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A Sound Education: In Coral Springs, Students Learn at School of Rock

In a converted nursery school on Wiles Road, with heavy-metal music blaring behind every door, Andrew Musselman leads me to the classroom where he'll teach his next lesson. He's running late, but that doesn't deter him from giving me the grand tour. As we pass a room with beanbag chairs on the floor, he aims a finger at the Jimi Hendrix poster hanging on the wall. "The student lounge," he explains.

The school where Andrew teaches is unlike any other in Broward County. Here, the students don't read textbooks. They don't take quizzes or read essays either. Instead of desks, they sit behind drum sets, and within every classroom is not a blackboard but an electric guitar begging to be played. It is the School of Rock, a real-life music academy where young musicians from all over Broward County come to be educated in the ways of rock 'n' roll.

Originally founded in Philadelphia by rock drummer Paul Green, the School of Rock has since expanded to more than 90 locations in the United States and Mexico. Providing lessons in guitar, bass, piano, and vocals, the Coral Springs campus has already amassed more than 100 students, ranging from age 8 to 18. But as public schools continue to slash funding to art and music programs, one can only imagine that enrollment at the School of Rock will continue to grow. Given time, the small music academy in Coral Springs is poised to become an important cultural institution and a possible breeding ground for South Florida's next big rock band.

I met with Richard Salit, who oversees the School of Rock with his business partner, Craig Zim, to discuss the philosophy behind the program.

Salit said the main thing that distinguishes the School of Rock from private music lessons is the program's "performance-based aspect." Students and teachers devote four months to preparing for a concert with a specific rock theme.

"One time, we did a Frank Zappa show," he explained. "The students had to learn all of the techniques that went along with Zappa's music. That was really hard. But these kids do their homework. They have to learn to be time efficient. It's part of the program."

At the end of the session, students put on a performance at local music venues like the Funky Biscuit in Boca Raton or the Dubliner in Coral Springs. The school's premier group, the All-Stars, once played a show at the Culture Room in Fort Lauderdale.

Andrew, a bass and guitar instructor, thinks the performances encourage students to keep practicing.

"If the students learn a scale or theory," he says, "they get to see how it's used during a performance. It allows them to apply everything they've been studying in class. It gives everything they do a purpose."

But these performances do more than just reinforce the fundamentals. They provide students with a glimpse into a world they can only read about in magazines and see on TV. They learn -- on a smaller, safer scale -- how it feels to be a rock star.

Salit, a longtime guitar player and father of four, knows how important it is for kids to have a place where they can feel respected, a place where they can work toward something, something they enjoy.  

"When you're 12, where else are you going to get the chance to sell out shows at Cheers, at the Funky Biscuit?" says Salit. "These concerts are positive experiences for the kids. It's what keeps them coming back."

And come back they do. The building's doors don't close on anyone, and students are welcome to stop by anytime. Some might lounge on the school's suede couches and do homework. Others might strum along with a friend's band. But they all seem to share the same mindset, a genuine appreciation for this place, where the social rules of young adulthood don't apply and individuality is a common thread.   

"High school can be cliquish," says Salit. "It's hard for some of these kids to fit in. But here, everyone fits in. Everyone is welcome."

The atmosphere at the School of Rock -- where students greet teachers with fist-bumps and the faculty lounge is shared by all -- is one of acceptance and belonging. That's why students here, whether they know it or not, are being taught a lesson more valuable than any scale or arpeggio. They're learning how to get along with other people. It's a simple lesson, sure, but it's one that many of us -- especially us adults -- have yet to master.

And the best part? It's working. The students at the School of Rock are not just good musicians; they're well-rounded kids.

Upstairs, in Salit's classroom, a student named Nicolas plays the song he's been working on all week. His sneakered foot works an effects pedal on the floor while his fingers glide up and down the neck of his bass guitar. A series of runs screams from the amp on the floor. One of them strikes me as familiar, like something off a Metallica or Slayer album. I ask Salit where it's from.

"That?" he says, smiling. "That was Bach."

As part of their Spring Concert Series, students from the School of Rock will perform an AC/DC show on Friday, May 11, at Premier Billiards, 9120 Wiles Road, Coral Springs, with another performance on Saturday, May 12, at Cheers, 941 NE 62nd St., Fort Lauderdale. For more information and to see a schedule of the concerts, visit coralsprings.schoolofrock.com.

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Brian Zimmerman
Contact: Brian Zimmerman

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