OK, here’s how I got into this whole thing of teaching: I was posted at PS 27 in the Redhook area of Brooklyn, where I worked with David Pleasant from 1993 to 1995. Now before I go on, let me just say I know this is supposed to be about the Bruce Mack Creative Music Workshops, but I cannot go on without giving proper due to this magnificent musician David Pleasant. Flat out, I watched him teach! Yeah, I got my own thing… but he encouraged me by never being concerned with what “standards” had been established. David was doing David and it was working for everybody! I even started to approach my music differently from that point-I felt like I wanted to learn new instruments and just go with what ability I had. Being primarily a vocalist, it was a highly inspirational teaching model for me. I would often sit in with the kids to learn the Afro-Caribbean rhythms they were learning on xylophones, marimba, congas, and bongos. This was a group of instruments I had no real experience playing and would eventually learn to adapt music to.
While there, I observed the strong interest kids had in music, and the real need for the opportunity to express themselves creatively. This opportunity seemed to be missing in many communities. And I know because at that point I had traveled throughout the 5 boroughs assisting many artists who were doing workshops and lecture demonstrations for schools. So when David resigned, I offered to continue the music program. I felt a connection to these kids. The Afro-Caribbean direction the instruments pointed to was important to keep because it addressed the demographic of that community. In later years, I realized the greater significance of teaching with Afro-Caribbean instruments, being the foundation in so much of popular music.
I participated in Arts Connection’s Summer Teacher’s Institute in 1995, and began my first residency shortly after. While at P.S.27 during the fall of 1995 until spring of 1997, I developed and taught teaching modules such as “Sing the Rhythm,” “Bye Bye French Fry,” “We Bop for BeBop,” and others. I started “Sing the Rhythm” to quickly teach myself rhythms, songs, and methods to keep kids engaged while teaching parts to others, and then began teaching the kids using the same concept. It really made it fun for the kids, creating non-verbal sounds with their voices and familiarizing them with the music they would learn through these techniques.
Throughout 1997, I started to really develop my own teaching curriculum, created music workshops throughout New York City for public schools, arts-in-education organizations such as Arts Connection, Henry Street Settlement, and University Settlement, presenters and talent programs such as the Black Rock Coalition, and Hudson Repertory Dance Theatre in Jersey City, New Jersey. In collaboration with these organizations, I also implemented Music & Arts programming at various schools in all 5 boroughs of New York City.
Program Directors started observing my classes, and I was asked to apply my style of teaching to Youth Development programs (such as New York City’s Settlement Houses, Morry’s Camp in Glen Spey, New York, Coalition School for Social Change, NYC and the Beacon School, NYC). This led to various music workshops for the Music Ascension program.
Since 1999 I have been resident teaching artist at P.S. 3 in the West Village, NYC, and I have also been serving as resident Teaching Artist, Youth Developer, and Arts Program Coordinator for NYC’s most progressive youth development agency, The Door.
The mission of The Door is to empower at-risk youth to reach their potential, through teaching real-world skills in a caring environment. As Arts Program Coordinator, I was in charge of finding and hiring teaching artists in the areas of Music, Dance, Acting, Fine Art, Graphic Design, Photography, and Film Making, as well as organizing year-round class schedules.
I implemented multiple changes at the Arts Program, such as a Music Education and Performance program called “The Lab”. This pedagogical curriculum is designed to increase opportunities for collaboration and the sharing of information amongst instructors, without affecting their individual teaching styles. “The Lab” also offers additional classes, more instructors, and individual studio time for advanced students. Supported by a $100,000.00 grant from the New York State Music Fund, I restructured and created compatibility amongst outdated studios by upgrading equipment, computers and software, adding instruments to allow for more participation.
Another program I created and implemented at The Door is “Radio Development, Production & Podcasting.” Using new media technology, this program teaches young people how to produce their own radio shows for broadcast or podcast. It also offers an opportunity for the global exchange of their poetry, monologues, literature, short-dramatic works, music, and the ability to share their everyday life experiences with youth around the world.
I have actively planned a more collaborative environment. Bands now play for the dance classes, while painters can work in the dance studio. As a result, students interact more and now request interdisciplinary help from one another in the preparation of graphics, music etc. My overreaching goal is to empower youth with the knowledge and tools to be actively involved in decision-making instead of changes being made for them. I strive to teach them how to build community, and simply provide them with access to political and global activity, so they can share their views, needs, and creativity.
In 1999, I was invited to come on board as resident teaching artist at P.S.3, in the West Village of New York City. I teach music to over 850 children a year, from kindergarten through 5th grade. I created the music program at this school and teach a large number of kids, but see each child only once a week. Because of the varying teaching styles of each of the home room teachers I developed lessons and workshops geared toward individual classes.
My class structures allow students to learn music, play it, and give a group performance for the rest of the school and their parents to appreciate. This instills a great sense of musical accomplishment in the kids. Once I was given a permanent room to teach music in, I brought in equipment to bring the program more up to date and enable the classes to record. As kids become more aware of home studios and production, this creates an important connection between school, home, what they hear on the radio, and some of their parents’ professions. The kids now record as “class bands” and get to document ideas as I encourage them to compose and write lyrics to be performed.
In 2005, I initiated a project to teach children (and their parents) the importance of community and team work. This was accomplished through the exercise of composing, recording, and performing. I obtained a small grant for the project, and led 162 children from the second and third grades, their parents, and some of their teachers through the project. One of the parents, the filmmaker Constantine Limperis, filmed the process. The resulting documentary, “When Fried Eggs Fly,” was featured in the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival. Each showing was followed by a question and answer session, as well as an improvisational short workshop (based on “Sing The Rhythm”). The film was the centerpiece of a very successful fundraiser for the arts program at P.S.3., and was chosen by actor/director Robert deNiro to help raise funds for another elementary school, in Brooklyn, NY.
“When Fried Eggs Fly” was in rotation on the Starz cable network and screened at an array of higher learning and cultural institutions such as Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education & Psychology, University of Dayton’s School of Education in Ohio, and MOCA Jacksonville (Museum of Contemporary Art in Florida). I speak and hold workshops at many of the screening locations.
Over the past years, my curriculum design, programs, and performances have raised over $300,000.00 in funds for arts and music education.
Check out the documentary “When Fried Eggs Fly” featuring Bruce Mack here: