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Wednesday, December 11, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Rock School feeds teens' dreams

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

The details


Rock School meets from 3 to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, at BEST High School, 10903 N.E. 53rd St., Kirkland. Students can come one or more days a week to learn an instrument of their choice and take other courses in music theory and related disciplines. Enrollment is open. Cost is $100 a month. For more information, contact Wendy Simmons at 425-828-3289 or 206-595-3957 or log onto www.rock-school.org.

Nick Erwin leans back and thrashes a chord on his electric guitar, savoring the reverb for a moment before grabbing the microphone stand and shouting with all the dark soul he can muster, "This is a song about my shoe!"

The name of Erwin's band, Rats on Ritalin, is written in black marker along the bottom of his ripped sweat top. Erwin later lists the Rats' influences: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden. Why does he do this? "I just love the music."

It seems 13-year-old Erwin and a dozen or so other teens taking turns to sing and play instruments hardly need lessons in swagger, attitude or even what to say to Rolling Stone magazine when they hit the big time. But their musicianship could use some guidance.

That is the idea behind Rock School. A place where all the teachers play or have played in rock bands. A place where young musicians ages 12 to 21 can learn instruments, songwriting and how to mix and record their own CDs. A place where the rock 'n' roll dream seems within reach.

Rock School began last month at Kirkland's BEST High School. After staid subjects such as math and science are over, students from the Eastside and Seattle meet to indulge their passion.

The nonprofit Rock School, independent of BEST, not only promises to help teens understand the theory and practice of music, but also to give them an opportunity to meet guest musicians, form bands and perhaps even play at local music venues.

Rock School is the brainchild of local musician Marty Jourard and BEST school counselor Wendy Simmons, who say it is the first school of its kind in the region. To date, 35 teens have signed up.

"They love it," said Jourard. "They are sort of like sponges, like, 'Teach me something.' They do respond, oddly enough, to structure. I guess it all depends on what the subject is."

Students gather in groups based on ability from Monday through Thursday at the BEST common rooms and recording studio for a cost of $100 a month.

Jourard, who had his own rock 'n' roll fantasies as a teenager, went on to record hit singles and perform in front of adoring fans. He played keyboard and saxophone for the Motels, a group that recorded two gold records in the early 1980s.

Other teachers include Brian Marshall of Mayfly and Danny Godinez and Todd Johnson of the Danny Godinez Band. Many of the students enrolled so far are from the alternative BEST school and its companion junior high, Northstar. Ashlyn Harkleroad, 16, a student at Bellevue's Newport High School, said she has wanted to be a stage star "since I was, like, 10." She found a flier for Rock School at the Kirkland Teen Center.

"I have been interested in forming a band for quite a while, but couldn't find organized people," Harkleroad said. "I am actually learning chords on the guitar now, instead of trying to figure it out for myself."

Jourard, who moved to Kirkland from California and five years ago wrote a book, "Start Your Own Band," said life on the road can be fun but may not be everything the students imagine.

"I would say that the two hours on stage are great," Jourard said. "But there are the other 22 hours in the day. There is nothing glamorous about sitting in a Holiday Inn room in the Midwest where you don't know anybody."

He has two pieces of advice for his rock-star wannabes: Enjoy the music day-by-day and the process of improving, because no matter how well you do, you have never "made it"; and only pursue the dream if you really love the music — if it is fame or lifestyle you are after, forget about it.

Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or nperry@seattletimes.com.

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