God’s Rockstar

The grounds were still wet, and there was a power line down in the middle of Stillman Avenue in Bergenfield, NJ.  The train passes by every half hour or so, making everyone talk just a little louder than usual.  I’m greeted at the door by a young man, his mother and their cotton puffed dog, Kiwi.

“Melissa! It is so good to see you,” says Dylon Haviland, the son of George Haviland.

“It’s good to see you, too,” I said as we reached in for a long hug.  In that instant I know I have arrived at a place where I’m welcomed and comfortable.

I walk in and Marianne Haviland greets me, as well.  

“It’s good to see you, Melissa.  Go downstairs. George is practicing,” she told me.

Even before walking through the door, I am already feeling warm because of the music that’s being played on an electric guitar downstairs.  I finally head down, and I am greeted with a big, warm smile.

“Hey Melissa!  Nice to see you, kid,” he says to me as he’s strumming away on his guitar.  He was practicing music to be played at his church that coming Sunday.

“Hey Havs!  It’s nice to see you, too,” I said setting down my camera on his couch.  

There’s a keyboard that’s covered and about 8 guitars in the room, along with a pile of guitar picks and a music stand with a jazz chart on it. IMG_1443

He sets down his newest guitar, his so-called child, and joins his son and I on the couch. We start with small talk, catching up, asking about his wife, Marianne, as well as his son, Dylon, 19.   He tells me about how work has been going as the district supervisor of music at North Bergen High School as my eyes are wandering around his guitar collection, when he asked me if I still played.

A few of George Haviland's guitars
A few of George Haviland’s guitars
“Here and there.  I’ve been busy with school and work.  When did you first start to play, again?”

Haviland, or “Havs” as everyone calls him, tells me he began to play in the 2nd grade, quit in the 3rd grade, started again in 4th grade, quit in 5th, and began playing again in 6th.  By the time he was in 7th grade, he was playing at parties and bars until his freshman year of college.

George Haviland at the age of 18
George Haviland at the age of 18
Havs went to North Bergen High School and graduated in 1976, where he played in the jazz band and sang in the chorus.  He also starred in their musicals that were Broadway hits like “Mame” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”  During this time, he was still playing in local bands, up until he began his college career at what is now known as New Jersey City University.  

While at NJCU, Havs began to study classical guitar, and sold all of his electric guitar equipment.  I have always known that he was talented, but from hearing all these stories, I think he could’ve been a rockstar.

Havs was approached by “Kool & the Gang” to play with them because they were looking for a “white guitarist,” but it never worked out.  

He was also hanging out with rock stars like Michael Bruce, one of the original guitarists from the Alice Cooper band.

“I was at his apartment, and I picked up a guitar.  I played a major 7th chord, and he asked me what that was.  I was confused.  He asked me to show him how to play it.  I gave him a lesson while staring at all of the gold plaques he earned from Alice Cooper, and thought there was something wrong there,” he says to me.

He then became a part of a band called “Cobra” that according to him was good instrumentally, but not as strong vocally.  He says they would be in the recording studio for hours and would leave “sounding like Queen.”

Cobra used to back up the band “Twisted Sister” right before they made it big at what he said was “a hole in the wall on Route 46.”  They wanted to go on tour and dreamt of stardom, but Havs was always realistic, and wanted to graduate from college.

IMG_1432Haviland went from wanting to be a rockstar to being more “practical,” he said.  He graduated from college in 1981, and began teaching preschool right after.  He was also auditioning for metal bands, rocking his mullet after getting rid of his afro.  He then began to teach in elementary schools, all while studying at Manhattan School of Music in New York and Berklee College of Music in Boston.  He finally moved up to the high school and became the band director, where he led the marching band and wind ensemble to win national awards.  During this time he was playing in off Broadway shows and in jazz bands.

Havs played in a band named “Peyote” at Starland Ballroom with his friends, but for the last 7 years he has been playing for his church.  He says it took him 30 years to realize that this was why God put a guitar in his hand.

At first Haviland attended Catholic church, and was going to Catholic school.  When he got to college, he started going to a Baptist church with one of his friends.  He has always been very religious, and even began the Bible Club at North Bergen High School 1992.

Havs often intimidated people when it came to  being a teacher.  Former students like Danny* and Christopher Camizzi agreed that he is always energetic.  

“I only had him for 2 years, and it was kind of like being on the football team.  Or like a Sour Patch commercial.  First sour then sweet,” said Danny.

Danny said that he had never experienced anything like that before.   He also said that they used to play sports with the Bible Club, but Havs wasn’t as religious in class.  He did see them say prayers during club meetings.

Havs said he always wanted to help people because that’s what he likes to do.

“He was  always there for you, not just for school , but anything you needed.  He goes the extra mile for anyone,” said Camizzi, a former student of Haviland who is now a teacher in the North Bergen School District.    

Haviland’s son has heard some of his rockstar stories.  He always told Dylon that he realized he wanted to help people.  Dylon is even attending NJCU to study music education, like his father.

As far as age and health, the 57 year old Havs said he is in the best shape he has ever been.  He said he used to think about retirement, but changed his mind.  He wishes to continue to work for 10 more years.  He works out when he can, and he reads scriptures before he goes to bed.  He said really enjoys playing for God and helping people.

IMG_1425Any student can always find Havs in the same place: in his office in room 108 in North Bergen High School, where he will always greet you with a warm smile and if you’re lucky a song.



  1. I was at student of Mr. Haviland back when I was a Freshman 82/83. gosh I was not the best student then, sadly and he was patient. So nice to learn all he has accomplished.

    Stacy (Bonomo) Petriello

  2. Havs was my band teacher for four years in high school, and I am now a science teacher there. I was just thinking the other day, actually, Havs taught me how be PASSIONATE about what I teach. He demonstrated how to show what he loves in the classroom. A great person and role-model. Melissa, great job in putting this together to give him some deserved publicity. 😌

  3. Going old school here….when George first came to NBHS, we were his first class in choir. He was then, and still is, an awesome dude! Much love.

  4. In 2012 I was invited to be a Guest of the Peyote Band and take part in a Benefit Rock Concert. Singing Gospel Music in my Baptist Church was comfortable, but I had to learn songs that I was totally unfamiliar and uncomfortable with. The band members had more confidence in me than I had in myself. When the rehearsals started, I was intimidated by all of the highly educated and very experienced Musicians!
    Everyone was friendly and patient as I made mistakes.
    One night, The studio was buzzing as everyone had different discussions on how to arrange a song.Out of frustration, I started to cry.. One of the guitarists noticed, came over to me, He seemed as tho he understood me. Looking straight into my eyes,
    He said, ” joanie. Can we pray? ” He KNEW I needed that PEACE that passes ALL understanding! From that prayer
    a certain ‘peace’ came over me . George Havilland reminded me that we had a different approach to the rehearsals. On the night of the show, we would always pray that as we were on stage, under the laser lights, our ‘lights’ may shine brighter so that men may see … The show was a success and so are YOU!
    GEORGE HAVILAND , your light shines!
    At rehearsal, on stage, at school, at home, at church, EVERYWHERE! YOUR LIGHT SHINES !
    This article is about YOU and how your good works Glorify
    our Heavenly Father ! (Matthew5:16)

  5. I am grateful of knowing Havs. He is being a mentor, instructor and a friend. Definitely a good leader. I am proud of being a NBHS marching band parent.

  6. Havs has definitely made a difference in my life.He helped nurture my love for the guitar…but really music overall. Can’t say I would be where I am now without us crossing paths. And his infectious positive energy, my goodness! Thank you Havs, for being an such inspiration, and of course THE man.
    Awesome write up, Mel!
    -Quiara (Kiwi, not the dog though)

  7. This seriously made me so nostalgic of our senior year… We always think we won’t will miss high school… Or the hard work or the exams … We do miss our the wonderful instructors that influence us into following our dreams and conquering obstacles, setting goals and meeting them and to just truly be happy with where we are, what we are, who we are and why we are there… I am forever grateful to have met such a wonderful man who had nothing but good intentions for everyone he ever met… thanks to him I still play music to this Day and have a better apreciation for the people I meet everyday and most thanks to him I am exactly where I want to be. I will never EVER forget about “the goat on the mountain top.” You’re the man Havs! And thanks Mel for this awesome reflection. Perfectly written!! Hope all is well xoxo!! From the other Mel 🙂

  8. I was never a student of George’s but can tell you he is truly an awesome guy. Two things I regret in life is not going into the Air Force (which I could never achieve now – to old) and never learning how to play an instrument. Don’t get me wrong, I have had a very for filling life being a North Bergen Police Officer. I have had an awesome opportunity to teach the kids of North Bergen life building skills and drug prevention for the last 23 years as the D.A.R.E. Officer and L.E.A.D. Instructor. But back to George, he is an awesome guy who has always supported the kids going to our D.A.R.E. and L.E.A.D. Conferences in Atlantic City to perform their music at the conference for my fellow police officers. Positive Alternative Activities is one way to help kids stay drug free and George knows that. The kids are so lucky that George is staying around and who knows maybe George could help me check off one of my bucket list items by teaching me how to play the guitar. George you rock, great article and god bless my friend.
    Respectfully yours,
    Officer Joe (Sitty)

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