AT SCHOOL OF ROCK, 'SOUND EFFECTS' ARE ALL GOOD
By Mike Piekarski
While controversy, for months, swirled around the possible opening of schools in New York, there was at least one set of “classrooms” that never closed in the state: those in Latham’s School of Rock.
Despite the coronavirus epidemic that swamped New York in the earlier months of this year, the School of Rock remained open, though far from full capacity.
“The pandemic has been really tough, honestly,” said general manager Jesse Calhoun in a recent phone interview. “We had around 100 students before the pandemic, which was a longtime goal of ours. It’s under 50 now. People are waiting for in-person things to pick up again.”
Despite fewer clients, the business, located on New Loudon Road’s Newton Plaza, is still making beautiful music – or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof.
The school, which opened in 2013, caters primarily to those 11 to 17 years old, though musical aspirants of any age are welcome. In the Latham facility, the oldest “students” are in their 60s and the youngest start at age 3, though in-person sessions for the younger age groups have been postponed for the time being.
“We can still take them and teach them,” said Calhoun, 38, an Albany resident. “We have the ability to do that remotely.”
The school offers instrument-playing, singing and songwriting lessons; on-site “camps” and workshops; and end-of-session performances, though all activities have been altered to accommodate social-distancing.
“Learning how to play instruments -- especially with other kids their age – that’s kind of what we do,” Calhoun said.
Clients in each age group typically come in weekly for private lessons and also participate in once-a-week group rehearsals. In addition to providing voice lessons and teaching people how to play or improve on guitar, bass, drums and keyboards, the school organizes theme shows, which have included the songs of a variety of artists such as Pink Floyd, Weezer, Led Zeppelin and the Beatles.
The school’s current workshop themes are “History Through Rock,” “Pop Punk,” “Rock ‘n Grohl (as in well-known drummer Dave Grohl)” and “Prog Rock.” The school is currently accepting enrollments for each of those workshops.
“Even if (people) take private lessons somewhere else, they can still take part in the lessons and a (final) show,” Calhoun said. “Right now, in the History Through Rock workshop, we’re doing ‘Ohio’ (by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young), about the Kent State shootings (in 1970).”
The Latham location features a large rehearsal room and seven small lesson rooms, now adapted to the coronavirus era. In the drum room, for example, the instruments are split apart to accommodate adequate spacing for each musician.
According to Calhoun, the school has “about 10” workers, including owner David Bodie. “Most of the employees we have are active, gigging musicians who not only help (the students) learn instruments, but help (them) in being involved in the local music scene.”
Calhoun, a native of Ohio who earned a degree in music education from Wittenberg University in that state, has been playing guitar and singing since 1999. He moved to Albany in 2007 and was hired at the School of Rock in 2017.
He has seen firsthand how playing instruments can be a real benefit in a number of ways.
“It’s a really great feeling seeing kids develop a sense of themselves,” Calhoun said. “It’s a way to express yourself if you’re not into sports or other things. It really builds a community of kids.”
The Latham location, one of approximately 260 School of Rock franchises in nine countries around the world, operates Mondays through Fridays from 2-9 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The website address is https://locations.schoolofrock.com/Albany.
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