Brite Winter 2016 Artist Spotlight: Rock Apocalypse (School of Rock)

It has been a long time since I’ve thought about School Of Rock, which most Americans remember as a 2003 comedy starring Jack Black and a ragtag assortment of young actors having some fun starting an after-school band. What most people don’t realize is that the star-studded movie was an over-the-top fictionalization based on Paul Green, who in 1998 opened the first School of Rock in Philadelphia. Today, there are more than 170 franchisee-owned, for-profit schools throughout the United States, with more globally in Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Philippines, Chile, Australia, and South Africa.

Three Schools of Rock exist in the Northeast Ohio region alone: Rocky River, Strongsville, and Highland Heights. Shelly and Mike Norehad decided to open the greater-Cleveland area locations at the suggestion of a friend who owned his own in the northern suburbs of Chicago. “My first reaction when Mike called me about the position was I couldn’t believe they made a school out of that stupid movie!” laughs Tommy Rich, the Music Director of the NEO schools. “It was the other way around. The movie is based on the real ‘SoRs’, but very vanilla! We really teach: theory, ear training, reading, charting, and all musical concepts through Rock & Roll. Ain’t no movie, just a long, fun, challenging road to be a great musician, a great person, and you melt some faces along the way.”

For Midwestern kids sick of being cast into either the role of band geek or orchestra nerd, there is now a third option available: Rock & Roller. A generation of teenagers who watched the popular flick back in the day have now grown-up and become parents with a strong appreciation for music education. Heather Hall is a parent of a student at their Rocky River location. “I’m not going to lie,” she wrote to Rich and the Norehads, “Every performance in those five years, I’ve been just a little bit envious of what he’s learning and the friends he’s making. To sound completely trite and clichéd, the option to go to ‘Rock School’ didn’t even exist when I was his age, and as I watched my kid on stage singing songs that I grew up with, there was more than one ‘I wish’ moment.”

This Artist Spotlight is really about the student performers, who have worked tirelessly at band practice each week, honing their skills with advanced instruction to perform onstage for hundreds of combined friends, family, and fans. The members of Rock Apocalypse are like NEO School of Rock’s “varsity team”. Instead of being handed over a letterman jacket, these are the kids who get to headline the show and play on the big stage representing what SoR stands for. They have played showcases at Brother’s Lounge, Whiskey Island, Music Box Supper Club, and they even host their own jam session at Coda from 4-7 p.m. every first Sunday of the month.

“I think their success is measured only in part in musical ability and how they’re using those skills,” Rich explains from an instructor’s perspective. “Way more important is the kind of people we’ve helped them become after years in SoR: confident, way more responsible, able to work under pressure and with [band mates] better or worse than them, the whole teamwork concept, and they LOVE Rock & Roll! Our passion has become theirs.”

What the kids that make up Rock Apocalypse lack in physical size, they make up for in sheer number and the attitude that comes with. They are a well oiled, fleshed out musical machine made up of multiple vocalists, guitarists, a keyboardist, bassist, a drummer and many other pieces of percussive instrumentation. They cover classics and even some more left of the dial favorites in their expansive sets. Watching them, you can’t help but feel happy because they invite the audience to remember their unadulterated selves. The positivity is infectious because Rock Apocalypse makes you remember why you loved music in the first place, the novelty of enjoying something purely before money, fame, or politics ever got in the way.

Their roster of teachers is stacked with musicians who not only teach them the technique necessary to play, but also the mindset. They are from diverse backgrounds with experience on every instrument you could imagine, musicians whose names are synonymous with the Cleveland music scene like Ed Sotelo, Tim Moon, and Maddie Finn. “I spend a LOT of time vetting potential staff, as they’re what really make the schools work and our customers, the parents and kids, want to stay in our program year after year,” says Rich, who was himself a percussive engineer for a long list of national and local bands, as well as a music director for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame before joining SoR.

Did Rich think twenty years ago that he would be a part of this concept? “HELL NO! I was having too much fun debauching. Now I get to preach my religion: Rock & Roll, a small part of all music, one of the voices of God, […] a common thread for humanity.”