Even before fictional aspiring rock star Dewey Finn masqueraded as a substitute teacher in the 2003 Jack Black comedy, The School Of Rock, a chain of real rock schools had sprung up across the United States.
Paul Green, a Philadelphia guitar teacher, opened his first School of Rock in 2000. Branches soon opened in surrounding Pennsylvania counties and later in Delaware and southern New Jersey. There are now 70 schools in the United States and Mexico.
Green’s concept combines traditional private lessons in guitar, bass, keyboards, drums and vocals with group rehearsals and public performances.
The School of Rock also stages tours featuring its students. From Saturday, July 9, through Aug. 2, the School of Rock Summer All-Stars tour will appear in 23 cities, including a July 15 stop at the Spanish Moon in Baton Rouge. Most of the shows are benefits for Ronald McDonald House Charities.
Selected by audition, 125 students from the 7,000 attending School of Rock facilities are participating in the tour. Divided into five groups of 25 students, the young singers and musicians get an authentic rock-band touring experience as they travel by bus with chaperones. The All-Stars’ average age is 15.
Mark Biondi, director of the School of Rock All-Stars and a professional drummer, began his association with the School of Rock when he and a business partner opened five branches in New Jersey and New York.
“It was a fantastic experience and I really fell in love with the program,” Biondi said. “It was amazing to see the kids inspire each other. School of Rock becomes a community for musicians to learn and create and socialize. It’s a nurturing environment, something I wish I’d had when I was a young musician.”
Like so many aspiring young musicians, Biondi grew up with the isolated experience of taking lessons in the backroom of a music store.
“I had a great teacher but after you took your lesson it was like, ‘Well, what do I do now?’ School of Rock adds the performance component. It gives the kids a chance to apply what they’re learning. Our kids, even at the local level, are playing real rock shows at real clubs.”
The All-Stars are exceptional young musicians, Biondi added.
“The kids coming through Baton Rouge are gonna drop people’s jaws,” he said. “I’ve seen the best musicians. These kids are in line to take their crowns. They don’t even realize how good they are. And they jam out every night at awesome clubs like the Spanish Moon. That’s like rock ‘n’ roll fantasy, but they have the talent to back it up.”
Matt Carlson, a 17-year-old singer and multi-instrumentalist from Charlotte, N.C., is making his second All-Stars tour. His group, from the Southern region that includes Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina, performs music of the 1970s and ‘80s.
Carlson is excited to be back for this year’s tour, having had a great experience last year. He learned how to deal with the road’s late nights and early mornings, manage his sleeping and eating and keep his voice in good condition.
“It went above and beyond my expectations,” Carlson said of that first tour. “I formed a lot of great bonds on that tour. Knowing the ropes now, I’m sure it’ll be much more fun this time. Everybody needs to understand what a working musician goes through.”