The School of Rock in Center City Philadelphia offers a performance based curriculum that teaches inner-city youth how to play rock music and truly shine in the ever-changing music industry.
The school was originally started by, and named after, Paul Green in 1998.
"When I first joined the Paul Green School of Rock Music, it was largely a one man operation," Kenny Luu, one of Green's former students, said. "Answering calls, booking shows, teaching lessons. Sure, Paul had a great staff, but he was the brains behind the operation."
Luu fell into a great community of musicians when he joined the school, adding that the community of young rock stars has always been the school's ethos. He now teaches, assists with facilitating rehearsals, and does anything else the school may require of him.
"Nothing inspires you like someone else your age doing something better. You want to be that good," Luu said. "In many ways, the School of Rock still captures these ideals. When I'm there teaching or just hanging out, I see these kids inspiring each other."
Though Green is no longer affiliated with SOR, the school has been able to grow into a nationwide community. On a Saturday afternoon, and pretty much any day that the school is in session, students walking around stringing their guitars, warming up their vocals, and talking everything rock 'n' roll are common sights. Different instruments can be heard throughout the school's studios, and students gaze at their peers as they perform on stage.
Students normally must complete the Rock 101 Program, a weekly 90-minute group lesson that provide the basis for the school's curriculum, and usually takes up to six months to complete.
However, select students are allowed to skip this introductory course and go directly into the Performance Program. The music director and the individual student's private teacher make the decision of who is exempt from Rock 101.
"Learning an instrument and playing in a band really gives you an understanding of composition, and you start seeing how all the pieces come together. You hear music in a new way." Luu said. "This doesn't replace the visceral experience, but it definitely adds an intellectual component to it."
A legend in the making
Mike Bailer, one of the school's rising students, is considered "a musical jack-of-all-trades" by those who know him best.
He started attending the school not too long ago, gravitating towards the school's instructors, who intrigued him with the music they were playing.
"I really like the community of other musicians around," Bailer said. "It's really nice to find people around your age who like the same music as you do, play different instruments that you can play with."
Bailer has been playing for about three-and-a-half years. He started listening to music around the age of 12 and began playing actual instruments around the age of 14. His musical preferences draw from the 1960s and '70s. This classic rock style is reflected in his own compositions.
On stage, Bailer is almost a different person than he is when he plays on one of the many instruments that he knows best, the guitar, alongside his fellow peers.
The oversized room that all students use to practice and perform in fills with the sound of different instruments blending together.
"Right now, I'm recording in a studio a lot of my own original stuff, to see where I can go with that and to just make my own career out of it eventually," he said.
An all star band
As he sat at the receptionist desk of the SOR, Luu described himself as the kind of person who has music with him on an everyday occasion. Adding how he wasn't always interested in music at the same level as after he began.
"Part of that happens when you go out into the real world and realize that there is nothing you'd rather be doing," he said. "I really loved playing music, writing music, and touring."
The Parachuting Apostles, a group that Luu and other former SOR students shaped together, grew out of what they had already been doing together for a long time -- jamming, hanging out, and listening to music.
Luu and The Apostles have been able to play all over the country together, even in Germany and have a reputation for having an eclectic sound.
"It was a really natural formation and we all meshed well musically," Luu said. We all like a variety of styles, and I think in the early music it really showed. Over time, we've worked toward developing a sound, and to some extent, that comes naturally anyway, as you develop as musicians and songwriters."
Usually Luu does not have to urge anyone to attend the SOR and he believes that is what makes it special. You don't need compulsion.
"It's not classical piano lessons, or ballet. It's the kind of program that kids just gravitate towards, and I think that is an essential component of the model," he said. "It gets something right, and rather than sucking all the lifeblood out of these kids, it channels their energy in creative and beneficial ways."
Check out a short audio interview with Mike Bailer below: