School of Rock is more than a great film, it's now also a company which offers music lessons to kids of all ages. In e-mails to HuffPost Arts, Show Director Armand Aviram from School of Rock waxed nostalgic about the upcoming concert at Joe's Pub in New York. For the first time in front of an audience, kids will perform alt-rock hits from the heyday of MTV Unplugged and hopefully show off their skills to an adoring crowd on January 15th.
HuffPost Arts: What is your relationship to MTV Unplugged?
Armand: As we were brainstorming different show ideas for our Winter season here at School of Rock Roslyn I came up with the idea to do a tribute to MTV Unplugged. Growing up in the 90s MTV Unplugged had a big impact on me as a kid and I remember discovering some of my favorite artists through the show. I wanted to give our students an opportunity to discover a time period where music had a real place on TV. These days most young kids know MTV only as the channel that has Jersey Shore on it, but when I was a teenager MTV was a source of inspiration, as it was for many young kids who watched a movement of great bands take over the world.
HuffPost Arts: How is this show unique from other School of Rock performances?
Armand: Most of the time our shows are tributes to one or two bands, for example in our upcoming Spring season we'll be doing tributes to Pink Floyd, Nirvana, Kiss and David Bowie. With the MTV Unplugged show I had an opportunity to choose 20 songs all from different artists who had played on the show. I was very strict on only doing bands and songs that were actually on the show. Early on, someone asked me, can we do a Smashing Pumpkins song? I replied "No, Smashing Pumpkins never did an MTV Unplugged." I had about 30 songs that I was considering, and eventually narrowed it down to 20. There were some that were no-brainers, like Nirvana, Clapton, Pearl Jam, but then I found myself listening to Korn's version of "Freak On A Leash" with Amy Lee of Evanescence and thought to myself "Wow, this is really beautiful, we have to do this!"
This is probably the first all-acoustic show School of Rock has ever done, as far as I know. It was a chance for our students to get rid of their distortion pedals and really play their instruments without being able to hide behind huge amps and effects. Needless to say, the level of musicianship for many of the kids spiked dramatically over the course of the show rehearsals. I also believe this is the first time School of Rock has ever done a tribute to a TV show!
HuffPost Arts: How are the kids reacting to music from the 90s? Is it like hearing the oldies for them?
Armand: It's been interesting to see the kids' reactions. Some of them were already aware of a lot of the music, especially popular bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, KISS, and the Stone Temple Pilots, but many of them were very surprised to see newer artists like Katy Perry and Jay-Z on the list. I told everyone to keep an open mind and eventually everyone began to treat all the music with the same amount of respect. As rehearsals started the kids became more and more interested in the music and the actual show. I handed out packets every week with mini history lessons on each artist, and behind the scenes stories about their shows. I bought an MTV Unplugged Scrapbook that came out in 1995 with pictures, stories, set lists, and information about every show up until that point. It's a fascinating book and really made me realize that MTV Unplugged is one of the most underrated TV shows of all time. A lot of careers were either rejuvenated or jump started after appearing on the show. Everyone really stripped down their best songs and showed their strengths as vocalists and songwriters, that's what made it so special.
HuffPost Arts: Are there any songs in particular that you were excited to see performed?
Armand: I'm really excited about "Mama Said Knock Out" by LL Cool J, the kids are killin' that one, it sounds awesome. Overall there's a lot of great material, the whole show is a knockout. One of my personal favorites is "Misery Business" by Paramore, but we also have some really beautiful ones in there like "Linger" from the Cranberries and of course, "Tears In Heaven" [by Eric Clapton].
New Yorkers: See the kids turn it up to 11 (acoustically) at Joe's Pub on January 15th.
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