“Community music is my game.”
During a 20 year stint in Amsterdam, a chance encounter with a neighbor resulted in Gregg’s introduction to the world of alternative community brass bands, marking the beginning of a 40 year career developing materials for these bands, and studying their organization and history. These creative community wind ensembles revealed a capacity to build community while working as a performing unit and social group. Gregg practices his band evangelism across Europe and the United States as a way to animate communities and encourage social connections.
What led you to be a teaching artist?
The opportunity to inculcate new generations of creative citizens to carry on the work of building more humane societies was too great to resist.
How do you produce a vibrant learning environment?
Positivity and a sense of humor go a long way toward creating a friendly atmosphere for learning. A joke here and there lightens up the mood, relaxes people, and opens the neural pathways for assimilating new information. A wide variety of material keeps people on their toes and widens horizons. I encourage a sense of agency and responsibility for which direction lessons take.
How have you evolved as a teacher?
The realization that I’m likely learning more on any given day than my students was an important development. Whether dealing with some aspect of my own craft, the delivery mechanism, or the social engineering this work entails, every session offers up at least one important lesson to guide further work. The trick is to be open to these tidbits of enlightenment, recognize them for the gems they are, and employ them next time around.
Learning should be fun.
Teaching involves making available the resources and opportunities for people to learn on their own. Basic techniques can be explained, but experience is always the best teacher. Breakthroughs accomplished on one’s own, at one’s own pace, always stand the best chance of being incorporated into a personal body of knowledge. I provide ample opportunity to make ‘mistakes,’ embrace them as learning opportunities, and revel in the new directions they so often point to.
Musical ensembles are an exercise in teamwork. Every member is responsible for a part of the whole; they’re made to understand the importance of that part, and valued for that responsibility.
As a committed multi-culturalist, I use a lot of material culled from the cultures of other countries with the intention of bringing students into contact with forms of musical expression they’re not already familiar with.
I’ve never shied away from mixing skill levels in the same group. Bandemonium, the community ensemble I established in 2007, mixes local professionals with students of all ages and abilities. The least technically proficient member of the group is offered a ‘no right notes’ solo spot to fill, the louder & crazier the better, as a way to introduce them to improvising and celebrating the sound of learning.
One of the most valuable lessons I received at university was the abject misery I was subjected to by a private trombone teacher. His joyless approach to making music and ‘encouraging’ others has stuck with me as a wonderful example of how NOT to teach. Ever since, I’ve strived to create an enjoyable ambience for students. The most profound learning takes place in positive environments.