For those about to rock... finish your homework!
June's almost here, but for dozens of young musicians from across the country, school's not out for the summer -- at least not at the School of Rock.
Although music classes for both kids and adults run year-round at the decade-old company's 69 stand-alone facilities in 25 states, a hard-working group of young players known as the School of Rock "AllStars" take what they've learned in class out on the road for the summer, just like a real rock band. They even gig in some of America's most famous haunts, including Bruce Springsteen's former New Jersey stomping ground, the Stone Pony, and Cleveland's venerable Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The tour's become an annual event for School of Rock, and a great alternative to "your basic charity golf tournament," says School of Rock CEO Chris Catalano.
As this summer's School of Rock "Rock the House" 22-date tour winds through a dozen states, ticket sales raise money for Ronald McDonald House Charities, a non-profit that oversees more than 300 nationwide "home-away-from-home" environments for families of children undergoing medical treatment.
School of Rock "AllStars" Jam Onstage (Photo courtesy of DKC Public Relations, Photo Credit: School of Rock)
Catalano says the charity pairing was a no-brainer. "Kids using their musical capabilities to help other kids? Unbelievably obvious." He's especially proud of two autistic students who made the "AllStars" cut this year -- a testament, Catalano says, to the importance of music instruction in education.
The School of Rock "AllStars" perform two-week stints in different regions of the country, and auditions for the summer tour are open to students at any one of School of Rock's nationwide locations. Last year's "AllStars" took "Live Aid Remade" on the road, playing U2's "Sunday, Bloody Sunday," Elton John's "Rocket Man," and David Bowie's "Rebel, Rebel," among other classic tracks. This year's "Rock the House" tour covers 50 years of rock and roll -- from Chuck Berry to the present. (Click here for the complete list of tour dates.)
But you don't have to be chosen for the tour to feel like a rock star. The likes of Mick Jagger and Perry Farrell have stopped in to listen at a School of Rock in L.A., while singer/songwriter K.T. Tunstall joined students onstage at B.B. King's in New York City. Eurythmics guitarist Dave Stewart once joined an 11-year-old Hollywood School of Rock singer onstage for a rendition of No Doubt's "Underneath It All." And last fall, Kansas City and D.C. School of Rock participants joined Pink Floyd's Roger Waters onstage for a performance of "Another Brick in the Wall."
The lounge at Atlanta's School of Rock. Photo credit: Kristi Wooten
It's not all about the fame or the big names or even making the "AllStars," says Justin Nihiser, General Manager of Atlanta's School of Rock, where the walls are lined with vintage album covers, promo band posters, and fliers of upcoming student performances. Most kids, he says, just want to learn to learn instruments and get together with a group to play the songs they love. Nihiser, for one, understands this desire: "I'm in a band, too," laughs this Berklee-trained musician who has numerous recording and production credits (and whose group, We Are Berliners, receives airplay on the satellite station, XMU).
Compared to other music programs, School of Rock definitely has the hip factor down pat: In two separate performances this weekend, Nihiser's Atlanta School of Rock students will perform a Southern Rock revue and a tribute to the trendy band Muse, while June shows include a punky Green Day fest and the sounds of alt-rock band The Killers.
It's all part of the School of Rock philosophy.
"Any music teacher can teach a kid to play an instrument," says Catalano. "But we put kids in a band, where they learn teamwork and have an authentic rock and roll experience."
To learn more about the work of Ronald McDonald House charities, click here.