Fifteen months after our young teen began taking lessons and performing with School of Rock, she’s transformed.
She started out shy and tentative. She was playing only keyboards at the time. Then in the summer of 2011, after learning an album’s worth of Green Day songs in just 5 days, she and her camp-mates performed outdoors for a small gathering of parents and friends in the brick-paved Bank Street Annex outside the Easton school. And that was it.
She’s now also playing guitar and bass, including a more challenging and distinctive-sounding fretless model.
Somehow she’s been coaxed to share her sweet voice, singing backup; she no longer seeks refuge in the remotest corner of the stage; and with every performance, she loosens up a little more. You see it in her stance, in the expressive way she cradles her guitar or strums the strings or hits the keys, in the way she actually lifts her head to look out over the crowd.
I think her evolution makes her the poster child for School of Rock and its mantra, “inspiring kids to rock on stage and in life.” But the truth, SOR owner Ray Thierrin says, is that it happens all the time.
Theirrin first witnessed it in his own son, Travis, who is now a teacher at the school. “We were sold on SOR from our own personal experiences with him.”
And so, if the SOR formula is such a magic bullet for adolescents and teens in their search for self-expression, self-esteem, focus, wouldn’t it be great if it were accessible to other kids who can’t afford the considerable expense of instruments and performance experiences?
Enter the Rock School Scholarship Fund (RSSF), a 501(c)3 non-profit founded by Californians Wendy Winks and Carl Restivo, who formerly ran the School of Rock in Hollywood.
They left the school in November 2010 to focus their passion into this charity and building it into a nationwide program, eventually serving hundreds of schools and thousands of kids age 7 to 17 who demonstrate a commitment to learning. (The Scholarship Fund is too new to be rated in any of the major online charity rating systems that score organizations on aspects such as financial health, efficiency, accountability and transparency.)
The performance-based music program that is SOR was born in 1998 when Philadelphia’s Paul Green was teaching guitar lessons to put himself through college. When his students played at a friend's art show, he had to come up with a name for the band. From those humble roots, the program has become an international phenomenon, with more than 100 franchises serving nearly 8,000 students in the U.S. and Mexico.
Winks and Restiva say their Scholarship Fund is also inspired by Venezuela’s El Sistema program, developed by musician/economist/social activist Jose Abreu and funded by the state to provide music schools across the country that feed 125 youth orchestras and 31 symphony orchestras. It’s said that 70% to 90% of those students come from poor socio-economic backgrounds.
“We have been looking for something like this scholarship program,” says Theirrin, who with his wife Sue owns the Easton SOR and a new location at Allentown’s Dave Phillips Music & Sound. “But on my own I had a fundamental problem with being called upon to decide 'who is worthy' and I don't want to have to ask people for financial information. So, having this charity do that for us is huge.”
The program is need-based and covers 25% to 100% of the expense for participation in the performance band part of SOR’s programming. Parents of scholarship students are asked to volunteer up to 6 hours per month at the school.
Easton’s School of Rock will present a Rock School Scholarship Fund benefit at the Ice House in Bethlehem on Sunday, Oct. 7, starting at 2 p.m. Bands that will be performing include SOR’s Bank Street Band and Easton SOR’s Music Director Albie Monterossa’s band. As part of the fund-raising effort, SOR will be raffling off a new Trek 3500 mountain bike donated by Tomias Hinchcliff of Genesis Bicycles (126 Bushkill St., Easton) http://genesisbicycles.com/
Easton School of Rock
19 South Bank St.
Easton, PA 18042
Allentown School of Rock
622 Union Blvd.
Allentown, PA 18109
Rock School Scholarship Fund
10061 Riverside Drive #880
Toluca Lake, CA 91602