Real life School of Rock students show they don’t need no education

By William Chyr

15 minutes before the show started, I walked into Schubas Tavern’s music room to find myself in a crowd of moms, dads, baby siblings, and grandparents—not exactly your typical rock-concert crowd. But then again, this wasn’t going to be a typical rock concert—the band that was to be rocking out on stage was a class from the Paul Green School of Rock presenting Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

Yes, an actual school of rock. Established in 1998 in Philadelphia, the Paul Green School of Rock is a music school that takes in kids between the ages of 7 and 18 and, according to the website, “turns them into genuine rock stars.” As with other music schools, students takes weekly one-on-one lessons with an instructor in the instrument of their choice. They also have informal jam sessions where students learn to become comfortable playing music with a group. Then, 10 weeks before the show, Ethan Semone, the musical director, casts the students in their roles and starts teaching them all the licks they need to know.

So how did the kids do? Certainly a commendable job. Learning to play Pink Floyd’s The Wall is no easy feat in itself, and to do it in 10 weeks with only 17 kids when it is normally performed by about 30 is a real accomplishment. The hard work that the kids put into the process definitely showed. All the students from the school were involved in the production, and five of them had never played an instrument before October. The tempo was kept straight and the tunes were right. Everybody on instruments stayed true to the music of Pink Floyd, nicely duplicating the keyboard riffs and mighty guitar solos. Being as there’s only one Roger Waters, the vocalists added their own elements to the music. While a few voices seemed to be on the edge of breaking, that just added a touch of the teenage angst style to the music.

In addition to teaching kids how to play their instruments, Semone also instructs them in show promotion and stage presence. In learning to promote themselves, each student had to get the word for the show out by selling a minimum number of tickets. Stage fright didn’t seem to be a problem at all for any of the kids. From Dave Dunsire, who led the vocals on the raw-sounding “Young Lust” with a combination of clapping and screaming, to 9-year-old Madelin Dolinsky, who finished the concert singing the delicate “Outside the Wall,” all the kids appeared to be very comfortable onstage. The only person nervous during the show, according to Semone, was himself.

The audience that day was surprisingly rowdy. I had expected something fairly calm, but moms and dads were yelling and dancing, and even a few grandparents were swinging their arms in the air with their forefingers and pinkies raised. As the band struck the first chord of the opening song, “In the Flesh,” one enthusiastic woman standing behind me excitedly shouted out, “I want to baby-sit you!”. U of C concertgoers had better beware, because there is some serious competition out there.

I had a chance to talk to a couple of the band members after the show and asked them about their experience on stage. Joey Fishman, who shared the majority of vocal duties with his cousin Adam, described it as “pretty awesome” and Dunsire added that it was both “tiring and sweaty.” With a perfectionist manner, they all agreed that for the next show, they plan to tighten up a lot of things. But just for the show I saw, these kids deserve a thumbs-up!