WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Billy Joel's longtime drummer Liberty Devitto rocked out with local high school students Tuesday to celebrate the reopening of the George Washington Educational Campus's music room.
The room — which came equipped with a new piano, microphones, saxophones and electric guitars in early March through Amp Up NYC, a partnership between Boston's Berklee College of Music, the charitable organization Little Kids Rock and the Department of Education — was shut down in 2009 after the campus was divided into four separate schools.
Juan Villar, principal of the High School for Media and Communications, said although his school will initially be running the music program, he's working with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and the other high schools on campus — The College Academy, the High School for Law and Public Service, and the High School for Health Careers and Science — to make it a school-wide initiative.
“Today we are bringing music into our lives,” Villar told hundreds of students gathered in the auditorium Tuesday, "because music transforms life."
Devitto, who played with Billy Joel for 30 years, said it was “brilliant to see the kids play” their favorite tunes at the concert. He talked to local students about his career and how the power of music helped bring people together.
“You know what was my ticket?” Devitto asked the crowd, as he pointed to the drum set on the stage. “Music!” the kids cheered back.
Devitto, who has visited several schools as part of Little Kids Rock, said it’s always great to see the kids’ reactions when they get their instruments and play.
“I remember what it was like when I started playing,” he said.
Harlem resident Kenneth Matthews, 17, who shared the stage with Devitto Tuesday morning, said he still feels the same thrill as when he started drumming six years ago.
“I saw some guys playing at my church and it looked so sick,” he said. “I taught myself by going to Guitar Center and practicing all the time.”
A year after picking up the sticks, Matthews taught himself how to read music.
As for the program, he's excited to see what it will mean for other kids.
"I've been waiting three years for this to happen here," he said.