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Reading, Writing and Rock

The Paul Green School of Rock Music sets up shop in Northern Virginia.

Some say rock-n-roll is dead – that it never survived through disco and the 1980s. But while critics, columnists and bloggers have all debated the issue, Paul Green decided to take action. In 1998, while living in Philadelphia, the musician transcended the business of guitar lessons by opening up the first School of Rock Music – an institute for children more interested in shredding than spicatto, Gibson over Guarneri.

Now, with 28 locations across the country, the Paul Green School of Rock Music is coming to northern Virginia – a chance for area children to not only learn how to rock-out, but breathe life into a genre so many have declared deceased.

SPEAKING WITH JEFF BOLLETTINO, Oakton resident and music director for the northern Virginia locations, it’s clear he anticipating opening the first school – located on Vienna’s Center Street and currently accepting enrollment. Scheduled to begin session at the beginning of June, Bollettino already has plans for expanding the school to points throughout the area, eventually opening schools in Alexandria and Leesburg by the end of this year, and tentatively, Springfield, Herndon and Sterling in 2008.

Bollettino, who owns an online sheet music store called All Music Methods said he was looking to get more involved with the music scene in the local area.

"It’s a very exciting thing to be involved in teaching kids and shaping people’s lives," he said. "The fact that it’s around rock music, I thought ‘Wow, that would just be a hell of a lot of fun to do.’"

"We are also kind of hoping with the Vienna school to be a hub for music – we’re already surrounded by great venues like Jammin’ Java and Wolf Trap," he added.

Bollettino believes that one reason the School of Rock Music is growing in popularity around the country, is because of its focus on live performances at real music venues. And the performances, he believes, cater towards a market that is largely untouched.

"As the reputation of the schools grow, a lot of people who want to see classic rock live will come out," he said. "If you want to see Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ live – there aren’t very many chances."

IN A WORLD OF MUSICAL instruction largely dominated by conservatories and Suzuki institutes, Paul Green doesn’t see his school as an alternative to classical training, but rather something entirely different.

"It’s outside of that," he said over the phone while traveling on the road with his School of Rock All-Stars. "We are not so much a reaction to that as a throwback to the way music used to be. People think Led Zeppelin and Jimmy Hendrix came out of nowhere – but nothing could be further from the truth."

Not a conservatory by name, standards of the school are high – it’s competitive and challenging. On the web site, Green wrote his manifesto, which ends with the line "If you do not tell kids what they cannot do, they may never learn for themselves."

And Green takes a hands-on approach in building his curriculum – a love for rock-n-roll based on the trilogy of Black Sabbath Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. His goal for the future– 400 locations across the country, representation in Europe and a changing tide in what pop-culture sees as modern day rock music.

The school's "seasons" are divided into four three-week blocks, however rolling admission is common and encouraged. The culmination of each season is a final concert – to date, School of Rock Music locations have taken the stage at CBGB’s, the Knitting Factory, B.B. King’s in Times Square and the Zappanale Festival in Germany, to name just a few. Traditionally, the first concert for each school has been a performance of Pink Floyd’s "The Wall." The album, Green says, "explains the [school’s] whole purpose to the students."

"There’s an emphasis on highly experienced professional exposure," said Bollettino. "We really study rock music, both as an art form and then we take a scholarly look at it."

Rather than relying only on music theory textbooks, the students study Queen while learning about vocal harmonies. Punk is the resource for stage presence and for overall musicianship and craft, Bollettino says that’s Frank Zappa’s territory.

With the source material chosen by Green himself, the founder believes it’s important that the school provides the music to instruct students, rather than student’s choosing for themselves.

"As soon as Harvard says ‘you read the books you want to read’ – I’ll change my way," said Green.

AN AFTER SCHOOL PROGRAM by design, the immediate goal for each "season" is simple – learn, as a group, how to perform the assigned music for the final concert. In the past, concert themes have ranged from The Doors, to The Rolling Stones, to Southern Rock.

But Bollettino believes that, in the long run, the student’s learn much more.

"Everyone is supporting each musician – whether you are a bass player keeping time or rhythm keeping everyone in the groove," he said. "It really demands a sense of responsibility and becomes a metaphor for life."

Monique Lampson, mother of C.J. Tywoniak – who attended the original School of Rock in Philadelphia during its first year – says that the experience has been invaluable, although she had her reservations.

"My son was very young – he was only 11 and the other kids were 15 or 16 and city kids," she said. "It did more for him in regards to self-confidence. [Green] saw what his potential was."

That’s not to say that Rock School is easy – in fact, Lampson – who now works for Green by helping organize the company owned schools – says that her pitch to parents can send them either way.

"Something you need to know about the program is that it requires a lot of work," goes the pitch. "Paul is creating serious musicians."

"Every time I say that I don’t get any children backing down from the challenge," she added.

No doubt, the school is a crash course in everything ‘rock.’ One 45-minute one-on-one session with an instructor and a three-hour group session are the weekly requirements for the course, however Bollettino believes the school becomes a center for kids to play music whenever they feel the desire – always open for students and stocked with professional equipment and rehearsal space.

"The school becomes a place where kids get together for open jams," said Bollettino. "It becomes a center for kids to take on something with a lot of energy."

And for parents, as if finding a place outside of the garage for a son or daughter’s Gibson SG and Marshall stack isn’t bonus – how often is the generation gap bridged with music?

"It really becomes a point of bonding," said Bollettino. "Kids are playing the music that their parents grew up with. It’s really not normal for kids to find a common ground with music and parents."