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The school that rocks


ROCKING THE TALK Owners Nino Caruncho IV (foreground on guitar), drummer Benjamin Go (on drums) and vocalist Parkin Chiu performing “Summer of ’69” at the school’s opening.

Remember the movie “School of Rock” and how Jack Black transformed a class of ordinary young kids into a cool rock band?

What many do not know is that the movie was loosely based on a real school that uses an approach as norm-defying as rock ’n’ roll. In the real School of Rock (SoR), kids as young as seven are taught to unleash their inner rock stars.

Recently named by CNN Money as one of the hottest franchises in the United States, SoR has opened its first Asian branch in Manila.

With about 10,000 students in more than a hundred branches globally, SoR prides itself on its alternative music education called performance-based learning.


Learning by doing

Students are taught music not by getting them to understand how notes, sharps and flats work together but by performing.

“Our method of teaching is we start with the music. We don’t put notes in front of the child,” said SoR Philippines managing director Parkin Chiu, one of the school’s owners.

A student would strum a guitar, beat a drum and rock on from Day One, he said.

“What we’d like to say here is that, if you teach theory, a child might lose interest in music, whereas if you teach music first, then later, the kid might be interested in learning the theory behind the music,” Chiu said.

At the school, you learn to play the guitar by yourself, Chiu added, “and then you learn to play with a bassist, a drummer, a keyboardist and a singer. It’s really a different setting.”

After a number of private lessons with instructors who are all professional musicians, SoR gets the little rock stars together and puts them in a band. Practice hours, in effect, are really jam sessions—exactly how rock bands do it.

“We believe that School of Rock can unleash the musical potential of kids in an environment where they’re having fun, meeting new friends and learning about teamwork,” Chiu said in a statement.

Established in 1998 in Philadelphia, SoR was originally called The Paul Green School of Rock Music.

The idea for the school came when founder Paul Green, who used to teach music the traditional way, brought his students to a jam session. He was surprised at how poorly they had learned, according to a 2003 New York Times story.

Part of a team

“It’s the difference between shooting hoops and playing basketball,” Green was quoted in the article.

For example, you may be an exceptional drummer on your own but you won’t be able to achieve your dream to be a rock star unless you play in a band.

As Kurt Mitchel, a 16-year-old guitarist, put it: “Sure I can play a guitar on my own but being in a band is really a fulfillment for me.”

SoR Philippines general manager Nino Caruncho IV, also one of the franchise’s owners, said: “School of Rock is not just a music school, it’s a whole experience for the children.

“It’s not the typical school wherein, after your session, you just go home. Here, we want to build a community with the kids and create a safe place for them to hang out and share their appreciation of music [with other kids],” he said.

After 10 to 12 weeks of lessons and practice, SoR puts the students on stage, in an authentic rock concert setting in front of an audience that will cheer, scream and dance with them and, fists in the air, urge them to rock on.

This has been one of the trademarks of SoR.

“We don’t teach music theory to put on shows. We actually put on shows to teach music theory,” School of Rock vice president for marketing Mark Biondi said in a video presentation.

Beatles retrospective

For its first season, SoR Philippines plans to stage a Beatles-themed show “so that everybody would know the songs and the kids’ parents will be happy to see their children play the songs of their era,” said Caruncho.

Aside from preparing for the show, SoR students will also have to promote it and sell concert tickets.

The three owners of SoR Philippines—Chiu, Caruncho and Benjamin Go—are longtime friends and band mates who have been wanting to put up a business related to music, a passion that has kept them together through the years.

The school has a rehearsal room with a complete set of rock band instruments and a funky student lounge with beanbags, a couch and an old-style TV, creating a haven for rock bands in the making.

Each music room, painted in solid popping colors, has a pair of instruments, one for the teacher and one for the student. Caruncho said it would be a lot easier for students to learn if they played alongside their instructors.

Rock 101 is SoR’s entry-level program, where children and teenagers 7-18 years old learn the basics of playing an instrument and the dynamics of playing in a group in weekly private lessons and band rehearsals.

After learning the fundamentals, students move on to the Performance Program, the heart and soul of SoR, where they get ready for their gig. Budding rockers learn harmonies, musicianship and how to perform in a real rock concert.

For adults 18 and above who are musicians at heart, SoR offers the Adult Performance Program, which will allow them to rock on stage to their hearts’ content.

SoR Philippines is at Connecticut Arcade, Greenhills Shopping Center, San Juan City. Visit www.schoolofrock.ph.

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