Toluca Lake isn’t exactly known for its edgy nightlife or blisteringly hip cultural sensibilities. Yet, remarkably, it’s where new rock stars are made.
The venue is School of Rock (www.SchoolofRock.com), located in a quaint, red-tile roof house on a leafy cul-de-sac just off Riverside Drive. School of Rock opened its doors in its original Hollywood location in 2000, moving to the current address in 2009. Musical careers launched from such wholesome beginnings give us reassurance that even aspiring rock stars have mothers who make them wash their hands before dinner, and tuck them in at night. Here at School of Rock, students enroll as young as age 8, through age 18.
General Manager Brad Reaume is a young musician himself, bringing a performer’s unique insight to his executive duties. As we walk through the practice rooms named for the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Keith Moon (we settle down for our conversation in the Freddie Mercury Ballroom), he comments, “This is a haven for kids who don’t fit in. Some of them come to us as wallflowers. The experience of bonding with peers and becoming part of a community changes that, though. We don’t guarantee that everyone who comes here will become the next Tom Petty or the next Adele, but we do guarantee that they will enjoy themselves, grow as people, acquire skills, make friends and have fun.”
Guided by the mantra, “Rock more, Suck less, Get gigs”, the program is divided into three main sections: Rock 101 for basic beginners, Performance Program for rockers ready to go live before an audience, and Summer Boot Camp for all skill levels.
Through a combination of private lessons and group rehearsals, the emphasis throughout the curriculum is on stage performance, harmonies, musicianship, songwriting, recording and engineering, more than theory, notation and sight-reading. Many students play a variety of instruments, though Reaume notes that in this location, most are vocalists, since the ability to at least carry a tune enhances a young thespian’s likelihood of being cast in a commercial, pilot, television show or film.
“We orient our students toward playing and performing right away,” says Reaume. “Technical skills are needed, but the real core of the program is learning to overcome ego, interact with peers, and make music as part of a group. These are skills which, incidentally, serve our students in every area of life, not just when they are onstage with their band.”
Some School of Rockers, like sultry young vocalist Soraya Sebghati, form their own bands and go on to tour as part of the All-Star Program. As part of her band, “The Blacktop Saints” (all band-members are SOR colleagues), she’s toured for the past three years across California, as well as playing gigs in Denver, Boulder, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Reno, Portland, Seattle—she says matter-of-factly, “I’ve played so many gigs that I’ve lost count. Truly. I don’t even get nervous before a show anymore.”
To date, “The Blacktop Saints” have recorded three original songs, and will soon return to the studio to lay down some fresh grooves.
With a music industry veteran’s pragmatism, Soraya adds, “The thing that separates a program like SOR from all the others is that you get the real experience of being in a band. Instead of having recitals where each child plays a solo piece in a large auditorium, we have shows at venues like the Mint and the Roxy where the kids play songs together. It also gives everyone the real experience of setting up their gear, breaking it down after shows, and dealing with real life mishaps like breaking a string mid-solo.”
Soraya and her colleagues recently headlined in Anaheim at the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM), to a packed house which included plenty of greats from the industry. She’s anything but star-struck, especially when it comes to schadenfreude-fests like American Idol and The Voice, but does plan to continue singing when she enrolls as a college freshman next fall.
It takes practice. It takes sacrifice and dedication. It takes talent. It takes luck. And, in Soraya’s case, it takes great eyebrows. True, not everyone is cut out to be a headliner—but without a doubt, at School of Rock, everybody is a star.
School of Rock / North Hollywood