Who hasn’t heard of Elvis, the 21-year old from Mississippi whose musical cake mix of full gospel, Grand Ole Opry, and rhythm and blues iced with adolescent rebellion shook up Baby Boomers’ hearts?
Darryl Williams, the co-owner and General Manager of Flower Mound’s newest music performance business, School of Rock, grew up hearing and loving the rowdy flagship of post World War II American middle class culture.
Late in his successful career as a corporate trainer/manager, the self-described “young rebel of Robson Ranch” watched several of his grandchildren, Southlake School of Rock students, throw themselves into a loud concert performance.
“They just came to life on stage. It blew me away.”
He decided to invest in the music school’s DFW franchise, and wondered if an owner could also be a company manager. There was no reason why not, so the tall, clean shaven corporate type with rimless eyeglasses dove into the spirit of the rock music world.
He arrives for work decked out with shoulder length gray hair, a small gold earring, comfortable black high top gym shoes, black jeans, and a gray Jimi Hendrix t-shirt under a black leather vest.
“If someone had told me a year ago, I’d be dressing like this for work, I would have laughed out loud,” he said, “but I’m having a ball.”
A Midwesterner turned Texan 20 years ago, he moves and sounds like a seasoned professional businessman.
“This is a community-based performing arts program that encourages children’s creativity, teaches them to solve problems, empathize with others, work individually and as a team, develop self-discipline, take responsibility, and most importantly to have fun doing it.”
The school’s faculty, parents, and students form a community united by their love for a boisterous performance.
Missy McBride of Lewisville has a daughter in the program.
“I have always loved rock’n’roll music,” she said, “I still listen to it on the radio.”
McBride said she and her husband were looking for an extracurricular activity for their daughter, a budding bass guitarist who, before music lessons was becoming a computer junkie.
“We wanted her to socialize and get out of the house, to do something besides school. She was bored.”
“We’re not just a music school,” Williams said, “we’re a club. The students are welcome to hang out, practice, or rehearse any time during regular business hours.”
The after-school facility is open Monday through Friday from 2 to 8 p.m., 12-4 on Saturdays, and is an example of private enterprise filling a need with an affordable service guided by responsible adults. Background checks are part of the faculty hiring process.
“We are absolutely crazy about the staff over there,” McBride said, “our daughter enjoys the one-on-one with her private lesson teacher who is always very encouraging.”
The well-insulated facility is nestled between a barbershop and donut shop in a busy shopping mall on FM 2499 south of 1171. The lobby’s high walls and ceiling are painted attention-getting-red splashed with bold black slogans, and plastered with concert posters that shout the company motto, “Rock stars are made, not born, and we are really good at making them.”
The room is surrounded by a comfortable parent waiting area, two offices, and a door to the no-parents-zone.
“Adults can go through that door,” Williams said with a laugh, “but they must be accompanied by a staff member.”
That bittersweet coming-of-age restriction appeals to the teens, many of whom have received enough independence to know they are not physical extensions of mommy and daddy.
In the back, a student lounge is circled by a dozen avant garde looking, electronic state-of-the-art teaching studios and spacious, glassed-in rehearsal halls for blossoming rock bands.
Pointing to his ears, Williams said, “We provide and require all students to wear earplugs in the practice rooms.”
He is justifiably proud of the gigantic, vivid, original paintings that bring the walls of every room to life. The place could double as a modern art gallery. It’s worth a tour just to see the expressive brushwork.
One goal of the school is to be a safe niche where young musicians may enjoy the ride from childhood to maturity. In the interest of that objective, students and parents sign a code of conduct agreement at registration, and the staff is not expected to endure bad behavior.
After a thoughtful moment Williams said, “We don’t see a lot of acting out, which would be a bad fit for the school. Rock’n’roll doesn’t create bad boys and girls, other factors do that. We are careful about song selection and on-stage behavior, and parental objections are rare.”
Performance attire for the high energy concerts is informal, but spick and span clean from the camera’s many points of view.
Students register for a four month instruction “season” that includes weekly private lessons, and group sessions as part of a real band, learning a specific song or songs for a concert performance.
“Our teacher requires certain songs in the lessons,” McBride said, “but we really like that our daughter gets to choose some of her repertoire too. She practices on her own.”
The young rock stars provide free music at community events all over southern Denton County in exchange for the opportunity to take the spotlight, and enjoy the inevitable raucous applause.
If you like the Suzuki performance-based approach to classical music instruction, you’ll like the School of Rock’s approach to playing by ear first then learning music theory later.
Williams put it this way; “We believe the best way to learn music is to play it. Except for the preschoolers, our rockers are assigned to a band right off the bat, and they prepare for concerts from their very first lesson.”
Preschoolers? “We teach 4-6 year old kinder rockers music appreciation, rhythm, and basic notes once a week.”
Early music education helps brain development in the areas of language use, abstract reasoning, spatial perception, and imagination. The study of music integrates the sensory, attentive, cognitive, emotional, and motor capacities of students. It can be a positive driving force behind other types of learning.
“These music lessons and concerts are a real motivator for our daughter,” McBride said, “they are the carrot we use to entice her to perform well in school. It works.”
Due to budgetary constraints, public schools have cut back the arts curriculum, but the School of Rock proves parents have other musical avenues for their children. There are no admission auditions, and most students have their own instruments. The McBrides, for example, said they found an appropriate instrument on Craigslist.
After age 7 students take one 45 minute private lesson a week, and rehearse with a group anywhere from 1½ to 3 hours a week depending on the age group.
Class levels are: Preschool of Rock; Rock 101 for beginners; Performance Program for intermediate players; Dean’s List for advanced students aiming to audition for the Advanced Band, and All-Stars a 2-week tour group of highly skilled young rockers from an array of School of Rock franchises. This last group gets the opportunity to play with big name professional performers.
The company has over 150 franchises nationally and internationally.
“The All-Star experience is a terrific opportunity,” Williams said.
The schools provide instrumental instruction for guitar, bass guitar, drums, keyboards, and singing performance.
“Rock bands tend to feature one vocalist with a backup or two,” he said.
School of Rock also offers lessons and jam sessions for adults, and band coaching for garage bands.
Spreading out his arms, Williams said, “We’re the garage with all the equipment!”
The company’s summer/holiday camps include performances, song composition, recording, and technical production experiences.
“Our students get exposure to many facets of the music industry.”
Williams spent his musical youth as an audience member, “But I always wanted to play bass guitar.”
Rocking in a band made it to his bucket list of things-to-do-before-I-die, and after he started offering “Grad School” adult lessons, weekly jam sessions after hours on Tuesday evenings, and stage time, he got the chance to fulfill his lifelong wish.
A huge smile spread across his face. “We played that 1960s classic Louie, Louie. I had a blast.”
If he could give the world one piece of advice, Williams would tell parents and children “Do what makes you happy. If you aren’t having fun, do something else, and don’t live through someone else. Rock on stage and in life.”
Enjoy a live performance on March 22 at the Keller Williams 5K & Fun Run at 2611 Cross Timbers Road in Flower Mound.
Contact the writer at [email protected]