2017 Summer Teacher Workshop Report

This July, The Rock and Roll Forever Foundation (RRFF) hosted nineteen K-12 teachers from throughout the United States for its Fourth Annual Summer Teacher Workshop. During the four day conference, the visiting educators participated in workshops and trainings led by guest scholars, visitors from the music industry, teachers who had attended previous workshops, and RRFF staff. The event concluded with keynote speeches from RRFF Board Chair David Roth and founder Steven Van Zandt.

Day one began with a group discussion of goals led by RRFF Executive Director Chris Tuffli. The attendees became acquainted, sharing how they currently use music in their classrooms and what they hope to achieve during the week. Then, former workshop participant Dayna Orlak led a dynamic workshop demonstrating the benefits of interdisciplinary teaching through her experience using TeachRock materials in her History classroom. Orlak also screened clips from the “Waldwick, NJ Sonic Highways” film her students created as part of “Sonic Highways in the Classroom” pilot project. The day closed with a CNN Soundtracks themed curriculum development workshop spearheaded by RRFF staff Joshua Zarbo and Ben Dumbauld. Participants got a sneak peak at the yet-to-be aired “Hurricane Katrina” episode, and then worked together towards creating a lesson plan with the content.

The first half of day two explored the newly released Sonic Highways lessons plans and the ongoing Sonic Highways in the Classroom (SHC) student documentary project. The RRFF’s Rolando Alvarado discussed his work with teachers and students as the leader of the SHC films, screening highlights from several student documentaries to emphasize the rich teaching moments and exciting student-centered learning the project inspires. Middletown, NJ teachers Vic Bayers and Chris Corey followed with a presentation that outlined their approach to engaging students in local history through music and how they have utilized both history and film classrooms to create a SHC film. The day then became New York-centric, with the RRFF’s Bill Carbone presenting from the new “Punk Rock and Urban Decay in New York Parts One and Two” lessons as a warm-up for the Bowery Punk walking tour RRFF staff Christine Nick led later in the afternoon. It was an action packed day–participants also discovered the rich, Alan Lomax collected resources made available via the Association for Cultural Equity’s “Global Jukebox” through a presentation by A.C.E.’s Jorge Arevalo and Kathleen Rivera. The day concluded with a biographical talk by music producer and businessman Maurice Bernstein of Giant Step.

Colorado teacher and former workshop participant Pat McGuire opened day three with a presentation of the SHC film a large group of his students–all girls–created during the 2016-17 school year. Hip Hop Illustrator Andre LeRoy Davis followed, sharing art he has created for album covers, as a staff illustrator for Source magazine, and as a freelance artist. Davis, who in fall 2017 begins a new position as a public school art teacher in Brooklyn, fielded questions and hosted a lively discussion about going visual in the classroom. Post-lunch, conference participants braved the swampy, 95 degree New York summer day to partake in a Village Music walking tour led by Maureen Van Zandt. Van Zandt, who attended high school in lower Manhattan, spent her afternoons in Village coffee shops, and went on to dance in the Met Ballet as well as in an early production of Hair, focused on the 1960s and early 70s history of the space as she remembered it. Her tour was rich; even the most scholarly of New Yorkers came away more informed. Participants were thankful for the return to air conditioning, as well as the engaging talk by Smithsonian Curator of American Music John Troutman. Troutman discussed topics from his books, Indian Blues: American Indians and the Politics of Music, 1879–1934, and Kika Kila: How the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Changed the Sound of Modern Music.

The final day of the conference opened with RRFF teaching partner Ben Wides, who, along with two students from his History course, discussed the making of their “Sonic Highways: New York City” film. Participants seemed to enjoy turning the tables and asking students questions about their film. The final and perhaps most high-energy workshop featured Fordham University professor, and noted Hip-hop and Bronx music scholar, Mark Naison. Naison’s passion bubbled over; he literally jumped around the room while discussing the role of various ethnic populations–from his childhood Italian/Jewish Brooklyn neighborhood to current Dominican bachata hotspots in the city–that have traveled from New York City to the world. Naison confessed that as he’s aged, he’s had to find new ways to reach his students, and demonstrated his newest skill, rapping (he’s got a classic early 80s Kurtis Blow-type flow), with beatbox help from the RRFF’s Bill Carbone.

The conference concluded with a keynote speech from RRFF Board Chair David Roth, who then introduced RRFF Founder Steven Van Zandt. Little Steven spoke at length about his motivation for starting the foundation, drawing on an array of anecdotes from his struggles as a student to his meeting with Mitch McConnell and Ted Kennedy as an advocate for arts funding. Van Zandt took questions and engaged with participants at length.