Pascack Hills Grad Brianna Musco Finds Calling in Music

Growing up in Montvale, New Jersey, Brianna Musco enjoyed the competitive nature of playing sports.  The only girl on her neighborhood block, Musco accepted the challenge playing alongside her brothers, Frankie and Dominic, and other boys.  Whether it was football, hockey or wiffle ball.  During the summer time Musco played on the baseball and basketball summer teams.  Looking to further develop her skills, Musco wanted to play on the boys’ teams.  Her father Frank ended up speaking to the Commissioner of both leagues that cleared the way for Musco to participate.

Coming from a family that displayed a high standard of excellence in athletics with Musco’s  Dad playing high school baseball and an All-State catcher while her brother Frankie played three sports at Pascack Hills High School and went on to play football at Salve Regina University and then professionally in Germany.

“My brother played three sports in his freshman year and then focused on football the rest of high school.  He could have easily played baseball and basketball but was interested in playing football in college.  He got the call to play in Germany and wasn’t a thought in his mind but you never know who is watching you and it’s all about giving your best and all.  My Dad was probably the best athlete to ever go through Pascack Hills, they won everything his senior year and in baseball he was the catcher and as soon as the ball was hit, he would beat the runner to back first to back up the throw.  Any athleticism my brothers and I get it’s from him.”

“I had something to prove, I always say that my athleticism stems from just purely playing in the backyard and getting those reps in without knowing it,” said Brianna Musco.  “Nothing against girls but I always wanted to know why I couldn’t play with the boys.  It didn’t click in my mind why I wouldn’t be able to play at that competitive level.”

While attending Pascack Hills High School, Musco flourished as a three-sport athlete in soccer, basketball and softball.  During her four years at Pascack Hills, Musco ascended to top of the scoring record in soccer with over 100 goals, earning first-time, all-county and all-league honors from The Record and Star-Ledger newspapers.  In basketball named to first-team all-league and second team all-County and in softball first-team all-league and all-County.  In addition, Musco received 12 varsity letters.

With all the accolades Musco earned, she understood the meaning of unselfishness and said it was about being a good teammate and being a part of the team.  “When I got to school my freshman year, the soccer season was first and just remember trying to work as hard as a I could.  I remember trying the person next to me look good and that I was doing my job.  That’s why soccer became my number one sport.”

“I wanted to be a reliable teammate, I was given the opportunity to play in the pre-season, like the pre-season scrimmages and I just wanted to be on the field.  Our returning varsity goalie went down so I went in to play and I was terrible, but said I wanted to get on the field.  In basketball there were six returning seniors, five of them returning.  We had the best record that year and I was the sixth man, I said to coach ‘put me in so somebody can get a break for a couple of minutes.’  Coach (Scott) Ernest (Soccer & Basketball), Erin Curatola (Softball) are the ones that definitely shaped to be a proud individual and it had a lasting impression.”

During her senior year, Musco discovered another passion and that ended up being music.  Participating in the Battle of the Bands, the band that Musco was a part of ended up winning.  “It was pretty much like a high school musical, a bunch of kids at my own studio kind of put it together to create a band,” Brianna Musco described.  “We played Fleetwood Mac’s “Like Gotta Go Your Own Way” and I wasn’t expecting to win.”

Musco pointed to her uncle, Vincent Musco, who owns Westwood Music Studios, as the biggest factor in her musical development.  “He’s probably had the biggest influence on my future more than anybody because I’m following music as my career and passion,” Brianna Musco explained.  “I’m biased but from a musical educator standpoint, he’s the musical instructor you could study from in all of the tri-state.  His patience, ability to explain things differently for each student to understand the best way that each student learns.”

Initially committed to Hofstra University after receiving a scholarship in her senior year at Pascack Hills, Musco did not realize the steep cost of tuition with $20,000 just going towards housing and the cost of tuition totaling 60 plus thousand dollars.  Pivoting to Monmouth University for her freshman year Musco decided to take the year off from soccer.

“I was not feeling soccer that year, pretty much that freshman year experience was the best thing that could have ever happened to me,” said Brianna Musco.  “I made friends with people that did not know me as an athlete and musician.  I lived with eight girls in a suite, had so much fun and needed that.  I did realize eventually that music was the answer.”

Not only interested in pursuing music, Musco re-discovered her zest for playing soccer again.  Recruited by Delaware State University while attending high school, Musco reached out to Head Coach Kerri Scroope and expressed her interest in transferring.

“They highly recruited me in high school and offered me a full ride at one point so I reached out to the coach,” Brianna Musco remarked.  “Basically, I said I noticed you didn’t really have anyone at the striker position and I don’t what your incoming recruits look like but I’m interested in transferring.  You really don’t hear of people transferring after their freshman year and go on to play Division I soccer.”

“It really gave me an opportunity to figure out myself, when you are brought on to a team in college is much different than in high school.  You have to prove yourself to earn respect and everything you get.  The second I got there I got the opportunity to play that was like a full circle ending for me because we won the league championship.  The last game I ever played and closed that chapter of athletics for me.”

Making the season extremely gratifying for Musco were not only seniors on the team, but her roommates as well in Morgan Durham, Danny Valenti and Juliam Bossert.  However, in the league championship game against South Carolina that was on the verge of going into extra minutes Musco’s career would be altered forever.  Receiving a pass from Valenti, Musco appeared she would be on the cusp of scoring the game-winning goal but as she entered the box the goalie from South Carolina took her out resulting in a penalty shot.  Severely concussed, Valenti ended up taking the penalty kick and scoring the game winner.

“I’m lying on the ground and don’t remember anything,” Brianna Musco described.  “If you watch the film, it’s probably the funniest and should have been a viral video because I get taken out and just go down along with the goalie who just tackled me and didn’t go for the ball.  I got a ring out of it but had to sit as we drove home from South Carolina for 14 hours.”

Contemplating a return to soccer Musco found out Head Coach Scroope was leaving.  Unsure of whether or not the new coach would uphold her scholarship, Musco made the decision to solely focus on music and transfer back to Monmouth University.  Back at Monmouth University, Musco her a couple of roommates who she had roomed with freshman year were going to study abroad in Europe.

“I knew I couldn’t play soccer anymore and knew music was the answer,” said Brianna Musco.  “I wanted to be in a place like Asbury Park and where the music scene was.  Transferring back to Monmouth where they had a world class multimillion-dollar studio on campus and able to study with Professor (Aaron L.) Leone, who is just an incredible and insane guitar player.”

In 2018 Musco’s determination and worth ethic paid off immensely as she graduated with a degree with honors in classical guitar.  Her first show with her band she described ended up being similar to a demo where she performed three songs, Forever, Ringling and Not Enough in one of her friends’ studios. However, she did not anticipate an overflow crowd of family and friends to arrive onsite.

“The one thing athletics taught me is to finish up strong,” Brianna Musco explained.  “Coming from an athletic background everyone knew me from there and now they found out I was doing wanted to come to the show.  They actually had to close the doors because it was a fire hazard and only supposed to be 150 people and turned out to be 165.  I had friends from high school, college, roommates, athletics and my small Italian 4 foot 10 grandma in the front row.  Honestly it was great, I had German behind me and kept everything in check.  My bandmates had these unique quotes that brought a sense of relaxation during the stressful moments.”

“I had always been a classical solo guitarist but really had to figure out how to be efficient and effective in communicating with the boys and how I wanted things to sound like a spill in a guitar, boo tiny guitar or extra cymbal on certain beats.  I’m singing in a verse system and I’ll start cracking up and the audience feeds off that.  You see a band having fun with each other on stage and think that is such a great thing in understanding how a drummer thinks and our bassist is different than other guitars.  My bandmates are like my favorite human beings in the world.  My drummer, Owen Flanagan, bass player is Luigi Sardi, on guitars are Lucas Jones, Bryan Rojas and Nicky Ryan is from Asbury Park and he has got a solo career of his own.”

For the first year Musco and her band played rock and roll songs at local bars.  In January of 2019 she began the process of recording record an EP and by June it was released.  E-mailing as many bars as she could, Musco found a reliable owner in Dave (David Gaskill) at Debonair Music Hall in Teaneck, New Jersey, who was also the promoter of the venue and was very interested in Musco and her band not only playing, but opening up for a larger band that provided some good exposure and notoriety.

“A lot of these places you reach out say sure, you could play here but either you have to pay rent the place to guarantee the amount of people that show up,” said Brianna Musco.  “I have gotten to the place where I’m able to narrow it down to essential places in New Jersey.  Dave has always given us an incredible split on the tickets and hospitality wise is really nice.”

Not only getting the opportunity to travel within the United States but internationally Musco enjoyed the various sights and sounds.  For Musoco it was all about connecting with the fans at shows as well as offering merchandise items at a reasonable price.

“People who live in international countries just love to dance and sing to the lyrics,” Brianna Musco mentioned.  “Here in the United States there is a place in Illinois called The Wheel.  There is a spot in Liverpool, England where Adele, Jimmy Hendrix and The Beatles were younger so we were able to play on an off night and just me with an acoustic guitar.  Another favorite one is Barcelona because my Instagram gave me a lot of opportunities for me.  One of the guitarists who I have been introduced through Instagram is Liam Cloud.  His guitar tone is unreal, can play a beautiful rhythm guitar and actually had his band play with me during the set as we had been conversing.  In Barcelona people in high school can go to bars and stay out much longer.”

“Music is kind of a universal opportunity where everyone can connect regardless of language.  My favorite thing is to meet people at a show.  I will bring my guitar and pedal board off stage so I can immediately start talking to people that were in the audience.  This way I’m not wasting anytime and I can meet as many people as possible.  I still think it’s surreal when people are wearing my t-shirt or sweatshirt with my face on it.”

“I carry every single moment of it and what I like to do is take it in,” Brianna Musco described.  “One of my favorite things to do is to go to a spot but the locals were like a good spot to go or where my family like where’s a good spot to kind of enjoy the moment and really, you know, take it in  whether it be in Denver and being on the top of a mountain.  My cousin is a pilot so I went in a plane with him, that was a very small plane.”

Striving to be the best when performing in front of a live audience, Musco was adamant about videotaping every place the band plays at.  Similar to be a Monday morning armchair quarterback in sports, Musco analyzes every fine detail from the show.  She draws inspiration from iconic artists such as Carole King, Janet Jackson, Joan Jett and Stevie Nicks.  When she is on the road, Musco enjoyed finding quiet spots where she could write music as well.

“In Florence, Italy where the Michelangelo father that overlooks the whole skyline of Florence and you’re supposed to go there at sunset, so I bought myself a pizza to go with some gelato.  That at the outset, you watch the Michelangelo and the whole sunset until it was nighttime and then you smell the light and kind of ate pizza.”

“I always thought that it brought the most joy to me in creating that song and being able to bring kind of a different sound but still the same as mainstream pop music, “Brianna Musco explained.  “And I think that it just kind of reflected you know, all that joy that happiness and like inside jokes in the studio I feel like people resonated with that and reacted with it in the recording.  Driving down the parkway, but songs such as Forever and Ringling to cruise down the parkway.”

“Time heals better, my producer, Mario Rodriguez, he pushes the button to be able to talk to me to the booth.  He says something along the lines of like, alright, so good job.  I’m actually feel like feel the music.  He uses terms when he was like, don’t be, you know, soft about it, like really dig in.  So, I do the second take, and then that’s when he like ripped into me.  He’s like, ‘absolutely not.’  He’s like, ‘we’re going to either not do the song or you’re going to like cry in the booth while you’re sitting in this to get as much emotion out as you can.’  So I tried as best as I could kind of relay that emotion, but it is a bit of a sore topic, you know, when you lose a friend at young.  So, I try to I try to be versatile in my musicianship and those are both valid in each project.”

Despite challenging times due to the  COVID-19 Pandemic that has sidelined Musco and her band from playing here in the United States and internationally, these obstacles have not prevented Musco from writing and playing music.  She is confident by next year she will be back on the road playing in front of her fans.

“My mentality stems from my upbringing in athletics, you know, we were never allowed to lean up against the walls during practice, you know, is very, very disciplined with myself and every action.  I come from an incredible Italian family so me not being able to tour and what not, I know that I’m going to be in a safe sitting at home, probably making fun of one another and making light of, of a situation.  My upbringing in athletics for the way that I’m able to stay calm and collected goes, you know, nobody, nobody enjoys seeing a kid go to referee or, or cry on the court and stuff like that.”

“From a very young age, my father, my coaches, they always made sure to educate me that the way that you show your body language, the way that you approach certain topics and stuff in that aspect really describes who you are as a person.  Especially when you know, under tough I could have easily been, you know, power with the whole tour being canceled.  But first thing I looked at it was, I have a whole year to get ready for this awesome festival and I’ll have even more music.  I’ll have even more time to grow more people will be standing outside my stage.  My first thought, you know, when you get bad news like that.  I’ve never been a huge fan of like harping on bad stuff.  I feel like every day I’m always asking for more hours in the day, so don’t waste them on negative energy.”

Musco finds the most satisfaction these days spending time in Bergen County.  She is paying it forward by providing music lessons for younger children and working as an assistant coach on the women’s soccer team at her alma mater, Pascack Hills High School.

“I think Bergen County is the best place to be in the world, you have, you have so many different avenues of possibilities.  The fact that I even put in a sentence to be able to represent Bergen County, I don’t take that lightly.  Bergen County brought me you know, the opportunity to you know, finish high school with a with a mentality of like, positivity, get things done, be the best representation of yourself, bring that to college, even the opportunity to play soccer in college.”

“I’ve been teaching for the last like three, four years, turning them into like rock star monsters is able to shred and so they’re just, they really are like the light of the week,” Brianna Musco described.  “I was teaching barre chords on the guitars that is a little difficult and tricky and it takes a lot of like finger strength to be able to get a sound out.  One kid has been annoyingly trying to get a barcode for the last like, three, four months and so I answer the FaceTime and I’m like, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’  He was like, ‘watch this’ and he just does a perfect like D minor barre chord and I was so proud of the kid like that was amazing.  I definitely could probably charge more money but I’m not like in it for the money when it comes down to it because if I can teach for kids and worry about the money, I think that honestly brings about more joy for why I’m doing it.”