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School of Rock

 

New Vienna Music School Features a Prerequisite of Rock and Roll 

On July 9, the Northern Virginia branch of the Paul Green School of Rock Music opened its doors to aspiring rock and roll stars. Like the 2003 movie “School of Rock,” starring Jack Black, which was inspired by the first Paul Green School established in 1998, the Vienna location provides a performance-based curriculum for young musicians ages seven to 18, of all different skill levels and instrumental interests.

“We do a real rock show in front of a real rock audience at a real rock venue,” said Jeff Bollettino, Chief Music Officer and owner of the Vienna school, referring to the seasonal performances the students put on. The school is situated along Center Street South, next to the Vienna Town Hall and near the Vienna Public Library.

For this newly-opened school, there will be one show per three seasons, fall, spring and summer, in which about 30 kids will play. Each student will perform six to seven songs. Their first concert is scheduled for late October or early November, where the students will do a cover of Pink Floyd’s album The Wall, a tradition for each school’s first concert. Bollettino calls Pink Floyd’s album “a challenging piece of music, theatrical and a crowd pleaser.” He books Jammin’ Java in Vienna for the students’ concerts, with the intention of garnering an all-ages rock concert experience.

The performances are evidence of the hard work the kids put in beforehand: learning about and practicing their respective instruments, usually guitar, bass, drums, keyboard or vocals. The school runs two programs, a regular program which operates throughout the year and includes a weekly 45-minute individual lesson and three-hour rehearsal with other students, as well as a series of two-week-long summer camps running from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily. The regular program costs $250 per month.

“Traditional classical [musicians] studied the great classical composers, Beethoven and so on. We’re essentially doing the same thing but we’re studying more contemporary rock and roll [artists],” Bollettino said. The school explores all different genres in rock: blues, reggae, funk and metal, and features artists from Led Zeppelin to The Who to Black Sabbath. Different artists and songs allow the students to focus on specific skills; for example, English rock band Queen helps students practice vocals and harmony.

Each student, furthermore, gets assigned to various songs for the seasonal concert, partly due to their interests, but also “on what they need to learn.” In this way, the school brings together both beginner musicians as well as more advanced musicians, casting them into different parts — such as a lead solo part for working on scales — to suit their learning needs. 

Besides studying the basics of their instruments (vocalists learn how to breathe, guitarists learn open chords, keyboard players learn scales) from faculty with “real rock music experience,” students learn about stage presence, how to connect with the audience, and how to play with other musicians. Their diligence culminates in a concert that emphasizes performance mastery and music as entertainment.

The performance-based aspect of the curriculum is what Bollettino sites as the difference between the School of Rock and other music schools “that lose the context of playing in front of people.”

“Kids learn a lot of life lessons. Like in sports, they learn to get ready for the big moment, [to] succeed or fail, and if they fail, to pick themselves up and try again,” said Bollettino. “Some kids get that playing football. We give kids the same experience in a musical context.”

Bollettino, a guitarist himself, became involved with the School of Rock franchise after leaving the corporate world. Paul Sommers, who has toured and recorded with numerous rock bands, joined Bollettino as the school’s Music Director.

One of the most rewarding aspects about his work, Bollettino said, is seeing kids develop musically, as well as socially, “opening up” and “finding a new circle of friends,” and academically, “[discovering] a focus.” He enjoys, like the students’ parents, “helping to show off what is great about their kids.”

The Chief Music Officer looks forward to, after learning the ropes, opening several schools in the area, in Alexandria and Leesburg, Va., and sharing his passion for rock music.