Sunday, January 02, 2005

My kids are in Grammy Magazine!

And they even used the photos I took on tour...of course that's my daughter Julie right in the middle with the bass...and that's Ms. Lauren Pollock singing on the left, and Ms. Julia Ranier on guitar on the right.

(Oh, and in case you missed it and you're new to my blog, if you want to read MY version of the tour, scroll the archives here - I've written over 65,000 words and gotten an entire book out of it)

GRAMMY Magazine - December 27, 2004

The School Of Rock's Unorthodox Lessons
School provides students with the skills and knowledge to rock

Last year, Paul Green watched proudly as select students from his Paul Green School of Rock performed alongside former bandmates of the late Frank Zappa on a stage in Germany. The event was "Zappanale," a weeklong festival in honor of the late Zappa and his complex music. Witnessing his students whip the German crowd into a frenzy, Green recalls feeling delighted…and challenged.

"I'm sitting there watching the show, and all I could think is, 'How do I top this next year?'" Green said while at the School of Rock headquarters in Philadelphia.

Green recently provided the answer to his own vexing question: The Paul Green School of Rock Tour, a 16-day jaunt featuring 24 of Green's best and brightest students, launched this summer at the Knitting Factory in Los Angeles before moving on to Colorado, Utah and Nevada. The tour, which serves as students' post-graduation thesis, gave West Coast audiences a chance to judge the effectiveness of Green's teaching methods.

Green's students, ages 12-17, performed a full two-hour set of hits by Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Queen, Yes, King Crimson and others, or a full set featuring the music of Zappa.

Although all of the students are school-age, the School of Rock Tour will not be showcased at public schools. Just like the unorthodox lessons he teaches at his unaccredited school, Green believes the tour is about succeeding on his own terms.

"Schools bind your hands so much," Green said. "It's great not to be tied to other bureaucratic levels. What we have now, the freedom is amazing. We play [the Dead Kennedy's] 'Bleed for Me' and we change the words to Afghanistan. I couldn't do that [in public schools]."

Green's many fans aren't complaining about the maverick instructor's untraditional teaching methods. Erika Flory has two children enrolled at the School of Rock. She says the experience has not only brought her kids closer together, it has also given them an appreciation for excellence.

"I've seen [Green] conduct rehearsals, and it's brutal honesty," Flory said. "He's not going to tell a kid, 'That was really good,' when it wasn't. Paul has said that none of his criticism in rehearsal will hurt the kids as much as a bad performance will, and I tend to agree with that."

Branden King, a 19-year-old drummer from Redding, Pa., drives hours every week to attend Green's school. Initially a fan of modern rock acts like Korn and the Deftones, King credits Green with broadening the drummer's musical horizons.

"I've become a way better musician because of Paul," King said. "I've learned that there's a lot of hard-to-play music out there, and that's helped me and challenged me a lot. I play in three bands now, and I have Paul to thank for that."

The teaching method that has parents and students raving begins when Green assigns new students a private teacher (Green's faculty consists mainly of former School of Rock students). New students are taught scales, chords and how to solo on their chosen instrument, including guitar, bass, keyboards, vocals or marimba — the latter for those tricky jazz-rock Zappa passages.

Though Green dissects and performs songs by groups as diverse as Black Sabbath and Radiohead, a few classic rock acts are referenced consistently. For composition, Green teaches the music of Pink Floyd ("they made records that sound really good…their music is deceptively simple"). Led Zeppelin provides the basis for many guitar lessons ("Jimmy Page's guitar playing is so interesting and diverse"). For vocals and harmonies, Green has students examine the music of Queen ("their harmonies were not only different, they were often weird"). Finally, students learn the music of Frank Zappa for overall rock education.

"Zappa is one-stop shopping," Green said. "There's a little jazz, a little funk. Blues, metal, some classical — it's all there in Zappa's music."

After a mere three months, new students are required to perform at least three songs in front of parents and fellow students.

"If you play well, people will respond and you're never going to forget the feeling," Green said. "If you play poorly, then you'll get a polite but unenthusiastic response and you'll practice better next time. It's the carrot-and-stick approach."

Asked to comment on the unorthodox School of Rock method, a representative at the National Association for Music Education in Reston, Va., said Green's approach to music instruction doesn't sound insufficient or overly extreme.

"A child that did not like [Green's] teaching style would probably not continue at the school," said the Association's Director of Member Programs, Ardene Shafer. "Some kids like the challenge of performing right away, while others just want to learn an instrument for their private enjoyment."

According to Shafer, the School of Rock's unaccredited status does not necessarily invalidate Green's teaching methods.

"In most cases, accreditation probably means that a school has met several standards, one of those being that the instructors have gone to college and are educated in the discipline they teach," Shafer said. "That's not to say that all unaccredited instructors don't have degrees. It just means that their school has never gone through the rigorous process of accreditation and that students may get an education that's more fluid and flexible."

Though Green's approach to music education is somewhat unorthodox, there's no denying its media appeal. Until recently, he toiled in relative obscurity at his self-named school in downtown Philadelphia. But Green was still doing much of the teaching and administrative work himself, and he had to work another job to make ends meet.

But enrollment skyrocketed after the Jack Black comedy became a Hollywood blockbuster.

"I was actually thinking of suing [the movie's producers], but getting the run-off was better karmically," Green said, employing the curious combination of cynical humor and '60s-style philosophy that is his personal trademark.

Green has since become something of a celebrity. His students have appeared on MTV's "Total Request Live," and they are slated to be profiled on the "CBS Evening News With Dan Rather." Green and his school have also been featured in The New York Times, Spin, Tracks, Mojo and Reuters.

The School of Rock is also the subject of a full-length film documentary that had its world premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival this summer. Produced by Sheena M. Joyce and Don Argott, "Rock School" was hailed by the Los Angeles Times and the L.A. Weekly upon its June 18 festival screening, and it was the first film to emerge from the festival with a major deal (Newmarket Films plans to release the rockumentary in 2005).

Green is seizing his moment in the spotlight. He is incorporating the School of Rock and opening franchises in New York and San Francisco. The franchising idea was inspired by Steve Nicolazzi, a Philly-area sales manager with three children and a nephew enrolled at Green's school.

Nicolazzi gained knowledge of effective music education through his own personal experiences. As a teen growing up in the '70s, he found traditional guitar lessons uninspiring. "It was like homework," Nicolazzi remembers.

Now, having watched Green transform his kids into enthused rockers, Nicolazzi has nothing but praise for Green. In fact, Nicolazzi is now a School of Rock staffer.

"Just recently I had some parents come up to me with tears in their eyes," Nicolazzi recalled. "Their son had just got up there and played 'My Generation.' The kid's father just gave me big hug, and said 'I can't believe you did this.'"

(Bruce Britt is an award-winning journalist and essayist whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle, Billboard and other publications. He lives in Los Angeles.)