"You want your kid to be passionate about something, whether it be sports, scouts, dance or whatever. School of Rock does this for my son. We have discovered a talent we didn't know he had. My son would live at School of Rock if he could. We've already recommended the program to several friends."
School of hard rock: National rockstar phenomenon comes to city
By Chris Beattie, email@example.com
Metallica and Led Zeppelin are their curriculum. They head bang and cymbal-crash their way to success. Simply put, they rock out with the best.
And they're not even out of high school.
Thousands of kids around the country are living their rockstar dreams at School of Rock, a franchised after-school program that leaves marching band and choir concerts behind the stage.
Fortunately for DFW-area musicians, the schools are popping up all over, with the latest one in McKinney. Just like its nationwide partner schools, the new location is opening with a bang of the drums.
"A lot of kids who come here may not fit in with the sports crowd," said Terry Longhway, co-owner of the DFW Schools of Rock. "They don't want to be in their school band; they want to be in a rock band."
School of Rock came to Dallas in 2008, about 10 years after Paul Green founded the youth-driven phenomenon. His school inspired the 2003 movie, "School of Rock," about a teacher who pushes his students from boring metronome exercises toward rock-n-roll.
More than 70 Schools of Rock now cover the U.S., teaching kids about music theory, discipline and, most of all, how to have fun with their musical passion.
"It's all about a culture and a place beyond just somewhere they can play," Longhway said. "They can be a part of something."
Dean Tarpley saw that "something" when he invested in Longhway's first school in Rochester, Mich., and brought four more schools to DFW in recent years through his holding company, Musicmaker Enterprises, Inc. The McKinney school, which opened a couple of weeks ago, continues a mission that only great rock music could inspire.
"When I went to see that first school, I couldn't fathom anyone pulling off Zeppelin, especially kids," said Tarpley, whose own kid soon attended School of Rock. "Watching these kids at that first show, I remember my jaw dropping to the floor. I'm amazed to this day by the 6- and 7-year-olds who hang with this music."
The newest facility, located off Louisiana Street near U.S. 75, is a stretched studio of practice rooms, guitar amps and rockstar renditions. Each room is themed to a certain band like Pink Floyd or Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Energized students, ranging from kindergarten through high school, fill the resounding walls, guitars slung to their shoulder and fake tattoos down their arms. Some study math and science -- their "day school" -- between private lessons and rehearsals.
Carson Coldiron, music director for McKinney School of Rock, was drawn to the youthful passion the first time he stepped foot in the Southlake school, another of the five area locations. A fellow member of his band, The Virgin Wolves, taught at the school and asked him to fill in a few times.
Students with desire, dedication and downright talent grabbed him with one guitar strum.
"It's unbelievable how much a full rehearsal will inspire kids to learn challenging music," said Coldiron, who immediately wanted his own School of Rock. "When they get on stage and are banging their heads, their parents and friends are all there, they just become rock stars."
Learning guitar or piano alone just isn't as fun as doing it with 20 others in front of a pulsating crowd at Lollapalooza or Edgefest, two of the nation's biggest rock festivals every year. About 40 percent of School of Rock students come in with minimal to no experience, Longhway said. Some got a guitar for Christmas and want to mimic Jimi Hendrix by New Year's.
At School of Rock, they often can do it in a few months.
"You have to be pretty strongly self-motivated to go home and practice when you never actually use those skills for anything," said Wendy Murphy, general manager of the Dallas and McKinney schools. "When you know that the next week you're going to be there with five other kids rocking out, then you do it a lot faster."
Murphy's 9-year-old daughter, Marlhy, has learned the drums, guitar and vocals through School of Rock. She's in her own Zeppelin cover band and another band, We're Not Dudes.
Students spend time in lessons and group rehearsals every week during four-month seasons throughout the year. They perform at School of Rock venues at the Frisco and Dallas locations as well as at concert venues and festivals all over the DFW Metroplex.
Hundreds of friends, parents and grandparents cheer on their rock stars at every show. Like Tarpley, many are wowed by the kids' renditions of their favorite childhood tunes.
"They're getting pretty darn near to that professional level," Longhway said. "I'd put them up against anyone. They're that good."
Tarpley and Longhway are committed to opening up three more area schools in coming years. There's even talk about expanding the program into an accredited post-graduate music institution, Longhway said.
For now, though, the "school" and "rock" in the name should continue reeling in both parents and their aspiring rock stars. Fueled by hard work, camaraderie and preparation, the rock-n-roll mentality reaches beyond the stage.
School doesn't have to be about tests, textbooks and A+ grades. Sometimes kids just need to rock out.
"Here, they love going to school," Longhway said. "It's super fun for the kid who just wants to play and hangout, and it's fun for the kid who wants to be the next Eddie Van Halen."