My Teaching Journey with a Young Black Heavy Metal Guitar prodigy

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Today I received a package in the mail. In it was the debut CD release called “Chaos” from my long time student, protege, the guitar prodigy, leader, writer and founder of the World famous band Unlocking the Truth, Malcolm Brickhouse! As I sent  a text to  congratulate and thank them for sending me the CD, I get a return text to look at the credits. There inside is a acknowledgement from Malcolm for the years of me being his guitar teacher! I was floored and it was so very much appreciated! Now I would like to tell the story of how we met and how our (Malcolm and his parents) relationship has continued through all of these years:) 

In 2007 (to 2012) I became an Adjunct Professor for The City University of New York aka CUNY to teach guitar at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island Queens NY. I taught classes for 3 divisions, College of Children, Teen Academy and Continuing Ed. At the time of my hiring, my tenured colleague and head of those divisions Professor Alexis Frazier asked me to conceive, theorize, propose and submit in writing a few class ideas. She would then go through the particular channels and if approved add them to the college course manual and I would have a  gig! Admittedly, a few of my proposals were super lofty, highly conceptual and didn’t really apply for a college that wasn’t a music or arts based institution. BUT!!! One of my course ideas (for the College for Children and the Teen Academy) was centered on a concept I devised based on a wildly popular video game at that time called “Guitar Hero” (2005 to 2015). If you’ve never heard of GH, its a Rock and Heavy Metal music rhythm based game (PlayStation and Xbox) that is played with a guitar shaped controller with 5 buttons located the top of the neck and a strum controller at the pickups position. The game starts with a popular or classic song and you have to match notes that scroll on-screen to the colored fret buttons on the controller, picking the controller in time to the music in order to score points, and keep the virtual audience excited.

800px-guitar_hero_ii_guitar_controllers

The guitar controllers bundled with Guitar Hero II: cherry red Gibson SG (PS2) and Gibson Explorer (Xbox 360)

Basically, I observed that a LOT of kids not only played that game, but knew the music literally note for note! Songs like Smoke on the Water, Iron man, Sweet Child O’ mine, Then Bones, etc. So the concept for the courses was to get kids to learn songs on a REAL guitar what they already knew via applying some teaching methods that I devised. It really was a no-brainer for me and  LGCC loved the idea. Now I knew every student that enrolled in my classes didn’t know all the songs or had even played the game before, but that premise made for a very popular beginners rock and heavy metal guitar course. The course was so popular that Professor Frazier call me in her office one day to congratulated me on it’s success and in the same turn, asked me if would I teach my method(s) to the other guitar teacher because she (the other) couldn’t get enough students to sign up for her classes to justify continuing her employment (!) I wont criticize her method, lets just say it was somewhat heavy on (useless) music theory. Reluctantly, I acquiesced even though I knew it meant…. ok less money (!) for me! But also, I knew it was important for Professor Frazier as its all a numbers game when it comes to funding the arts and she pretty much stated that as well.

In 2008, in one of my CFC guitar classes, entered  a very young (7 yr old), bright eyed, enthusiastic black kid who loved everything about heavy metal guitar.  Now let me say that that in itself is very unusual, for a black kid from Brooklyn to love that music so much and want to only play that on the guitar! And even though that particular kid couldn’t really play a note at that time, his eagerness could not be denied and he was completely fascinated with the instrument. That student is now young Heavy Metal star and guitar prodigy Malcolm Brickhouse. In hindsight he was the ONLY kid that had a electric guitar and  small amp in my CFC classes, compared to the other students who all had acoustic guitars, though the latter was probably more-so due to the parents purchasing a first-time young student a good instrument, not knowing if they would continue the path of development. But Malcolm’s parents (Annette and Tracey) were different. They instinctively believed in their child literally based on his desire to learn and love for the music. These are the GREATEST kind of parents and the main reason why Malcolm became a great student! I even remember the very first guitar lick he learned and how very proud he was when he achieved the feat! For the next couple of  years at CUNY LGCC, he continued to study there with me and became of my favorite students. There was even a time where my CFC classes were all filled and Malcolm’s Mom pleaded with me to find a way to get him in any of my classes for as she put it, he love to study with you “Mr Strickland”! (inside joke, thankfully now they all call me Arnold!) So there was a time or 2 due to my CFC classes being max-ed out, I put him in the Teen Academy GH class even though he was not yet that age. Though he couldn’t keep up with those older teenage kids (at that time), I still made sure he still got the attention he needed as any caring teacher would be regardless of the circumstances. And I must say he was NOT intimidated in no way, shape of form by the older kids, he just got better and better and slowly started to surpass them.

Unfortunately the beginning  of 2012, LGCC couldn’t acquire the funding it needed to keep that entire arts divisions going, so myself and many other Professors had to move on. The music and other art courses were all folded. In a future blog, I will talk about music in the schools and what we can do as musicians to help keep it alive!!!! Arts in the schools and colleges is VERY important!

Fast forward to summer 2013. Though I hadnt heard from them in a while, one day out of the blue I get a surprised and welcomed text from Annette Jackson (Malcolm’s Mom) on a VERY hot sunny day. Part of the text read, “I dont want to call me Joe Jackson (Michael Jackson’s Father), but Malcolm is performing in Times Square by himself with his guitar and making $$$$ a day!!! We both laughed because it was super hot outside and we knew the context of which she spoke. Annette then sent me a few links she had posted on YouTube of him playing and I was floored!!!! His growth was phenomenal! He took everything I gave him and then some, up to that point and completely ran with it! For the next year or so, his parents would contact me occasionally for advise about amps, guitars, etc. Then Annette found out I was giving lessons via Skype technologies and we resumed Malcolm’s studies with me privately. By this time he had started his own band UTT and was getting noticed by major labels and people around the World for his music and guitar prowess. Then came a meteoric rise that comes once in a lifetime. The band got signed to the historic $1.8 mil recording deal with Sony, the book written by American Prize winning author Charise Jones, performing with the top Heavy Metal bands, the festivals, the TV appearances, their becoming the youngest members ever officially inducted into the Black Rock Coalition, the 2016 movie documentary, etc and now their debut CD! Now at 15 yrs old, he and his band has made incredible accomplishments!!! Long live Unlocking the Truth!!

Needless to say, its a dream of anyone who has taught and mentored kids to see one of their students reach such extraordinary heights and so quickly! I can say its very rewarding to me personally and I am very proud of all these extremely talented black kids! They have worked so very to achieve all of the great things that has happened for them! But one point I would like to stress… these kids could NOT have done this in their childhood years without the love, guidance, belief, perseverance, nurturing, financial and personal sacrifices of their PARENTS! Annette and Tracey are CHAMPIONS!!! This is the GREATEST gift any child could have bestowed on him or her! So please go that extra mile with your kids and help them make their dreams come to fruition for you never know what is waiting on the other side! 🙂

You can purchase (!!!!) UTT epic and historical debut CD “Chaos”, find out about their tours, videos, their book, latest documentary, etc here:
http://unlockingthetruthband.com/

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