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Rock of the Nation

Mike Lawson • Archives • July 24, 2007

With over thirty locations around the country and plans for hundreds more, the School of Rock Music is expanding rapidly. Band directors might be well served by turning their students on to Paul Green’s program and the “non-traditional” extracurricular musical opportunities it provides.

School Band & Orchestra: Are you a musician yourself?
Paul Green: Yes, I play the guitar. I picked it up when I was about 12 or 13.

SBO: What brought that on?
PG: My mom played. She showed me a few chords and how to play them. It came to me pretty easily, so I stuck with it. I took a few lessons off and on, but I’m mostly self-taught.

SBO: Did you play in school band or anything like that?
PG: Yeah, I was in the jazz band in my high school, which was okay. But what I didn’t like about that experience I’ve tried to make better when I founded the School of Rock.

SBO: Such as?
PG: I wanted to play solos and improvise, but it was too “right from the page” for my taste, too rigid.

SBO: So what do you offer in the School of Rock that a kid can’t get from a school jazz band?
PG: In every show we do, we want the kids to take the material and make it their own. We always select repertoire that has a lot of improvisation and solos, and we challenge the singers to find their own niche in the material.

SBO: And you are affiliated with area schools?
PG: We’re loosely affiliated with tons of schools, just not officially. We get a lot of recommendations from school music teachers and programs. When we first opened in Philadelphia, there was a high school up the street and we became their de facto music program.

SBO: Do your students generally continue in their school music programs?
PG: They do, except for the All-stars – the touring kids – they can’t because it’s too much of a time drain to do both.

SBO: Tell me about the All-stars’ touring schedule?
PG: I have two groups of them, and between the two of them they’ll do 70-75 shows this year. We just did a bunch of shows with John Anderson [Yes], and our groups have played with Vernon Reid [Living Color], Alice Cooper, and Adrian Belew, among others. One group’s gone to Lollapalooza, and the other’s gone to a festival in Quebec City.

SBO: Cool. How do they balance the schoolwork with playing on the road?
PG: I never take any kid out of school more than five days a year. And I think that any school that’s worth its salt will realize that [touring] is an important enough thing [that they should make an exception]. This is a life experience.

SBO: What age students do you accept?
PG: Eight to 18, though we’ll take a five- or six-year-old if they’re focused enough. The All-stars generally skew a little older, 13-18.

SBO: Do your students enter into other sorts of competition?
PG: Not really. It’s a meritocracy. The kids who work and practice the hardest get to do the coolest things, but there’s no direct competition, other than the auditions to be an All-star. We do smaller “battle of the bands” shows at some of the schools, but nothing more widespread.

SBO: And only the All-stars travel?
PG: Every branch plays tons of shows in its own area, but only the All-stars get on a tour bus and travel – but that’s not true: this year we did the School of Rock Festival in Asbury Park, N.J., so students from every school were able to get on a plane to come and play at that.

SBO: How many schools are currently operating?
PG: We have 31 schools around the country. Most of them are concentrated around Philly and New York, but we’re also in San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Portland, Hollywood, et cetera. The schools in the cities are all ours – we own them – and then we franchise all the suburban locations. The city locations are in the major markets, areas where we can get some press, and the franchises are just where we get interest.

SBO: What kind of facilities do you use?
PG: That’s funny because we’re a destination: we have everything from old recording studios in high-rise buildings in New York and San Francisco, to strip malls in Salt Lake City to industrial parks in a lot of our suburban locations – whatever works for creating the space we need.

SBO: In addition to a performance opportunity at an actual rock venue, what does a student get when he or she enters into the School of Rock?
PG: Students get a private lesson, three-hour structured rehearsals, seminars, and use of the facility – they get a lot. We’re a tuition-based school, so students aren’t charged by the lesson.

SBO: What instrumentation do you focus on?
PG: We focus on guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, and vocals. If a kid comes in and plays the electric violin or horns or something like that, then we find a way to work those in, too, but we don’t give lessons in those instruments.

SBO: Do you ever bend to other genres?
PG: Sure. We cover “rock,” written large. We do “Jesus Christ Superstar,” punk shows, metal shows, rockabilly, we’ve done jazz-fusion – all the various families of rock.

SBO: And that is based on the students’ interest?
PG: Absolutely not. That’s based on what I and my staff and my teachers think is important for the kids to learn. Do the students at Harvard have a hand in choosing the books they read? The day Princeton University lets the kids choose which books they want to read is the day I’ll let the students choose the songs they get to play.

People always ask me, “Why don’t you let the kids pick the music?” And I say, “Because that’s not education.” What does a 15-year-old know about what’s important for him or her? I don’t tell them what to listen to, but I certainly tell them what to study.

SBO: Do you work with any schoolteachers? I’m intrigued by the loose affiliation you mentioned earlier.
PG: We don’t work with schoolteachers, per se. What we’ll do is get a couple of kids from a school, then some of the teachers will come to a show, and then the teachers become big fans of what we’re doing and start recommending us to other students, et cetera.

SBO: So who are SOR’s teachers, then?
PG: All our teachers are active professional musicians. We are always looking for real working musicians with good people skills and great resumes to teach for us, although it’s not too hard to find underemployed musicians – especially in New York! Whenever we get any publicity, we get flooded with e-mails from prospective teachers.

SBO: Thoughts on the future?
PG: We’re hoping to get 300-400 schools, coast-to-coast. We did a festival for the first time, June 23-24, which we hope to expand every year, along with more touring, international schools, management, and eventually a record label. We are looking to become a full-service entertainment and education entity.

SBO: Do the schools have any sort of accreditation?
PG: We make sure that all the teachers we hire do. Our national music director is a man by the name of Mike Keneally, who was in Frank Zappa’s band. He was also Steve Vai’s music director. That, to me, is the best credential a guy could have – to be the guitar player in Frank Zappa’s band!

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