School of Rock teaches kids music that’s older than they are

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 177 views 

ROGERS — Picture a classroom full of students on the first day of high school. They’re cutting up and laughing when the teacher/tyrant walks in, wearing a bowtie and looking to cause trouble for anyone not paying attention.

The teacher spots a student who has been doodling the names of rock bands on his text book. Infuriated, he berates the student, yelling, “You are destroying your life with that garbage.” Slinging spit during his enraged rant, he bellows, “Stand up, and tell the class — What do you want to do with your life?!”

“I wanna rock!” says the student, quite simply.

This, of course, is the opening scene to Twisted Sister’s “I Wanna Rock” video, but it’s a sentiment shared by kids throughout history. Stevie Wonder had his first major hit when he was 13. Joan Jett formed The Runaways when she was 17. Ritchie Valens was only 17 when he recorded his iconic version of “La Bamaba,” and Michael Jackson was a mere 10 years old when The Jackson 5 hit it big.

Countless aging musicians have said, “You’re never too old to rock and roll,” but there is substantial proof that one can never be too young to rock and roll either. That’s where the School of Rock of Bentonville/Rogers comes in.

Logos from iconic rock bands such as The Ramones, The Misfits, Heart and Led Zeppelin adorn the school’s walls at 2890 W. Walnut in Rogers, where it opened April 21. Its approach to music lessons defy the norm, featuring instead a performance-based method that they say inspires the kids to learn and makes them more motivated to excel and more confident as a result.

Tweens and teens learn how to play guitar, bass, keyboards, drums and vocals from a staff of instructors who have all worked as professional musicians. The program for kids 6-18 combines private music lessons, group band rehearsals and a live performance, as well as a “curriculum” provided by The Ramones, Led Zeppelin, The White Stripes, Green Day and the like.

“You actually get to rock out and not just sit around with some guy teaching you how to play guitar,” says Stevie Petet, a 14-year-old bass player.

Beginning with one-on-one private instrument instruction, the students learn songs in preparation for weekly band rehearsals. Each band has a rotating lineup of about 15 kids who learn a setlist of 20-25 songs. At the end of a four-month season, the bands are booked for an authentic music gig with a live audience at a legitimate music venue.

School of Rock general manager Jennifer Register says, “It gives them something to look forward to other than a boring recital.”

“They’re playing rock songs so we want to have a real rock show to play,” she says.

Now boasting over 90 locations in the United States and two in Mexico, the School of Rock Bentonville/Roger is part of a network established in Philadelphia by founder Paul Green in 1998. What started as private rock and roll lessons, eventually led to the opening of more schools and the ensuing success that School of Rock has built.

Staff say it is a common misconception that the 2003 movie, School of Rock starring Jack Black, inspired Green to start the school, but it’s essentially the other way around.

In 2002, VH1 proposed a reality TV series around what was then called, The Paul Green School of Rock Music. Reportedly, a crew filmed for four days at the Philadelphia location, but producers stopped returning Green’s calls after the shoot. In 2003, the movie was released and many critics claimed that Black’s character, Dewey Finn, was based on Green’s personality. In a 2004 newspaper interview in London, Green said he considered taking legal action.

“I considered suing, but what are you going to do? It’s better in a karmic sense, to just reap the rewards.”

Only a few weeks since the school’s grand opening, the School of Rock Bentonville/Rogers has about 20 students from all over Northwest Arkansas. The prices for the program vary.

The school is offering several different promotions to entice new students, most notably a 20 percent discount off the lifetime of enrollment. In addition to private and group lessons, the school also offers several summer camps. Rock 101 classes are available for beginners, as there is no minimum ability level required.

“We have kids who have never touched the instrument they want to play,” says Register.

In preparation for a September concert to be called “Rock and Roll Takeover,” the kids meet on Monday nights to rehearse. There’s lots of laughing, learning and, of course, rocking going on during these practices. The kids are an eclectic group — bright and each receptive to their instructor, Chase Davidson. They have an incredible grasp on the music that was made before the majority of them were even born.

Guitarist Izzie Bennett, 14, says that she loves The Beatles and mainly listens to a lot of smaller independent bands in favor of contemporary music that is being played on the radio. Drummer Carson Little, 12, says that he listens to “anything but country.” When asked if she likes the older classic rock songs that they play, Stevie Petet says, “That’s all I listen to, Rock ‘n’ Roll, that’s it.”

The School of Rock motto is “To inspire kids to rock… on stage and in life.” And it appears that is just what the Rogers school is doing.

“The kids learn from each other, both musically and socially,” says Register. It’s a place that is embracing of all kinds and filled with kids who might not sit at the same lunch table but relate to each other through the music once they’re in the band room.

“Beyond the obvious skill of learning to play an instrument, the School of Rock students are gaining an appreciation of rock ‘n’ roll music and its history, as well as finding confidence in being able to express themselves artistically in a way that wasn’t previously available.”