We all rely on music for happiness, yet so many of us were introduced to it through painful lessons when we were little, making non-musicians out of most. But Peira Moinester and Nate Shaw are making waves in Brooklyn music education by transforming it from work into play. They founded Brooklyn Music Factory for entire families of musicians with the philosophy that an emphasis on community and fun make us all into better musicians. And sure enough, they’re cranking out a bunch of pre-teens in fully-formed bands (and adults, too), who are making and writing some of the best music we’ve heard, whether from a band of teenagers, or a parent of three—or from every one of them jamming together at a party.
Tell us about your epitome that music education should be based on fun and games, versus learning it from books, in a sterile space, with a teacher. Why do you feel it is so important?
Fun can be a misunderstood word, often thought of as something that replaces learning. At the Brooklyn Music Factory we believe that fun should be a tool used to motivate students to learn. Our purpose at the Brooklyn Music Factory is to “inspire musicians and build community.” If you inspire kids to learn music through a game based approach (we call them BLAM Games or Big Lessons About Music) and connect them with others to make that music, you’ve got the magic combination that will create a musician for life—whether they make music around the camp fire or in the Garden (Madison Square Garden that is!).
How much has the school grown since you joined your separate projects and began a united school? How many bands do you currently support?
Well, it started in a Starbucks and we sealed the deal in a Connecticut Muffin in the Spring of 2009. It was then that we joined our communities together and had a total of 60 families and 6 bands. We are proud to say that we now have over 300 families and about 50 bands(!) ranging from ages 4 all the way to adult. It’s really become an incredible community with entire families taking lessons as part of the program.
What has been the biggest challenge in growing your music school?
We have grown at a rapid clip. Keeping up with that can be an enormous challenge. (I always can measure how busy I am by the state of the floor of my car. Currently the status is measuring at 25% pretzels and 10% veggie booty.) Some of the greatest challenges revolve around finding and training a wonderful faculty. It takes time…lots of time! We estimate that a BMF teacher trains for about two years before they feel like they truly have a grasp of the curriculum in all it’s nuances. We are proud, though, that despite the rapid growth, we have managed to maintain our values and the feeling that when you are a part of the Brooklyn Music Factory, you are part of a family. And we mean that for both the students and the employees.
What has been your greatest success?
I might sound like a broken record, but building a community of families and teachers that share the BMF values and purpose. Creating a world where students and teachers can come and know that they will not only have fun but also be cared for as individuals while being a part of a greater whole. Community is a bit of a buzz word right now, but it takes real work and focus to build one….and now that we are fortunate to have such vibrant one, we are incredibly grateful.
What do you personally find to be most rewarding about your work?
We had a huge Junior Band Dept show at The Rockwood Music Hall a few weeks ago. Over 35 bands from that department played, ages 5 -12. Those kids and families were proud. They were joyful. They were celebrating all the work they had done, and were doing it by being a part of something bigger than themselves. It was pretty incredible. You know something special has happened when a child gets on stage walking and gets off stage bouncing.
I think most people who are not musicians sense that there is kind of a wall, or that they are missing a kind of musical chip, that separates them from those who do consider themselves musicians. What is the most compelling argument you would make to get them to consider picking up an instrument to give it a try? That they, too, can play music?
I’ve alway said I am a terrible cook. I grew up in a house where rice with a bullion cube was a delicacy. As a result, I have always said what you just said above—that I’m missing the instinct. The chip. The thing that makes it so you put a pinch here and a pinch there and it all works. But you know what? The other day, I decided to give it a try. I looked up a recipe for turkey meatballs and put the ingredients together and made a meal. Was it the best meatball anyone had ever tasted? No. Am I going to turn into the next Julia Child? Probably not. But it was a meatball, and I fed it to my two kids, and they ate it and enjoyed it. It felt great. I’m 41 and I had tried something new and shared it with others.
Make playing in a band your next meatball.
How do you feel the Brooklyn music landscape has changed since the turn of this century, when more and more musicians were starting to move here to set up studios and practice spaces? Is it just as robust of a community as ever? Is it harder to be a musician here than it was, maybe even a decade ago?
We tend to live by the more the merrier approach. We don’t see music as a competition, but rather something that connects people. We are so lucky to live in this thriving, creative community – let’s take advantage of it!
And as far as supporting working musicians, we are dead serious about our commitment to our employees (most of whom are musicians.) We try to provide a livable wage and the longer you stay with BMF we offer paid vacations and even a 401K. We are super proud of how committed we are to the artists we employ. We want them to stay in Brooklyn and raise families here!
What makes you excited about the young Brooklyn music scene? What did you wish was different about it, or what does it need more of?
We love that there are no limits. When we were kids there were unwritten rules about who could play what, and how and where. Now, we’ve got kids who are coming up who see no boundaries. Girl, boy, younger, older—you can tackle what you like and how you like.
Something we would love to see more of, and what we are trying to create, are communal opportunities to make music that aren’t about booking gigs, and how many people come through the door. We are holding more and more community events that are not about the performance as much as the congregating. Music is what brings us together and making new friends is what makes us stay!
What are you personally excited for at Brooklyn music factory in the next year? What do you have planned?
We have invested a huge amount of creative time and energy into our game-based curriculum. It has been incredibly successful for our students but we always wanted to share it with other teachers and music schools so we are excited to finally launching a version: BigMusicGames.com. It’s only in the BETA phase and we’d more than happy to have any teacher or music director try it out while we work out the kinks. But we hope that we can inject some real joy into every private lesson or band class across America in 2017!
Why do you love music?
Funny that this would feel like the hardest question. Man, it feels good. Yesterday, I was sitting around with my kids playing the cheesiest pop song. I was on guitar, my husband was on drums, 4 year old was on ukelele, 1 year old was on tambourine, and we were belting that awful song out, and it felt great.
Who would you nominate for this list?
Our moms and dads. They have all lived and breathed contributing to Brooklyn culture.
Learn more about this year’s 100 Influencers in Brooklyn Culture.
Image by Maggie Shannon