World Trade Center terrorist attack provided musician's second chance

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:49

    WARWICK-Because of the uncertainty of the business, musicians and performers are often warned not to give up their day jobs. But Mark Sly, a professional guitarist, vocalist, song-writer and private music instructor, had no choice. On Sept. 11, 2001, his "day job" was at the World Trade Center. "I've been playing and teaching music for 13 years," said Sly. "And I actually moved from Warwick to an apartment closer to Manhattan to work on a music project with DreamWorks. But I also needed extra money and so I took a clerical and computer job at Fuji Bank." At that time the offices of Fuji Bank were on the 81st floor of Tower Two of the World Trade Center. "I'll say one thing," he said. "I had a beautiful view." That same year, 2001, Fuji merged with another firm and about two weeks before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against the Pentagon and World Trade Center, his new company moved to the 48th floor of Tower One. Later, a friend who was still working in Tower Two, the second building to be struck, told him that the aircraft's wing had slammed into Sly's old desk. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, however, Sly was sitting at his new desk on the 48th floor of Tower One when the first plane hit. "There was a tremendous noise - a boom - and the building rocked from side to side," he recalled. "Outside the windows, papers were falling like snow. I knew I had to get out." Although the plane had struck a high floor, there was no immediate indication of this and, at first, Sly thought it might be another basement explosion similar to the 1993 terrorist bombing. At first he tried the elevator but it wasn't available. He headed down a stairwell. "People weren't moving. If the fire was below, I thought, we could even be heading the wrong way." Sly decided to take another exit on a lower floor. He tried to use any one of the office telephones he passed to call his parents but he didn't know the codes. "I just wanted to tell them that I loved them," he said. As he hunted for another stairwell, he spotted a television tuned to a news report and learned that the plane had struck a higher floor. He then found a less crowded staircase and made his way to the lower Mall. "We were all shouting, ‘What happened, what happened? And a female cop answered, ‘Don't ask. Just run!" When Sly made it to the outside, he was surprised to see crowds of people rushing about the entire width of the street with no cars or trucks in sight. "It reminded me of a scene from a heavily populated city in a third world country," he said. Sly eventually made it on foot to a location further uptown where he borrowed a friend's telephone to call his parents in Warwick. "When I was walking down those stairs," recalled Sly. "I wasn't thinking about what I would do when I got out. I was thinking about what I would do if I got out." Sly vowed that he would move back to this area and follow his dream. "I promised myself that I would dedicate all my time to my music," he said. "And that I would give my music back to the community." Sly was born and raised in Warwick. He's a graduate of Warwick Valley High School and earned his Bachelor's Degree from the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Since Sept. 11, he has been teaching guitar full time and he now has 30 students. Sly is also a guitarist, songwriter and vocalist for his Warwick based rock band, Karmablind. He has recorded on CDs and played with another band, Grudge, and with well-known recording artist Gavin DeGraw. As a private music instructor, Sly prefers to travel to his students' homes. Many of them are of school age and he usually schedules appointments after school hours and on weekends. He customizes his lesson to each student and he doesn't ask for a contract. "I like to make it fun," said Sly, whose philosophy is to teach the students music that they enjoy while, at the same time, teaching the basics. "They're having a good time," he said, "but they're also learning musical theory, notation, scales and chords." Anyone interested in music lessons can call him at 988-6263. Sly still has bad memories from that tragic day at the World Trade Center. But he's back in Warwick, engaged to be married, and he says that the best therapist has been his music. "I was given a second chance," he said. "I'm happy living here and doing what I'm doing. And I love giving back music to my community."