For many students in Newport, Supervisor of the Arts Alan Bernstein has been an invaluable teacher, mentor and friend. For 22 years he has taught everything from general music to band, orchestra to chorus, and piano to guitar to Newport students.
Along with cultivating fading music programs in Newport, he has not only taught students about music, but also valuable lessons about life.
“When I was hired in Newport my mission was to develop a string program, I took that to heart because I believed a string program is a really worthwhile thing to have. The program was in decline when I came in, and most kids played in elementary and not much past that,” he said. “I built it all from scratch, and kept it together through the hard budget years with good support from the administration of Newport.”
A typical day for Bernstein starts with Thompson Middle School orchestra, then administrative time at various schools with teachers and principals, and finally on to Rogers High School for band and orchestra.
Bernstein has shared numerous memorable moments as a music teacher at Rogers. He said he loves the interaction with the students and pulling together everyone’s personal style in the classroom.
“There have been [moments] so many that I cannot really pull one or two out. Each class has a different dynamic and I cherish the friendships I have made with my students,” he said.
Bernstein said he enjoys the trips he takes with his students each year because he gets to expose them to “a larger world than what appears in the classroom.”
“I also appreciate the extra effort I see all my students put in when we strive for the best performances that we can give. It is really inspiring to me,” he said.
Intro to Music
Alan Bernstein is a Newport native and attended Rogers High School. He played guitar in a band called “Nightshift” with his friends, and enjoyed playing for school dances and friends.
“It was fun playing for the notoriety of it all,” Bernstein said. “I wish I participated in the school’s music program, but I couldn’t read music at all. I couldn’t understand music past the point of what I had figured out on my own.”
After high school Bernstein went on to brief stint at UMASS Dartmouth, during which he figured out that business wasn’t his niche.
It was in his early twenties when he was recruited by a band and asked to play electric bass.
“I actually didn’t know how to play bass when they asked me to join the band. I just bought an electric bass and figured it out,” he said.
His band traveled around the south and Midwest for seven years. After all that time on the road, Bernstein said he decided it was time to settle down.
“I was disillusioned with my life and I needed more college to do anything. I needed to solidify things and refocus everything,” he said.
Bernstein went on URI, but electric bass wasn’t offered for music majors. Instead, he took on the hefty task of learning upright bass for his major and played up to five hours a day to become skilled enough for college. He was also learning how to read music all at once.
“It’s interesting to start that process when you’re 27. Most people learn how to play an instrument and read music when they’re ten, so I had to work really hard at it.”
A Lasting Impact
Unlike most teachers, Bernstein has had the privilege of teaching some students for seven or eight years, starting in Thompson Middle School through high school.
“Teaching one student for that long is a lot of time and I am sure it has an influence on them. I hope that I have left them with some goals and a higher appreciation of the world around them. I hope it has been a positive experience,” Bernstein said. “The skills that I teach in the ensemble tie directly in with life. Working together for a common goal, striving for excellence, problem solving both individually and as a group…these are all the dynamics that make up living and working together.”
Chase Ceglie, who is currently in the Rogers High School Band, explained what he loved the most about having Bernstein as a teacher.
"He's one of the friendliest people that you will ever meet. He puts in a lot of his personal time to help kids master their instruments, and he's one of the most highly respected musicians around,” he said. “Not to mention that he's a monster bass player."
Bernstein said he has found teaching rewarding on many levels, especially combining teaching others with performing.
“I love music. I perform professionally and it is the ying to my yang,” he said. “Working with students to encourage and refine their musicality is the other side to my own musicality. It ensures that the song will continue.”
He said he hopes that when the time comes for him to move on, there will be someone to keep up his music programs in Newport.
“When I eventually leave someone has to be there to maintain the strings program and keep it going. . . There needs to be someone to maintain the program after I leave because it'd be a shame for it to go away,” he said. “It’s a tight financial time right now, and programs are hard to keep going. They need money and staffing, and unless they become a part of the culture of the school they could be expendable.”
Beyond the Classroom
Former students of Bernstein have gone on to great things musically.
Pat Downes plays in the popular Sublime tribute band “Badfish.” Doug Jameson is the Principal Cellist of the Prince George’s Philharmonic.
Bernstein has taken his students around the country and exposed them to as much positive material as possible. He’s spent hours making arrangements for trips and conducting fundraisers to lower the cost for the students.
“Music programs need to provide opportunities for kids, like music trips and concerts. I’ve taken kids to Florida, Washington, and New York so they can see and experience things they might not have been able to,” Bernstein said.
“What I loved most about Mr. Bernstein is the opportunities he gave us. He’d hook us up with random gigs and it was a great experience,” Alex Fitzpatrick, one of Bernstein’s students, said.
Johanna Malise also said she enjoyed his music class immensely.
“Mr. Bernstein was a great teacher. He was always supportive of all of his students regardless of their skill level. He also taught me that music could be fun. He always had a smile on his face and I always looked forward to orchestra,” she said.
Former student Hayley Pires said she was very appreciative of the guidance provided by Bernstein.
"Mr. Bernstein always included me and took care of things. If I ever needed an instrument he would always lend me a hand, and he helped out with the production of my senior project,” she said. “I had been in my first year of college in New York City last year and he even included me in the high school music trip by purchasing me a ticket to the Broadway show they were all seeing. He is just an overall great man who never hesitated to help me or anyone else for that matter."
Morgan Eschenheimer reflected on her many years in Newport’s music programs and her growth as a musician.
“Orchestra was a class that was always looked forward to. I thoroughly enjoyed my four years in the music department . . Although we were a small group, he believed in us,” she said. “The opportunities given were endless. The gold medal at the end of our NYC trip was awarded all thanks to Mr. Bernstein’s determination. It was great coming home seeing the gold plate in his hand, but he I know he would have been just as proud and loved us just as much if it were a bronze medal.”