In 1998, at the height of the success of this phase of his life, Bruny, walking the red carpet at the Latin Music Awards in Florida, conceived the idea of Music Changing Lives. He decided it was time to give back. Bruny returned to California; settling on Redlands as the place to explore the idea of working with at-risk youth. In 2000 Bruny created Higher Ground, his own record label; a socially conscious company dedicated to helping young talent and supporting grassroots organizations.
“Coming from a background of less fortunate families and seeing my brother reach success, I wanted to teach young people every aspect of the business and give them a chance to change their lives,” said Bruny. “Find out what they (the children) love and teach them how to make money at what they love.”
He began by contacting public officials from Fontana, San Bernardino, Rialto, Moreno Valley, and Redlands. Redlands was the first city that believed in MCL and in 2008 Bruny got his chance to build the first recording studio and begin after-school programs. Since then they have taken the model out to several satellite locations throughout San Bernardino, and Riverside Counties. MCL has a full-blown music studio in Redlands and in 2012 built a mobile studio that would enable them to reach even more students, at the same time working with individual school districts to take the program right onto campus. Now they are also bringing the program to Juvenile Hall.
“We help them (the children) produce their own creations, write, and play an instrument, whatever they are interested in.” said Bruny.
Bruny’s expansive vision extends way beyond making music, to include the business side of music and to making a difference in the world. It has not found a stopping point; and with plans in the works of expanding his reach to Haiti, Brazil, China and Japan, he is giving MCL and Higher Ground an international reach.
Music Changing Lives has adopted a variety of programming features, and services within a comprehensive model to allow every youngster to be successful in his or her education. These developments include a supportive non-traditional school structure, a small student-teacher ratio, individualized learning, student contracting, intensive counseling, vocational skill training, and a diagnostic prescriptive teaching process.
In 2003, Bruny and Music Changing Lives put together a tour of approximately 40 Inland Empire high schools, called "Stop the Ignorance" to discuss the tough issues students face such as drugs, violence and peer pressure. Bruny believes getting students involved with their own futures will keep them in school and out of trouble. That program evolved into the Live United Showcase, a performance art competition that attracts at-risk youth. Focusing on the performing arts such as singing, dancing, acting, playing a musical instrument, poetry, and all genres of music & spoken word, the 20 week program runs from January to May. Through this program students are introduced to every aspect of the music industry, are required to complete a community service commitment, and maintain a 2.5 or higher GPA. The program ends with a red carpet extravaganza.
Music Changing Lives was designed for students at-risk, but it now reaches many more young people through the mobile studio, the directed courses, and the after-hours and incentive programs. These programs are designed and executed by Bruny, his volunteers and his staff of over 40.
23 year old, Steven Hernandez, a student of The Art Institute of California in San Bernardino originally volunteered for 9 months before he was hired to teach Audio Production. “The kids really enjoy it,” Hernandez said. “It’s crazy that nobody thought of this before... using music and art to promote education.” Many of the students have come from broken homes; have a short attention span and disruptive behavior. “Music and art helps them express themselves without verbally saying what they’re going through,” said Hernandez. “The kids learn respect.”
There is zero tolerance for inappropriate behavior and inappropriate language in the program. Bruny and MCL teachers believe that if you give the students respect and focus, and encourage them to do what they love, you will build a successful adult.
Bruny, humbled by the success of the Music Changing Lives program continues to think of more ways to reach out to young people including introducing art, film, and business programs; partnering with Charter Schools and art institutes; and building an orphanage in Haiti through his Luv for Haiti program.
To learn more, go to www.musicchanginglives.org.