When Joe Kane was growing up and learning to play rock music in the 1970s, there were plenty of opportunities to find other kids to play with.
“You couldn’t swing a cat without hearing someone playing drums down the street or a band rehearsing in someone else’s house,” said Kane. “We were surrounded by it. That just doesn’t exist now. Finding other people to play, learn and develop with, in an unstructured but fun environment, is just not as common as it once was.”
Kane, who owns and manages Bang! Music in Stafford County, is in a position to do something about that.
Many of the students who were taking private lessons at Bang! Music were looking for those kind of opportunities. Parents would often ask Kane if he knew other kids who were interested in playing together in bands. That inspired a training program for middle- and high-school students called Rockademia.
“Rockademia is a rock ’n’ roll class for younger people who can play their instruments but have yet to play in a band,” said Kane. “We’re finding kids who can play the chords, can play some solos, but they haven’t had a chance to play with other people. Or if they have had a chance to play with other people they don’t know what to do once they get into the group environment.”
Applicants for Rockademia are selected so that several groups with standard rock band instrumentation can be formed (one or two guitars, bass, keyboard and drums). Besides getting the right mix of instruments for each band, the program combines kids with different skill levels.
“What we don’t want to do is create a beginners group, a midline group and an experienced group,” said Kane. “We’re mixing them up so the weakest are brought along by the strongest.”
Once the groups are formed, band members select songs they would like to learn to play together. So far, the suggested songs range from classic rock of the ’70s to current indie and pop hits.
“That’s one of the concerns we have to balance, in one of our bands two of the guitarists were very much into punk rock, the drummer for that band is into whatever is on the radio,” said Brett Minard, one of the band coaches. “There’s some negotiation involved.”
“We get songs together and email a list of suggestions,” said Anwen West, a 12-year old keyboard player in one of the bands. “Then the group looks at them and decides if everybody can play that. If it’s way too hard, then no.”
The bands then have weekly rehearsals for two months to work out two or three songs to play at a show that concludes each session of Rockademia. Minard, and his experienced musician coaches—Jon Wiley, Joanna Smith and Piper Barbre—work with groups to put their songs together for the final performance showcase.
“When I was in my first band in high school everyone was always wanting to turn up louder,” said Minard. “Constantly doing that over the course of a show, at the end all you’d hear is mud—bassy, whooshy mud. If someone had told me about this back then, explained how to actually play with another guitarist, we could have spent all that extra time writing instead of having to go through messing up. So we’re trying not to stifle the creative process, but supply them with the tools that can get them to work faster—give them a car instead of a bike.”
“The coaches are really good and helpful,” said West, “catching things that none of us would be able to catch—little things that really matter like communication with the band, and learning the form of the song and what comes next.”
“It’s cool. You get to learn new skills and meet new people who are passionate about music like I am,” said 15-year-old guitarist Lizzie Krebs.
The current session of Rockademia is winding up this week with a showcase for all three bands on Sunday, May 22 at Holy Ale in North Stafford. This session’s bands are Ashes Of The Empire, The Gills and Taco Cat.
“I’m looking forward to the show,” said Krebs. “It’s nerve-wracking but it’s fun.”
Stephen Hu is a local musician and writer who teaches music every time he opens his mouth to sing.