By James Cullum
ALEXANDRIA,VA- Close your eyes and imagine the sound of all that applause your child could witness after their band wraps up their latest hit onstage. Wouldn’t that be awesome? For many aspiring musicians, the dream of becoming a successful rock and roller is something that other people do, but not in Del Ray. For the last eight years, Rock Of Ages Music at 114 E. Day Ray Ave. has taught hundreds of students that it’s not only possible, it has set the stage for their success.
“For these young kids, you never know what it’s going to take to get you to the next level of success as a touring band or musician,” said ROAM founder and owner John Patrick. ““One of the things I tell my older bands is to actually start taking this very seriously. My best advice for them is to make friends with everybody they can. In the world of music, the more friends you have the more people are going to give you opportunities going forward. You might get an opening gig for a band that’s got a sound completely opposite of yours, but you know what? If you do your thing there might be 15 or 20 people out of that crowd of 250 that begin to follow you,” says the native Alexandrian.
Learning To Rock
It’s not an easy road to success, and Patrick, the former drummer with Virginia Coalition, knows what he’s talking about. The Alexandria native has played in front of thousands of people, in an untold number of gigs on the road in high profile venues including the 9:30 Club, The Fillmore, and The Chicago House of Blues. His team of 17 part-time instructors made up of prestigious local talent, currently teach upward of 300 private students, with 25 individual rock bands enrolled in the rock school.
Singer and guitarist Evin Trail, 13, started playing with ROAM three years ago. He wants to be a professional musician, and said his teachers have not only helped him improve technically, but on the realities of what it takes to be successful.
“I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with the guitar with just playing. I’ve also gotten a lot more comfortable in front of people and singing in front of people and just performing in general,” said Trail, who plays in the band Thicc Bear. “When we get a song down, just playing it feels really good. When all of us know our parts and all of us can play it really tight and it sounds really good, it’s just a really good feeling.”
ROAM guarantees that anyone who joins the program will play on a legitimate stage and venue. The school hosts the annual ROAMFEST at Union Stage in Washington, D.C. every January, and bands play at the Del Ray Music Festival and other events throughout the year.
“When they get up on that stage and they start getting that experience going, that really does something for their confidence,” said Patrick, who co-chairs the Del Ray Music Festival Committee with his wife, Ellen. “What we’re doing here is helping the kids be the best they can be. Whatever they do with it is their choice. If they’re in the Rock School program, we want them to have fun and enjoy the experience of what it’s like to be in a band and play on an awesome stage and awesome venue.”
Making Music In Alexandria
Patrick formed Virginia Coalition while attending T.C. Williams High School. Three years after graduating, he decided to become a full-time musician, and toured the country for nearly a decade before settling back down in Alexandria to open his rock school in 2011.
“We did a lot of amazing things, played with a lot of amazing bands, shared the stage with some really big acts. They were some of the best moments of my life, It was so much fun,” Patrick said. “When I was a kid, if my mother told me that there was a place like ROAM, I wouldn’t have refused.”
Patrick was a teenager when he realized he wanted to be a musician. He never played for the school band, preferring sports to music class, and spent his spare time learning to rock out with his friends on a drum kit bought for him by his parents. Incidentally, Patrick’s mother, Roxann, is the office manager at ROAM.
“I would play every day after school, and it was just infectious. I couldn’t stop. Still, I would have to say that it took me probably well into 10 years of playing and touring with the band and watching all the drummers in all the bands we played with, that’s when I became a lot more cerebral about it. It definitely took time,” Patrick said. “We did very well. I’m super proud of what we accomplished, when you consider how hard it is to be a touring musician. When we were on the road we hardly had to keep warmed up, because we were playing show after show… It was your typical rock and roll lifestyle. I mean, we’d play a show that would be over at midnight, we’d be done loading out at 1:30 and then we’d have to decide whether to drive nine hours to Tennessee or stay in a hotel, or go halfway.”
ROAM Is On A Roll
Patrick has outgrown his current footprint, prompting him to lease four additional studio spaces on Mount Vernon Avenue. ROAM currently employs 17 music teachers, and many are touring musicians like Anthony Pirog, who plays in the Fugazi rhythm section, and Adam Orlando, the drummer for RDGLDGRN.
“They’re able to bring that real world experience right into the classroom with these kids, and give it to them first-hand,” Patrick said.
Orlando has taught with ROAM for the last seven years, and spends a good chunk of the year touring with RDGLDGRN. He’s currently teaching more than 70 students in Alexandria, and said that he teaches kids more than just how to play music, but also communicating with other players, making charts of songs, and learning parts to songs.
“Some people don’t even know how to approach learning a song. They get overwhelmed, and they give up. I wish I’d had something like this when I was a kid,” Orlando said. “Musicians tend to develop very strong personalities, and they can be good leaders, too. And you can see a lot of times with musicians that when they’re in a group of people, they’re usually the alpha.”
Patrick, who also lives in Del Ray with his wife and four-year-old daughter, has seen impressive growth in his students. The trick, he said, is in making it collaborative and fun.
“I have no interest in telling somebody kind of music I think they should be playing,” Patrick said. “A really important thing is how the kids are learning at a young age to communicate, to compromise. I know firsthand that musical artistic ideas are collaborative. So, you need to learn how to compromise and how to come up with ideas that work for you and for somebody else. They learn these concepts early on in life through this program while working as a band with their fellow peers.”