ALEXANDRIA, VA – Roughly 200 people squeezed into Paradiso Italian Restaurant on Saturday, February 1 to see middle and high schoolers singing Beatles tunes and hits of the 90s in the School of Rock Alexandria’s second concert to date.
“I’m from the 80s and 90s, so I’m happy my girl is playing 90s tonight,” said Izlem Moore whose daughter is in the 90s cover band Pecan Sandies.
The 9-member Pecan Sandies (derived from the TV show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) performed songs by the Cranberries (“Zombie”), the Red Hot Chilli Peppers (“Scar Tissue”), Alanis Morissette (“Uninvited”) and closed off to a volume-pumping cover of Nirvana (“Smells Like Teen Spirit”).
They were preceded by an 11-member Beatles Cover Band known as #9 which performed such favorites as “Saw Her Standing There”, “Yesterday”, “Hey Jude” and “Twist and Shout.” In order to be in the performance-based group, band members had to audition. The School of Rock Alexandria also offers a Rock 101 Program for children ages 8-13 and a Rookies program for kids ages 6-8.
School of Rock Band Program
The program involves a weekly band rehearsals and private lessons on instruments used in rock and roll (keyboards, guitar, bass, drums, and voice). For the children in the program, it is often supplemental to their musical development and teaches new skills.
“We don’t just do lessons, we put them in groups together, so they grow so much faster,” said School of Rock Alexandria founder Steve McKay.
“She’s been going to a regular voice coach outside of school, but she wanted to do other things like being in a band and once she started going to this, she was able to build more stage presence and confidence,” said Julia Inabinet whose 14-year-old daughter Trista is in the Beatles cover band.
McKay’s 10-member teaching staff is made up mostly of active musicians, which McKay believes is critical to helping the kids learn to perform in front of crowds
“That’s what helps teach them stage presence,” explained McKay.
School of Rock Growing Fast
In a little over 7 months, the Alexandria School of Rock has exploded to 114 active students. Using a variety of ads, social media, and flyers to get the word out, McKay hopes his students also help with the marketing. It also doesn’t hurt that a certain 2003 movie starring Jack Black is a mainstay among film comedies.
Contrary to popular belief, however, the School of Rock music school was pounding out sounds and teaching kid to play before the popular movie was up on the screen. Founder Phil Green took out a $7000 loan in 2002 and established the Paul Green School of Rock Music in an old building in Philadelphia.
The school got the attention of Spin Magazine which profiled it in their May issue of that year. Green’s program inspired a documentary and, more familiarly, the 2003 movie that opened in October of that year and grossed a respectable $81 million dollars domestically. The current operation serves 30,000 students in 9 countries
Teaching Kids Music
Kelly Giles came to the concert because she wanted to check it out for her daughter Sadie who plays both clarinet and electric guitar.
It’s not uncommon for these kids to have a toe both in the traditional world of orchestra, band, or classical piano lessons while also exploring rock and roll.
Giles’ philosophy on how to raise your kid musically was inspired by a parent’s neighbor who is a retired music teacher. According to Kelly Giles, he often said “it’s important to hear all kinds of different music especially because by the age of 5 because there are all kinds of sounds that your ear closes up to by that age.”
Sadie is a fan of Ed Sheeran and Lewis Cipaldi while Kelly shares some of her daughters’ tastes but the two enjoy show tunes as well.
Similarly, Dorothy Edson plays viola in the school orchestra and plans to continue but admits that she gets excited about playing in the band a lot more. At School of Rock Alexandria, Edson sings and plays keyboards and is learning guitar. She is in the 8-member house band (a smaller selection among the performance groups that goes on select gigs) and attended the program’s inaugural Summer Camp.
“[When] she started in summer camp last year, we’ve always said that Dorothy found her people. She got to express herself in ways that orchestra never did. She’s sort of a natural performer and this gave her an outlet that she never had before,” said Edson’s mom Emily Janka.
Edson and bassist Sean O’Neill got to show off their orchestral instruments (Sean plays cello for the school orchestra at Hammond Middle School) by contributing strings on the Beatles track “Yesterday.”
“Our program is performance-based, so we use songs and performance to teach the form. The kids will learn it for their performance and then we’ll pull out the theory from the song to explain it in reverse,” said staffer Shawn Sharifi.
The concert culminates the end of a four-month rehearsal period. The next concert will be an AC-DC tribute band and a cover band highlighting the 1980s.
At the end of the concert, musical director Coleman Guillard thanked everyone for coming and said “Our next season begins next week and we have to follow that up.”
School of Rock Alexandria is located at 3260 Duke Street in Alexandria and is open from 3 to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. For more information, visit locations.schoolofrock.com/alexandria