A Bronx Tune


Volume C, No. 3March, 2000

Bob Gerardi

At a point in my life when most of my friends are buying golf clubs and starting to plan their retirement, I decided to go back to college and finish my studies for a degree in music. A lot of people looked at me like I was nuts when they found out about it – the same look I got when I went into this business – but music is not something you retire from, and I’ll be singing my song until the last chord.

In a career that spans over four decades, I’ve done just about everything there is to do in this business. I’ve worked as a songwriter/recording artist, night club singer, actor, club date band leader, hotel pianist, voice teacher, music producer and composed for film and TV. I’ve even written a book entitled “Opportunities in Music Careers” for the National Textbook Company.

Currently I teach film music to directors and composers at New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies (in the Film & Video Department). In my study of film composers and film music, which has become my passion, I was inspired to do some additional studies in composition. Now the question was, who to study with? I’ve been fortunate, to this point in my career in music, to have studied with some truly great musicians – such as Hall Overton, Richard Benda and Don Friedman.

I collected bulletins from various music schools – Manhattan, Juilliard and Mannes – and then started asking my friends and associates. Don Friedman recommended John Corigliano, who teaches composition at Lehman College in the Bronx. I also spoke with Judy West at the union, who confirmed that 802 highly recommends Lehman College to its members.

I had never heard of the college – much less that it has a music program, or a teacher of John Corigliano’s caliber. He recently composed the score for the feature film The Red Violin and has composed many other films, many concert pieces and is the only American composer commissioned to compose an opera for the Metropolitan Opera. Once I listened to his CD, my decision was made.

I was a little apprehensive at first, but I went up to Lehman College to meet with Dr. Bernard Shockett, the chair of the Music Department. As we discussed my plans and a schedule which would make it possible to study and still continue to work in the business, I discovered the best-kept secret in town.

The Lehman Bulletin lists courses in music history, theory, orchestration, composition and much more – courses that I’ve always wanted to study. Going through it brought back memories of my days at Manhattan School of Music, and how much I enjoyed studying music. I also discovered that many of my musician friends – guys like Cookie Mattero, Pat Perrone, Dom Minasi and Don Albano – had gone through the music program at Lehman and then entered the school system, and done very well as both working musicians and music teachers.

Lehman offers a B.S. in music, with a program designed for the professional musician’s schedule. They also offer a Master’s Degree in Music Education, which can be completed in three semesters. The music faculty is terrific: their dedication, musicianship, professionalism and expertise are totally impressive. Since it is a city college (part of the CUNY system), I can easily afford the tuition. And dig this, I’m in what’s called the “Adult Degree Program” – which means that I don’t have to choose a minor, I’m exempt from the core curriculum, and I get “life experience” credits as well as credits for my private music studies, all of which are applicable toward my degree.

After learning all of this, I was sold. I decided not only to study composition, but to go through the entire program and complete what I started out to do many years ago – to get my degree in music.

If you make your living in music like I do, then you must remember the days when the studios were swinging, the club date business was jumping, you did a double on Saturday and a double on Sunday and played steady engagements five and six days a week. If so, then you’re also aware of how the market has changed. The club date field, which was once a main source of income for the musician, is now over-run by DJs, the hotels have cut back drastically on live music; and the night club scene is a “showcase” for bands and singers who work for free.

But things change, and what goes around comes around. An article in the July/August 1999 issue of Allegro reported, “Board of Education Seeking Teachers for Public School Music Programs.” The New York City school system is reinstating its music programs, and that means work for musician/teachers. The value of music as an educational tool has been established in many government and private studies, and I think we will be seeing this trend on a state and national level as well.

I’m having a ball, the campus and the music facility are great, I’m studying something I love with excellent teachers, and at the same time earning a degree and rewriting my future. I love teaching, I love writing music and, when the smoke clears, I’ll have the best of both worlds. And I’ll still have time for golf. Retire? Later! I got a song to sing.

Bob Gerardi has been a member of Local 802 for more than 40 years.