School of Rock — now open at a new location — shows anyone how to kick out the jams.
At bottom, everyone wants to be a rock star. We may publicly declaim our admiration for presidents and scientists, or envy the looks and wealth of Hollywood actors; at the end of the day, however, if given the ability to switch places with one person, most of us would make the same choice. At their respective primes, we’d rather be Mick Jagger than George Clooney.
This curious awe for musicians makes more sense when you break down the components of rock stardom: public adulation, wealth and artistry, together with a veneer of freedom and self-willed agency unmatched in any other lifestyle pursuit. Subtract the scrutiny of fame and the material accoutrements, and rock stars remain among the most important cultural figures of our time. If 17th century England is remembered primarily for Shakespeare, it’s not a stretch to say that 20th century America will always be associated with Elvis Presley, or Bob Dylan.
To become a rock star requires a rare combination of talent, hard work and luck. Though the origin tales of our most famous musicians are as varied as their artistic outputs, two traits remain shared: a genuine love of song, and dedication to the craft of musicianship. These qualities can appear inborn in practically anyone; to see them blossom, however, requires practice, patience and guidance. Fort Worth’s School of Rock, newly relocated to Bryant Irvin, exists to nurture the seeds of musical talent in its diverse array of students.
General manager Andrew Sudderth explains the nature of School of Rock, along with its relationship to a certain movie:
“We started with our first school in Dallas. School of Rock is a franchise, and the DFW schools are owned by Dean Tarpley and Terry Longhway. The movie is based on the company, and the Fort Worth school, which has been around for five years, was originally located off University Drive.”
The 2003 film “School of Rock,” starring Jack Black, followed the adventures of a misfit guitar instructor and his crew of lovable, oddball students. The movie captures something of the positive, communal vibe of Fort Worth’s School of Rock, in that it showcases the transformative power of musical instruction. For Andrew, that’s what it’s all about.
“Some of our kids may not have found an outlet to keep them engaged, and when they discover music, they just blossom,” says Andrew. “Their parents see them achieve, and then when the kids get on a stage it is just inspiring.”
While the film focuses on a group of adolescents, School of Rock actually serves students of all ages, from toddlers to adults.
“We teach everyone from four-years-old and up,” says Andrew. “We have programs for every age and skill level, though the bulk of our enrollment is 13 to 18-year olds. We have some kids who come in with the intention of one day enrolling in Juilliard, while others simply want the ability to play at an open-mic. It’s truly anything and everything under the sun.”
School of Rock tailors its approach to each and every student. A unique performance-based curriculum motivates and inspires students, while the culmination of their training — a live show — inspires confidence. Students at School of Rock Fort Worth learn music through playing music, both in private lessons and group rehearsals.
“We spend a huge amount of time working to ensure proper placement for each student,” says Andrew. “Other institutions might build bands, but we do a casting process that cultivates a culture you won’t find anywhere else. Students not only learn, but they become motivated by the desire to achieve something substantial each season.”
While typical schools operate on semester schedules, School of Rock works according to seasons. Students get placed according to age, with skill as a secondary factor. Instructors select songs for each group to encourage relevant skills, and the style of music depends wholly on the needs of the students.
“We’re called School of Rock, but we’ll teach anything from James Brown to Johnny Cash, Deep Purple, or Queens of the Stone Age. We pick the theme according to the students we have. For example, if I have some drummers who need to learn fundamentals, and some guitarists who need to wrap their heads around minor pentatonic scales, I might assign them AC/DC.”
Groups meet for a full band rehearsal once a week for either three hours or an hour-and-a-half, dependent on age. Additionally, each student gets a private weekly session with an instructor, in which they get individual instruction in targeted areas of improvement. The overall School of Rock process reverse engineers lessons, which shows students how music theory applies to whichever song they’ve been assigned.
Each season culminates in a live performance, booked in a reputable local venue. Students take what they’ve learned, from basic fundamentals to advanced techniques, and share it with a live audience. Instructors are often prominent members of the local music scene, and help encourage a sense of cultural community.
“As a result of the opportunities that students are given, they get to see the musical and cultural heritage of Fort Worth,” says Andrew. “They play at festivals and events, and thus actually become a part of the city’s artistic identity.”
An all-ages institution, School of Rock also caters to adults who have always wanted to pick up an instrument. If you missed out on the high school band, or never got around to jamming in friend’s garages, School of Rock offers guidance to help realize your dreams of musicianship.
“We offer a varsity program that’s for college-age individuals, and also an adult program,” says Andrew. “Adults meet for a two-hour weekly rehearsal, offered on two different nights, and a 45-minute individual session.”
School of Rock Fort Worth’s move to its new location provides more space and newer facilities for students. Even if you’re modest with your musical goals, the benefits of learning an instrument have a broad personal impact. A 2005 study from Stanford University revealed that learning a musical instrument improves brain function in areas associated with language, and can also improve reading skills. A separate Harvard study showed that children who receive musical training outperform others in a variety of areas, including fine motor skills.
“Music is the universal language,” says Andrew. “Our students learn leadership and perseverance, and there’s tons of material that shows how musical training improves linguistics. I know this personally, because music is my life. I wouldn’t even know where to start with describing all its rewards.”