Play It Like A Rockstar
August 27, 2012 2 Comments
A little over 5 years ago, I started something called ‘Play It Like A Rockstar’. This came about as a result of a music school I started quite a number of years ago. Teachers were hand picked based on their ability to teach “outside the box” as they would call it today as well as their skill level and patience. The whole theory behind it was that it shouldn’t take 9 years to get beyond ‘twinkle, twinkle little star’ for most instruments and that music should be affordable, accessible and fun. If a student wanted to learn how to read music, great. If they wanted to learn theory – even better. If they came to us and just wanted to pound out a few three chord wonders to play around the campfire, well, we were going to do that too. Almost all of our under 12 year old boys left the first lesson working on an AC/DC riff that was totally appropriate for a first lesson. Needless to say, we did a booming business in guitar and drums and have primarily teenager and adult students.
I was always stuck on how to have a recital of sorts and couldn’t quite figure out how to do something different and fun and unique. One night, I turned on a reality television show about finding a new singer or guitar player or something for a relatively well-known band and it dawned on me that we could do the same thing with our students. We went ahead and put together a house band of professional, adult musicians and told the kids that whoever wanted to do it had to sign up at the start of summer and they would get up on the big stage with the house band and play their song at the end of summer at a free concert we would put on.
It is such a great success.
Everyone contributed their time and skill for free. That meant a handful of rock star musicians spent the summer learning whatever songs the kids picked and sometimes it was a stretch for these guys but they did it. The very first show on our first year we raised the curtain with me singing “We Will Rock You” by Queen. The drummer that night was a former student turned teacher (still a teenager) who is now a young adult and on tour across North America with an up and coming band and a sponsorship deal.
That kid is seriously talented.
Our 5th annual show was last night. There is nothing quite so cute (trust me) as seeing an 8 year old girl or boy standing up on stage surrounded by speakers and amplifiers and racks of lights flickering through the fog and the haze. This child is usually clutching their guitar neck with all their might like it will somehow save their life. Towering beside this little wonder is a 6 foot plus bass player who has been known to offer fist bumps to all the kids as they are leaving the stage at the end of their song to show support and encouragement.
Let me tell you, it takes guts to get up there and put yourself on display like that for others to judge. It looks like fun and there are many times when it actually is fun but it is terrifying for most people. For these kids, it takes a huge leap of faith in their fellow musicians and especially in themselves to do this. Some of these kids are the ones that look like they might be easy targets at school. Maybe a little overweight; maybe not the “right” clothes; maybe a little bit of a misfit. None of that matters when your pounding on the drums or strumming for all your might or picking out some – or all – of a lead solo while others stare up at you from their seats. These kids have had a chance to learn more about themselves than they realize at this point. They get the chance to see something through from start to finish. It doesn’t work if the kids don’t practice on their own time. We have had some kids who have had to withdraw but that is few and far between. They need to learn to motivate themselves and they also have to learn how to overcome some pretty big fears, how to trust themselves and how to trust others.
All in the name of Rock music.
I realize that this is a lengthy post for me but there is one kid in particular that stands out above them all. This young lad played his last show with us last night because he is going into grade 12, will be graduating next year and likely moving on for school. This young lad has cerebral palsy. (I hope I spelled that right). Ever since he was young, he wanted to play the guitar but he only has use of one hand. Everyone kept telling him that there simply was no way for him to do this and reason would dictate that to be true. His parents tried other instruments but it was guitar his heart was set on. One day, in frustration, his dad came to us and asked if there was any way someone could teach him something on the guitar. I asked our main guitar teacher who is not only a phenomenal player but an exceptional teacher. He said “Sure”.
He actually taught this kid how to play the guitar – and how to play it very well. It is amazing. They figured out how to use his one good hand to play rhythm and lead by utilizing different techniques along the neck and body. His other hand is used as a prop to help keep the guitar stable on his lap. This kid can play guitar better than most two handed folks. It’s not magical talent, it is sheer determination and hard work and perseverance and above all, the belief that he could do it. I’m so proud of this kid, I can’t even imagine how his parents must feel. They have done a phenomenal job with him and it shows.
I can’t wait to see who signs up next year!