An ensemble of outstanding students from “rock school” clinics across the country who mastered their Frank Zappa, Metallica and Led Zeppelin lessons have hit the road for a little live learning.
From Austin, Texas, Trey Gish and Geena Spigarelli are among the students leading class at The Conservatory 8 p.m. Friday.
Gish, 16, said conquering the stage was his toughest challenge.
“Stage fright has really been a big thing to get over,” he said. “It was really heavy at first. But after a while of playing, you just got used to it.”
Gish, whose favorite players include Chris Squire from Yes and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, also said moving from “kind of” being able to play the guitar to mentally committing to a life as a musician was equally difficult.
PAUL GREEN SCHOOL OF ROCK MUSIC
Spigarelli, 18, said both she and Gish enrolled in Austin’s Paul Green School of Rock Music after it opened three years ago. She remembers watching footage of Iggy Pop the way football teams study old plays on film to prepare for games.
Shortly after classes started, Spigarelli said studies shifted to the stage.
“It was pretty hard to kind of learn,” she said. “I was very shy. I’d stare at my feet when I first started. They (school teachers) put you on stage and you learn from experience. They kind of push you to watch how other great musicians do it.”
Currently, there are 41 Paul Green School of Rock Music schools in the country, educating more than 20,000 current students. Kids as young as 7 can enroll, where pupils are coached in both songwriting and instrument technique.
Students hear road stories from teachers who’ve been real rock ‘n’ rollers. Artists like Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder are nationally affiliated with the school, and Texas metal heavyweights Dangerous Toys and psychobilly pioneers The Flametrick Subs work with the Austin school.
Rick Carney, musical director at the Austin location, has played punk and roots rock in south Texas since 1986. He has recruited musicians to teach at the school, introducing his star students to members of Devo and Butthole Surfers ” bands that collaborated with select students for live shows in other states. Only the serious students make it to these shows, but at Paul Green, everyone practices the hard tunes.
Carney said the most important virtue the kids are taught ” one they may not learn from a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle ” is teamwork.
“It’s not about focusing on individual talents, but as the group,” Carney said. “It’s definitely not about the ‘American Idol’ situation. If they want to be a vocalist, they have to play an instrument as well. The more stage experience they get, the better they’ll become.”
A YouTube clip on the school’s Web site shows pupils ably handling dense arrangements from Steely Dan and Yes. Spigarelli recently joined other students in a live performance with Jon Anderson, Yes’ lead singer.
“As soon as I found I’d get to play with them, I went out and bought all the CDs,” she said. “Now that’s my favorite band.”
SCHOOL OF KNOCKS
But Carney said even a school of rock comes with knocks.
“Our philosophy is, you set the bar really high. You don’t really let on to the kid that what they are doing is unusual in any way or extraordinary. We want this to be really good,” he said. “People always say, ‘Well, that is really good, for a kid.’ We don’t want any sort of handicap. If you set the bar high, it’s much better for the kids to struggle than just going in there and walking through a Nirvana song or something.”
Gish and Spigarelli seem propelled by their experience at the Paul Green School of Rock Music. Spigarelli will enroll at Texas State University in the fall, where she hopes to study music, preparing for recording school and a career as session musician. Gish said he’ll play music for the rest of his life, perhaps starting by working at the Austin school.
“No one else offers this kind of experience, to take kids on tour and have them play,” Spigarelli said. “Just a couple weeks ago, I got to open up for Devo. “Danny Marroquin