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Making It | Daniel Wollock’s First Flight Music

For every East Village business that’s opening or closing, dozens are quietly making it. Here’s one of them: First Flight Music.

Dan Wollock, First Flight Music, with Billy Gibbons, ZZ TopShira GoldbergDaniel Wollock of First Flight Music, with ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons.

While the East Village is a Rock ‘n’ Roll Mecca, there aren’t many places where you can tuck away and play the hell out of a some bongos, or scratch out some high chords on an electric guitar, without really annoying the neighbors. There are no such auditory conundrums to battle when within the 1,500 square-feet of First Flight Music on 174 First Ave. “We insulated the space as best as we could, and we don’t teach after 8pm, so the landlord accepts it.” says owner Daniel Wollock about being on of the few places in the city that is able to teach drum lessons, and that also provides rehearsal space for bands that need some practice time.

While it’s nice to keep the neighbors happy, Mr. Wollock’s creative kindness also extends to all levels of musicians, including the unskilled. A sound room was built so people can try out instruments in private without having to showcase their skills (or non-skills) for all to hear. “Music stores are a great atmosphere to show off in, but the sound room is for people who don’t want to have to deal with the social stigma of not having skills yet. They can sit there all day and play until it feels right. I just keep handing them guitars until they are happy.”

We spoke to Mr. Wollock about how he’s managed to keep rocking and rolling since 1995.


How long have you been in the neighborhood?


Seventeen and a half years. At that time, the East Village was under-served, but also a place where most musicians were living. Before me, this space was Pete’s Spice Shop. When I found it, it was a dark, dirty, hole in the wall. My father and I built it into a store.


What was your plan when opening a musical instrument shop?


I spent most of my adult life building motion picture and television scenery. Guitars and music was always a sideline. When I developed a problem with my feet and had to have surgery on both of them, I was in wheelchair for several years. It was then that I kind of reinvented myself as a musical instrument dealer. I had always bought and sold guitars as a hobby and I started studying them more when I was laid up.


What’s a work day like for you?


It is multi-faceted. I’m buying new products from distributors, buying used products from customers who walk-in, I’m searching the Internet and Craigslist, wherever and however I can, for stuff. 40% of our business is sales and that includes rental space. Another 40% has comes from teaching and the rest is [revenue from] repairs.


There are a lot of guitar shops in the East Village now, how do you stand out?


More recent types of musical instrument stores are guitar only or vintage only. We decided along the way to be more of a universal musical store that handles a little bit of everything. We have maracas and hand drums, percussions, drum sticks, drum heads, woodwind reeds and mouthpieces. We carry a lot of the things that most stores don’t carry unless you’re a store like Sam Ash. We’re also for the little kid in need of a small inexpensive guitar, or mouthpieces for a clarinet, saxophone or trumpet. We have the stuff the typical rock n roll store won’t have, but then we have that stuff too. We’re not the trendy boutique store, but we’re for sure not corporate. Read more…

On 11th St., New Musical Horizons

If I’m still living in this neighborhood when I turn 50, I’m going to knock on the door of the Third Street Music School at 11th Street and Second Avenue and join New Horizons, a wind and brass ensemble composed only of adults that old and older, many of whom had never picked up an instrument until they retired from other careers.

In the three and a half years since New Horizons came to the East Village, it has grown from 15 students to 70 and split into two bands that each meet twice a week. These students practice on their own up to two hours a day and the bands perform once every several weeks.

New Horizon’s parent organization, New Horizons International Musical Association, started twenty years ago in Rochester as the inspiration of Roy Ernst who wanted to get older adults into playing music together. It now has locations across the United States and in Iceland, the Netherlands, Australia, and Ireland. Here, the program has funding from the National Endowment for the Art and is “the first and only New Horizons in New York City,”according to Nancy Morgan, the director of school and community partnerships at Third Street.

Ms. Morgan told me that when this band of New Horizons musicians started, “they didn’t even know how to put their instruments together.” New students are always welcome, she said, so if you’re “50 or better” and you’ve always wanted to become a musician, maybe now’s the time. Check out the band and see what you think.

More information about New Horizons can be found here.