Thursday, August 25, 2005

Paul Green School of Rock Music in the London Times!

Photo of Liam McGlynn at the Rock School All-Star Pink Floyd Show, World Cafe, 8-13-05 (also Sara Neidorf on drums and Will Wright on bass)

So a friend of mine from the UK just forwarded me an article about Rock School which appeared in yesterday's London Times!

(And it's really nice to see some other kids mentioned this time, like Grace, who I think is an incredible musician, and Maureen, who gets a very flattering comparison in this article and also killed at the Pink Floyd show)


August 24, 2005


Class acts: The school That Rocks
Joanna Walters

Paul Green's unique college teaches rock' n' roll. But sex and drugs are off the curriculum.

IT WAS not what Grace Hollaender had hoped for when her teenage daughter, who had been playing classical violin since she was 4, started playing lead guitar in a rock group. Visions of a rock’n’roll lifestyle, of drug-fuelled revelry and dodgy boyfriends abounded when Led Zeppelin overtook Sibelius as the music of choice.

But far from being a tattoo-smattered rebel, Grace Jr is politely spoken and does her homework. And she did not learn her riffs and chords leaping about in a garage smelling of grease and stale beer, but in “rock school”. In fact, Mrs Hollaender is about to accompany her 17-year-old daughter on a tour of Germany with Paul Green, the man turning her into a budding band guitarist.

Green, a “failed” rock star, runs the Paul Green School of Rock night-school in Philadelphia. Mrs Hollaender, a lawyer, says: “I was apprehensive when Grace joined. She was trained as a classical violinist and it seemed like second nature to her.” Her neatly dressed daughter says: “My parents did not like it when I started playing metal. I think they at least thought it would be all about the Beatles. Now I’m going to play lead guitar in Germany on Wish You Were Here, Run Like Hell and Brain Damage in a Pink Floyd tribute.”

Behind scruffy doors in a condemned building, Grace and other teens are blasting guitars, whacking drums and belting out lyrics with skill. In between the high-decibel sessions there is banter about sex and hangovers and marijuana. They sit on lumpy sofas under posters of Janis Joplin, Frank Zappa and Led Zeppelin. “The original American performance-based school of rock music,” as Green describes it, is helping them to hone new skills. It is now a fast-expanding business, helped by School of Rock, the 2003 hit film in which the actor Jack Black plays a frustrated rock star who poses as a teacher to turn his class into a band. Then there was Rock School, a documentary about the school, which is released in the UK next month.

The Philadelphia school is the largest, with 180 students registered since it opened in 1998, but in the past three years Green has franchised two branches in Pennsylvania, one in New York City, three in New Jersey and schools in Salt Lake City and San Francisco, with more than 300 additional students in total.

Green helps youngsters aged 8 to 18 to master rock numbers, compose their own music and play gigs. Lessons comprise one-to-one sessions with music teachers and plentiful jamming sessions with their peers. Performances can be anything from a mini-concert at an art gallery, a street fair or club, to tours such as this month’s to Hamburg in Germany.

So do the traditional vices of the rock lifestyle creep in? “We do rock’n’roll, but the sex and drugs — well, that’s what kids do anyway, isn’t it? But when they come here they are not doing that,” Green says. He has thrown kids out of the school for rolling joints or turning up drunk.

What also tempers the nervousness of parents is the amount of homework and the commitment he expects. After a two-hour rehearsal on a muggy Tuesday, Chris Lampson collects his stepson CJ Tywoniak, a talented guitarist.

CJ has already played a gig at CBGB’s, the once-notorious nightclub in New York that formed the cradle of punk in the Seventies — a venue that launched the Ramones, Patti Smith, Blondie and others. “The first time I walked in here I thought I had come to the wrong place,” says Lampson. “But I’ve seen these kids perform and they are unbelievably good. I don’t think they could teach CJ anything bad that he would not find on the streets.”

CJ has his sights set on Boston’s Berklee contemporary music school. Other students want to sing in Broadway musicals, become music journalists or just enjoy their cool hobby.

Green’s students range from troubled kids who use the school to escape violent, broken homes, to geeky swots with shy grins. Many are straight-A students and accomplished in several instruments. The neatly-turned out Doug Moore says that not all great rock’n’rollers are bums, adding: “Instead of sitting in a cloud of weed, like some people I know, I produce something.”

Green works them unstintingly. “I’m going to get really angry next week — is that fair?” he asks one rehearsal group, after he has stomped out of the room, accusing them of not practising enough. “Early success and then constant abuse, that’s my motto,” he chortles. He allows the rehearsal to resume, but keeps stopping and starting, while complaining that the bass player and lead singer Maureen Hayes is not doing it right. Maureen, 17, looking stressed under her fuchsia pink hair, produces a soulful voice evocative of Alison Moyet. “Do you take drugs?” Green asks. When Maureen offers a tremulous “no”, Green says: “Uh, OK. Have you ever laid in bed with a cold and felt like you are floating? Well, that’s what I want you to sing like. Move me!”

The session ends in a screech of guitars in mid-twang and drums in mid-roll. Maureen is crying discreetly. She had earlier said Green’s methods brought her out of her shell and given her ambition to be a great bass player.

Green admits that his motivation and workaholism borders on the obsessive. His father died when he was very young and his mother was mentally unstable — requiring more care from him than he got from her, he recalls. He left home at 15 and went to live with his band, spending almost ten years working on his dream to be a rock star. But before he even got to a record deal, he had become disenchanted with “the whole music career thing”. He had already married when he was 17 — and is still a happy husband and father who admits that he was eager to create the stable family he had never had.

In his twenties, he studied philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, giving guitar lessons to fund his course. When word about his “applied rock” method spread, he made a career out of teaching, and in 1998 he founded the School of Rock.

It seems strange that anyone would need a school to become a rock star. Green points out that just a tiny number are likely to end up as rock stars and that his lessons turn out competent young musicians. He also believes his school is giving “the few” a preparation for the ruthlessness of the music industry.

“I let them find their voice. In the Seventies, artists got a chance to explore; now a lot of the creativity and ingenuity has gone. Jimi Hendrix hit his stride by going on tour with Little Richard. Today, I don’t think they would let an album like Dark Side of the Moon get made — it’s all pop dressed in rock clothes, like Coldplay or Nickelback,” he says.

Parents may dread or dream of a future in “contemporary” music, but Green admits that his influence has its limits. “Whether a kid like CJ becomes a rock star is up to a lot of things — but whether he can play guitar like a mother******? I can help him with that,” he grins.

# Rock School is released on September 9