From weekend jam sessions to summer concerts, two Puget Sound music programs are working to make teens' dreams of rock stardom a reality.
And while you won’t find Jack Black as the head of these schools of rock, dozens of young musicians are learning what it takes to be rock stars.
“When the crowd starts to really get into it and they are smiling and having a good time,” said Zach Rowell, 14, an incoming freshman at Tacoma’s Stadium High School, “it makes you feel like you have a purpose on stage.”
LEARNING TO JAM
Zach has been jamming with the Puget Sound Music for Youth Association since October 2009. Started by Paul Manuel, the association made its debut at the 2009 Daffodil Parade in Tacoma.
What started as an outgrowth of monthly youth jams at Jazzbones on Sixth Avenue has turned into something much more involved; kids of all ages are forming bands, learning to play new instruments, performing and competing through their affiliation with the association.
For the last year, Manuel has hosted a jam the second Saturday of every month at Happy Days Family Club and Casino in Lakewood. Forty-some kids and countless jam sessions later, these young musicians continue to rock. This summer, the nonprofit association is taking its act on the road, trading in their weekly jams for a series of concerts.
What youth symphonies provide to young classical musicians, this association and the Rhythm Fire School of Music and Performance in Olympia offer to fans of a different genre. These programs have revamped the classical model to meet the needs of a different generation – trading in Mozart and Beethoven for AC/DC and Led Zeppelin.
Zach plays piano and acoustic guitar in his band, “Society’s Voice,” and practices about three hours a day. Playing a mixture of hard rock, alternative rock and metal, Zach compared his group to bands such as Alterbridge, Trivium and Three Days Grace.
Zach’s mother, Patti Rowell, said she appreciates the program for its ability to shape real performers. “It lets them know what it takes (to be a musician) and gives them opportunities to perform in real settings,” she said.
Nolan Garrett, 12, of Tacoma has been involved with the association since March. He plays acoustic, electric and fingerstyle guitar and sings, and has been doing so for four years.
“I eventually want to get signed (to a record label) and play more shows,” Nolan said, who formed “The Nolan Garret Band” after joining Manuel’s association.
Nolan won the association’s “Kid’s Got Talent” show in April and recently played at the KZOK stage at the Taste of Tacoma.
“(Nolan) is going to do big things,” Manuel said.
Nolan said he practices between two and eight hours a day. He also has guitar lessons three times a week and practices with his band a couple of times a week.
An annual membership fee of $25 is suggested but not required. The association also offers private lessons for $25 per half-hour session.
LEARNING THE BUSINESS
Rhythm Fire School of Music and Performance in Olympia runs a similar program.
Started in 2007 by brothers Mark and Scott O’Brien, Rhythm Fire offers classes in reggae, hip hop, R&B and pop music. Unlike Manuel’s program, Rhythm Fire charges for all its courses.
Olympia resident Nancy Rawson’s children, 15-year-old son Nick and 12-year-old daughter Natalie, were students for about a year.
“Most people think you need years of skills to play in a band,” Rawson said. “But Mark and Scott (O’Brien) are so good at encouraging the kids.”
Nick said he is primarily a bass player, and learned about the school from his bass teacher. He plays electric and upright bass, but also started to learn the drums while studying at Rhythm Fire.
“(The school) gives you good ideas for what you can do with music,” Nick said. “(And) helps you go from just learning your instrument to playing music.”
Since leaving Rhythm Fire, Nick has formed the band “Jeff, Mikey and the Bouncy House,” with friends from school.
He said they play rock and punk music. His musical inspirations include Les Claypool of “Primus,” Thom Yorke of “Radiohead” and Josh Hommen of “Queens of the Stone Age.”
“I would love to make a career out of music,” said Nick, who will be a sophomore at Olympia High School this fall.
Rhythm Fire offers group lessons, which cost $35 for a two-hour session. The first hour is spent working one-on-one with a teacher; the second hour is dedicated to playing together.
The school also offers lessons for drums, bass, keyboard and vocals, as well as sound engineering. Adult and private lessons can be negotiated.
“The music choice has developed with student interest,” Mark O’Brien said, “but pop, classic rock and modern rock are most popular right now.”
In addition to learning instruments, Rhythm Fire students are taught how to use the sound equipment, and learn team-building skills, stage presence and playing dynamics on a live stage.
Manuel said his music association is not meant to be long term. The goal of both organizations is to teach young musicians what they need to know, and allow them to grow.
“The experience they get from being part of (the association) will stay with them and help them contribute to the music industry in one form or another,” Manuel said. “That I feel very strongly about.”