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Dr. Brian McLaughlin, Director of Bands

Marching Band Director

Dr. Brian McLaughlin has been directing band since 1983, and has been the Director of Bands at West Milford High School since 2004.  A native of the state of Texas, Dr. McLaughlin holds a Bachelor of Music Education from West Texas State University, a Master of Music in Horn Performance from the University of New Mexico, and a Doctor of Musical Arts in Horn Performance and Pedagogy from the University of Iowa.  Dr. McLaughlin has taught in public schools in Texas, Ohio, and New Jersey, and has taught at the University of New Mexico, the University of Iowa, Drew University, Coe College, and Kirkwood College. 


In addition to his duties as Director of Bands at West Milford High School, Dr. McLaughlin is an active freelance horn player in the New York City area.  He has performed on Broadway in Miss Saigon and Beauty and the Beast, and on the national tour of The Secret Garden.  Among other ensembles, he has played with the Santa Fe Symphony, the Columbus Symphony, the New Jersey Symphony, the New Jersey Pops Orchestra, the Riverside Symphonia, the Pennsylvania Regional Ballet, and the Gramercy Brass Orchestra.  In addition, he has played with such headliners as Ray Charles, Dave Brubeck, and Donna Reeves.   He was recently asked to write an article for the publications of the International Horn Society, which can be seen HERE.

Matthew Gramata, Associate Director of Bands

Director of Jazz Studies

Assistant Marching Band Director

Matt Gramata has served as the Associate Director of Bands and Director of Jazz Studies at West Milford High School since 2010. He is the assistant director for the West Milford Highlander Marching Band, directs the Symphonic Band, serves as the woodwind specialist and instructor, conducts the pit orchestra, and guides all aspects of the jazz program which includes two big bands.  Matt is a product of the esteemed music program at South Brunswick High School where he was accepted to honor ensembles at the national level. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in music education from The College of New Jersey and Master’s degree in music education from The University of Florida.  During his tenure at West Milford, Mr. Gramata initiated a jazz program that has placed 2nd in NJAJE State Finals in five consecutive years (2015-19), was selected as a performing ensemble at the NAfME Eastern Division Conference, and placed 1st at the Berklee High School Jazz Festival Class L2.; the marching band has won multiple USBands Championships; the concert band program became an active participant in the NJ State Concert Band Festival and have received gold ratings; a chamber music program and solo recital was instituted, and record number of students have been selected to honor ensembles all the way up to the national level. 


As a saxophonist and woodwind specialist, Matt has appeared throughout the New York/Tri-State area as a featured soloist with concert band and orchestra, in studio recording projects, pit orchestras, and in other freelance capacities.  He credits much of his performance passion, skills, and musical knowledge to the many fantastic teachers he has worked with including John Perillo, Kathleen Mitchell, Lynn Klock, Steve Wilson, Brandon Wright, Nathan Childers, Lenny Pickett, and Chase Baird on saxophone, Kimberly O’Hare on flute, and Joseph D’Auguste on clarinet.  


Mr. Gramata maintains a very competitive private studio where he teaches saxophone, clarinet, and flute students.  His private students have been accepted into honor ensembles up to the national level.  His students who’ve gone on to pursue music at the collegiate level have been accepted to music programs at Eastman School of Music, Indiana University, The University of Miami, Northwestern University, the University of Michigan, Ithaca College, the Hartt School of Music, and many more.

Matthew Paccione, 7th Grade Band Director

Marching Band Instructor

Matthew Paccione is currently the 7th Grade Band Director at Macopin Middle School in West Milford, NJ.  In addition to directing the 7th grade concert band, Mr. Paccione teaches all brass students, directs the brass ensemble, and the jazz band.  This is his ninth year as an instructor with the West Milford Highlander Band.  Mr. Paccione studied at the State University of New York at Purchase where he received his Bachelor’s Degree in Jazz Performance, and the City University of New York at Lehman where he received Master’s Degree in Teaching. 

Matt Leitner, Marching Band Visual Caption Head

Marching and Movement Instructor

Indoor Percussion Visual Designer

Matt began his marching band career as an alto saxophone player in the Parsippany High School Marching Band in 2007.  After graduating, he picked up a baritone and spent the 2010 summer as a member of the Bushwackers Drum & Bugle Corps.  He would go on to spend parts of four summers with Windsor Regiment Drum & Bugle Corps, as well as two full seasons with the world-renowned Phantom Regiment Drum & Bugle Corps based out of Rockford, Illinois, aging out in 2014.  Matt found his way back to the activity in the summer of 2017, playing lead baritone for the Fusion Core Drum Corps, based out of Morris County, NJ.


Immediately after graduating from Parsippany, Matt joined the visual staff for his alma mater, serving as an on-field visual technician, a role he would hold until his sixth season with the band. In 2015 he took over the Visual Caption-Head position, as well as drill-writing responsibilities. That season, PHS would go on to win both NJ States and USBands National Championships, a first for the program.  In 2016, Matt came on board with the West Milford Highlander Band full time.  2017 will be Matt’s second year with the program.


In addition to the marching band, Matt also runs the visual program for West Milford Indoor Percussion.  This coming winter will be Matt’s fifth with the program, following up on a very successful first four seasons, including multiple USBands championships and a WGI Power Regional Finals appearance.


Outside of West Milford, Matt has served as a visual consultant and drill-writer for several other New Jersey high school marching bands.  

John Calabrese, Director of Percussion

Battery Instructor

For the past 27 years John Calabrese has served as the battery instructor for the West Milford Highlander Band. His duties include the instruction and music arranger for both the field and indoor battery ensembles. In 1995, John formed the Indoor Percussion Group (winter percussion), which is still performing today. Adapting “classical and contemporary” literature for an extensive array of percussion and electronic instruments, this group incorporates marching, dance, and theater.


John has been an active member of the music education community since 1973.  A 50-year member of the Palisades Park Fired Department Band, he has also performed with the Ringwood Manor Association of the Arts Concert Band, the Garfield Cadets (The Cadets), and the 63rd Army Band.


Having attended Ramapo College of New Jersey and Fairleigh Dickinson University for Secondary Education and Public Administration, he currently is semi-retired. John was employed as a police officer for the City of Passaic and the Township of West Milford combining for 30-years of service. During his service to law enforcement, John was assigned to uniform patrol and the detective bureau. His primary function as a detective was general investigation, arson, School Resource Officer and juvenile investigations. He was also the departments liaison to the West Milford School District where in 1999, he designed and implemented the school lock down procedure’s. In 2007, John retired from the police department and started his employment with Geico Insurance Company where he worked in their Special Investigations Unit (SIU) investigating auto theft, staged accidents, and medical fraud. He currently resides in the Borough of Ringwood.

Michael Monacelli, Assistant Percussion Director

Front Ensemble Instructor

Michael Monacelli is the assistant director of percussion and the front ensemble instructor for the West Milford High School Marching Band and West Milford Indoor Percussion.


Michael has been a practicing percussionist, composer and arranger for over 15 years. His compositions for marching band and indoor percussion have won several championships. Michael is also the drum sergeant of the EUSPBA Grade 4 champion Claddagh Pipe Band. Additionally, Michael is a freelance percussionist, playing shows across the New York City area. He maintains a private percussion studio, Highland Sounds: Percussion & Bagpipe Tuition, based out of West Milford, New Jersey.


Michael is experienced in orchestral, rudimental, and world percussion. He has performed and recorded with many ensembles and artists—including the Syracuse University Symphony Orchestra, the Syracuse University Wind Ensemble, the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra, Samba Laranja, Yousif Sheronick, JD Shaw, and Vince DiMartino.


Michael holds a Bachelor of Music in Music Industry from Syracuse University's Setnor School of Music. He has studied under Michael Bull, Joshua Dekaney, and Ernest Muzquiz of Syracuse University; Chris Nappi at the New York Summer Music Festival; and Dr. Kenneth Piascik of Morristown, New Jersey. Michael is a member of the Percussive Arts Society.

Joseph Smolinski, Bagpipe Instructor

Joe has been on staff since 2008. He is an alumnus of West Milford High School and Ramapo College of NJ. He currently works as a  history teacher at Macopin Middle School of West Milford teaching American Government.


Joe began piping through the West Milford school system in 2000. He graduated as Pipe Major of the Highlander Band. While a student in WM Joe was the Pipe Sergeant of the Clan Na Vale Pipe Band of Oakland, NJ. In 2004 Joe became a member of the Kenmure Grade 2 Pipe Band under the direction of Gordon Bell. After high school he became a member of the Bergen Irish Grade 3 Pipe Band going on to become their Pipe Sergeant in 2008. In 2010 Joe founded the Claddagh Pipe Band of West Milford, NJ. Under his leadership Claddagh Pipe Band went on to be the overall winner of Grade 4 of the EUSPBA in 2015. He is still the active leader of the Claddagh Band as well as a Grade 2 solo competitor with the Eastern United States Pipe Band Association.


In Addition to his leadership within the Highlander Band and Claddagh Pipe Band ensembles, Joe also offers private tuition to students of all ages in the greater North Jersey Area.

Kristy Smolinski, Bagpipe Instructor

Kristy has been on staff since 2010. She is an alumnus of West Milford and Ramapo College. She is currently the co-director and preschool teacher at Great Start Early Learning of West Miflord.


Kristy began piping through her time at Macopin Middle School as a student. During her high school piping career she served as Pipe Sergeant and Pipe Major. She became a member of the Bergen Irish Pipe Band in 2008. In 2010 Kristy went on to co-found the Claddagh Pipe Band of West Milford. In 2015 she became the Pipe Sergeant of Claddagh Pipe Band. Under her leadership Claddagh Pipe Band went on to be the overall winner of Grade 4 of the EUSPBA in 2015.


In addition to her instruction of bagpipes, Kristy also designs and teaches our tenor drum section of the Highlander Pipes & Drums. Kristy also offers private lessons.

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