include Spain, the UK, Slovenia, China, Beijing, South Korea, France, Sweden, the Netherlands, Canada, and Japan. He continued this lifestyle until lockdown hit in March 2020. Mr. Lanighan continues to perform, recently playing with the highly Billboard ranked rock band Bright Eyes this past summer at Art Park. 

As students have easily determined, Mr. Lanighan is a natural at teaching. In the past decade, the director has amassed plenty of experience through private lessons, two community schools, and a private afterschool music program. As an East student, Mr. Lanighan first realized he wanted to become an educator saying, “I think I probably would have been some kind of teacher regardless of what area I pursued.”After spending a few minutes with him, this passion of his for teaching became truly evident. “One of my favorite things is being able to be the reason that somebody had a lightbulb go off. To be able to bear witness to that moment, I just get so charged up and energized.”

Thanks to the renovations, Mr. Lanighan has a pristine rehearsal room. He loves how spacious it is now, and the sound panels have an incredible impact on the acoustics. One of his favorite things about the new wing is that he uses Dr. Shewan’s old office, including the white table he would use instead of a proper desk. When I asked him what his favorite thing about all of East is, he said it’s definitely the students and the rare culture they’ve built here. “It always feels like there’s a bit of a buzz in the air, and with the energy of the school, there’s always something going on people are excited about. People are always creating new ways to be excited about the school. I just love the energy of the people.” With the unusual lack of walls, he also mentioned how the floor plan has helped establish an openness in school culture that’s hard to replicate. 

If Mr. Lanighan could jam with any artist, he’d like to play with his “number one jazz group of all time,” the Oscar Peterson Trio. Additionally, he had a difficult time deciding what his favorite song is, but Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust” is certainly a contender. He believes “it’s the mission of a song to make you feel some kind of whole emotion,” so he avoids listening to anything that’s violent. As for Lady Gaga, Mr. Lanighan just doesn’t vibe with her music, although he loved her performance in A Star Is Born.

Outside of music, Mr. Lanighan enjoys hanging out with friends and family, watching Netflix, and strolling through the park with an open mug of coffee (hazelnut half-and-half). He tends to favor supernatural shows like Stranger Things and Merlin, but he couldn’t decide what his all-time favorite show is. During the lockdown, Mr. Lanighan enjoyed finally reading the Harry Potter series for the first time.

The new director is already receiving high praise from junior Jonah Rudduck. 

“Mr. Lanighan is amazing. He has the kind of energy that makes it impossible not to get excited about music. The new band room looked pretty alien on the first day of school, but he and Mr. McCluskey have made it a welcoming place. I’m really looking forward to the years ahead with them. He’s also an incredible musician. I think for Winterfest we should just be his backing band while he shreds on the trombone.” Sophomore Avery Field adds, “Mr. Lanighan brings a certain sense of calm to the band room. It will be exciting to see what he has in store for us!! It’s been an amazing start!

As we progress through the school year, one thing band students should know is how sincerely special their band director believes Williamsville East High School to be. “I want my students to understand how technicolor and awesome my experience was at this school, and how it set in motion ten years worth of events in my life that I will never forget, and hope I can give back too in some way. The fact that it’s my job to facilitate that is something I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to do… It’s not something I take for granted. It’s something I have a long road of getting better at. I have a lot to learn, but it’s not lost on me that it’s a great school and a great place to be.”

Mr. McCluskey

Mr. Tom McCluskey has been a beloved music teacher in the Williamsville School District for years. Especially last year, when the music wing was undergoing renovations, preparing for the transition to a new conductor, and attempting to make music through a year of separation, Mr. McCluskey was there to do whatever he needed to do to help. He is now officially a music teacher at Williamsville East, we could not be more excited to have him!

Mr. McCluskey’s career as a music educator started young. At just 14, he was giving music lessons to his nephew and his neighbor. He went on to get a Bachelor’s degree in Percussion Performance and a Master of Music from Buffalo State. For many years, he taught private drumming lessons through Twin Village Music in Lancaster, and he also taught Music Theory at Villa Maria College for three years. After going on  tour with his band Last Conservative, Mr. McCluskey came back to Buffalo and got his Musical Education Certification after which he taught 5th and 7th grade Music Theory in the Williamsville School District as well as lessons at Heim. Mr. McCluskey even  remembers student teaching at Williamsville East when our new band director, Mr. Lanighan, was a senior in high school. When asked about what his favorite part of the new music wing is, he says simply, “Mr. Lanighan.” Like everyone else, Mr. McCluskey sees the excitement and passion for music that Mr. Lanighan is bringing to his job, and he is glad to be teaching alongside him. When asked why he decided to be a teacher, Mr. McCluskey reminisces about his high school band director. “He was big on Russian composers,” said Mr. McCluskey, “and the philosophy that they had was that you owe it to the art to teach.” 

Mr. McCluskey not only has an amazing amount of experience as a music educator but also as a performer. He is the drummer of the band Last Conservative, who have signed with Robby Takac, bassist of famous Buffalo-formed band The GooGoo Dolls,  released multiple albums, and opened for famous artists like Nickelback and Bon Jovi. Mr. McCluskey points to opening for Bon Jovi at the Keybank Center in 2006 as one of his favorite venues. Last Conservative toured around the country for 5 years, and when asked about his favorite tour moments, Mr. McCluskey remembers the unique venues they got to play, like one on the side of a mountain in Colorado. Mr. McCluskey can still be found playing gigs today. In fact, he had a gig with a trio at the Saturn Club on the day of our interview. He even said that he and his band Last Conservative still get together from time to time to play gigs. Mr. McCluskey is also a founding member of Lake Effect, which is a New Music/Word Art ensemble that performs and records with local artists and poets. Teachers like Mr. McCluskey show students that music isn’t just about playing and practicing an instrument in school, it’s about carrying the passion and creativity that comes from music with you throughout your life. 

Outside of school, Mr. McCluskey can be found spending time with his wife, daughter, and pet dog or listening to his favorite music. He doesn’t have a clear favorite artist since he has liked different musicians at different points in his life. In high school, his favorite album was “A Trick of the Tail” by Genesis, but he also loves Prince’s “Around the World in a Day” and Peter Gabriel’s album “So”.  

Mr. McCluskey brings this rock edge into the music wing. As junior Colleen Meosky put it,  “I can’t tell you how excited I am to see Mr. McCluskey every day. I had him for seventh-grade music class, and he’s since been the coolest guy I know. We’re very lucky to have a rock star like him at East.” Senior Joelle Silvestri agrees, saying, “Mr. McCluskey is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. He is always there to help you or to tell a joke that puts a smile on your face.” Students also recognize how dedicated Mr. McCluskey is to the music wing, as East alum Diana Stone put it, “Mr. McCluskey is just an all-around great guy and one of the hardest workers I know. Anything we needed done last year, Mr. McCluskey was on top of it right away. I’m so glad that he now has a permanent teaching job at East and I know he’ll do great things for the music program! We are so lucky to have him.”

Just as students are drawn to Mr. McCluskey because of his kindness, good humor, and commitment to music, Mr. McCluskey says he was always drawn to the music program at East, saying, “I always knew that this was where I wanted to be.”

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