The (Real) School of Rock
This past weekend, I drove up to the Malta drive-in to hear some live music. The theme was Queen – more than 25 of their songs played in constantly changing lineups by the students of the School of Rock Albany, a Latham-based school that teaches children how to appreciate and perform rock music. And have a whole lot of fun doing it.
(Full disclosure: my daughter has been a student there for several years.)
The school’s approach is centered around live performance. Each student receives an individual weekly lesson on their instrument (or voice). But the real heart of the instruction happens during weekly 3 hour performance sessions with other students. Each season (fall, spring, summer) students choose from one of three “themes”, which they will spend that season learning how to perform. The most recent season had Queen, Radiohead, and “System of a Down vs. Tool”. Past themes have included Punk, Metal, Women in Rock, Beatles, 80s…you name it.
The students all have a primary instrument, but are encouraged to branch out from there. Drummers learn to play guitar, keyboard players sing, etc. A facet of this school’s approach that I am particularly impressed with is that the lineups are not static. Each song has a different configuration of students on instruments, resulting in some very versatile musicians. At the end of each season, they put on a 2 hour concert (usually at the Linda in normal times) for family, friends, and the general public.
The kids range in age from very young (they can start as early as 3) to high school seniors. Some are very talented, some still getting there, but all seem to genuinely have a good time doing it. The environment is extremely supportive, and fosters a deep appreciation of music and performing almost without them noticing it.
A select subgroup of the students are chosen to be in the School of Rock House Band. This group plays frequent, “real” gigs all around town. Think fundraisers, opening acts, Tulipfest, etc. They even got to be onstage with Roger Waters for Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2 at the Times Union Center. In addition, each summer, they go down to the Catskills for a multi-day camp with other Schools of Rock from around the country. They get direct instruction from the likes of Joe Bouchard (of Blue Oyster Cult) and Dennis Dunaway (of Alice Cooper). They hang out, jam, perform, and just generally have a good time.
My daughter is preparing to go off to college shortly, so I no longer have any direct connection to the school. There are certainly other, similar music schools around as well. But for anybody that has children that might be interested, I can’t recommend this enough. It’s good for them, but it’s also good for our local music community. Some of these kids have gone on to form bands and cut records that are now on our airwaves. They are playing gigs (on their own) all around Nippertown. Some are going to school to pursue music professionally. This becomes our pipeline, our next generation of musicians that fill our community’s stages.
And they really do rock…