Monday, November 19, 2007
In a rundown walk-up in Silver Spring, class begins to rock.
On a recent Tuesday night, about 15 teenagers are taking turns approximating a pretty good Rush cover band at Paul Green's School of Rock, one of a number of rock 'n' roll schools popping up around the region and the nation.
There are at least three rock schools in the Washington area. The nascent sector got a boost with the 2003 film "School of Rock," in which a failed rock musician, played by real-life rocker Jack Black, impersonates a school teacher at an elite prep school and teaches a gang of middle-schoolers the only thing he knows: how to rawwwk.
Now, in real life, classically trained musicians, working session guys and aging rockers are discovering that there is an emerging business to be made in teaching kids the music of Stevie Wonder, Led Zeppelin and Kiss, instead of Beethoven, Mozart and Bach.
At the Silver Spring School of Rock, a charmingly disheveled space across from the AFI Silver Theatre, a teenage drummer, guitarist, bassist, keyboardist and vocalist are playing on a makeshift stage under fluorescent black light, rocking a muscular version of "Tom Sawyer," the 1981 anthem by Canadian math-rock trio Rush.
The song, like many in the Rush catalogue, is among the harder songs a rock band can attempt. There is no three-chord simplicity here. "Tom Sawyer" showcases Neil Peart's uncanny polyrhythmic percussion.
Drummer Andrew Cohn, 17, is giving it his all on Peart's lightning-fast riffs but, halfway through the song, School of Rock music director Steve Kilgallon stops the music and addresses Cohn.
"Your one hand is, you know," he admonishes, without having to finish the sentence.
"Uh huh," nods Cohn, folding his sticks.
"You gotta go with the flow and give up on the sixteenths," Kilgallon says, referring to the quick-note drum fills, which Cohn is slurring.
"Right," Cohn says.
"So, I'm going to be annoying cowbell guy," Kilgallon says, referencing an old "Saturday Night Live" skit. Kilgallon, 31, still a working drummer, mounts the stage, directs Cohn to restart the song and bangs a cowbell to mark the beat of the tune -- much like a classical music teacher would use a metronome to rein in a piano student rushing through a sonata.