From Brooklyn stage to Carnegie Hall – Junior high school band blooms under music teacher’s guidance

By Greg Hanlon

There was a time when Anthony Mazzocchi didn’t think of his new job as much more than a ticket back to New York City. In 2001, the Manhattan School of Music-trained trombonist was in Los Angeles recording for movie and commercial soundtracks, but yearned to come back east to play in Broadway shows. When, through a friend of a friend, he heard about a music teacher opening at a Brooklyn middle school, the New Jersey native had his excuse. On his first day at his new job, there was no indication that the Marine Park Junior High School band would blossom into one of the best middle school bands in the country. “When I first got here they sounded awful, they sounded like children. My attitude was just like, ‘OK, let’s just have some fun,’” Mazzocchi said. But a trip to a music teaching clinic in Chicago changed Mazzocchi’s attitude, and with it, the course of history for the school’s band. “I heard a couple [middle school] bands from Chicago and some other places. I heard how they sounded. They were a bunch of little kids, but my jaw dropped,” he recalled. From that point forward, Mazzocchi was a man on a mission. He had caught the teaching bug. The result is a middle school program – consisting of symphonic, jazz, and marching bands – that has won multiple state and regional competitions, many of them against high school bands. They have played before Mayor Bloomberg at Gracie Mansion and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein at the Tweed Courthouse. Now one of New York’s hottest tickets, the band was commissioned to play at the birthday party of socialite Denise Rich. Marine Park’s musicians proved the old adage: With their diligent practice habits, they paved a road from Brooklyn to Carnegie Hall, where they performed in 2005 as part of the “Salute to Music” citywide middle school concert. The accolades don’t stop there. Selected by VH1 network as part of its “Save the Music” Program – which is dedicated to funding and restoring music programs in public schools across the country – the band played at the program’s 10-year anniversary bash at Lincoln Center along with Pink Floyd, Bon Jovi, and John Mayer. Indeed, the program has come along way since Mazzocchi got to Marine Park in 2001 and saw “50 kids in front of me who didn’t even know how to read music. I was basically starting from scratch.” But his trip to Chicago showed him what children were capable of if properly taught. “Most people just think: ‘They’re going to sound like little kids and there’s nothing you can do about it,’ but it doesn’t have to be that way,” he said. With his newfound high expectations, and availing himself of a citywide $65 per student “Project Art” grant from the Department of Education that kick-started the program by paying for new instruments, Mazzocchi set out to create a band on par with the ones he had heard in Chicago. Along the way, he discovered in himself an aptitude and passion for teaching. During his first few years in Marine Park, Mazzocchi became a regular on the teaching clinic circuit. He recently took a position at Montclair State College in New Jersey he will hold alongside his Marine Park job. “You have to learn to just break the stuff down,” he said, describing the secret to his success. “I didn’t think I wanted to teach, but I tried it out and it just became a passion.”

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