A drummer lays down a heavy groove but, at just 9-years-old, looks diminutive behind the set. A mom slams the skins to a classic rock song. A high-schooler makes his electric guitar scream in the midst of a smoke-filled room with colorful stage lighting.
Throw in a packed house of more than 70 people, an awards presentation, delicious cookies, and many other musical performances, and you have the third Academy School of Performance concert, held Nov. 5.
Alex Crane and Mike Ruminski
Alex Crane and Mike Ruminski started the afternoon with a great-sounding acoustic guitar prelude. They said they'll play anywhere, anytime; they just love to play. That definitely reflects the spirit of this program. The entire audience loved this warm-up duo.
The main show started with Jimmy Bucher playing a solo electric guitar version of the national anthem. Jimmy used his guitar's "whammy bar" and some string bending technique during the song. Shades of Jimi Hendrix in the Falls!
Paul Newlin plays professionally with a local group called The Heroes Lie. During the interview segment, Paul said that he sees the value in every student being taught the proper way to tune drums at private lessons, that percussion instructors should most definitely expose their students to all musical styles, and being able to read musical notation is extremely important to learn at lessons as he uses this skill on a daily basis. Paul also revealed that a "THL" composition has recently been used on the professional wrestlers circuit as one of the wrestler's theme song for his "entrance." Very cool, Paul. Great advice for all the participants.
Drummer Tim Lenke kicked off the afternoon's first ensemble with Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama." Tim was rock steady while playing with three other "staff" members. Awesome, because those three other players are professionals in their own right. Was Tim "in-tim-idated?" Nope. His self-named ensemble, "The Yeah Sures," played very musically.
Michael Olson and I then played a snare drum duet. Michael's dad plays in a group called "The Screaming Cucumbers" so, naturally, Michael named us "The Screaming Broccolis." Awesome! Micheal played with excellent dynamics and pulse. Very nicely done.
Long-time drum student, Nick Lemley, played "Born to be Wild" by Steppenwolf. You need to understand, though, that Nick is usually pretty quiet, so getting up on that stage and playing was quite the achievement. "The Firebird Eagles," with the stage lights beaming through the smoke effects, looked and sounded awesome. I know for a fact, his mom and dad were so proud of him. Great job, Nickster!
Brandon Lucas and John Schnapp
"The Rockers," with 9-year-old Brandon Lucas on the drums, and John Schnapp on electric guitar performed ACDC's "Back in Black," with staff members. Although both students would usually be considered beginners, their performance was amazing. This is the third event Brandon has played in. You rocked, dudes!
Joe Da Villa
Up next, Joe Da Villa and his teacher, Dave Melstrand, played an acoustic guitar duet version of "Simple Gifts." They called themselves "The Joe Da Villa Duet." Go figure! A very beautiful song, their version had a section where Joe played a short solo at a faster tempo. Very nice addition to the song.
Marlene Skowron, a five-month student of mine, wanted to play in this event. I said, "Alright, what song?" She said, "Hurts So Good" by John Mellencamp. "Let's do it!" Marlene selected the "It's Never Too Late Band" for her act's name. She's, well, between 21 and 61 years old. She more than held down the groove for the staff she'd played with. Her husband was impressed and proud.
How about some Beatles? Drummer Peter Mathews held down the fast-paced beat of "I Saw Her Standing There." He worked hard for three weeks to be able to play fast enough for this performance, which included staff members. This being Peter's second event, he had a take-charge attitude while playing. He named his act, "The American Beatles Band." Audience members bobbed their heads to his awesome beat.
Bobby Keane and Aaron Blanchard
Next, the song that inspired me to use a smoke machine during this concert: "Smoke on the Water," by Deep Purple. This song featured student Jack Perinovic on drums, Bobby Keane and Aaron Blanchard on guitars, and staff members rounding the group out.
These guys named themselves "The Prototypes." A prototype's definition is: "the first sample or model of something." The name sure fit! Jack, with this being his second event, played a solid beat with many fills spicing things up. Aaron shredded his lead guitar solos. In fact, the audience broke out in applause during them. Bobby played tight rhythm guitar and helped the song really groove. Very impressive, gents. I almost emptied the smoke machine on your song. Could you tell?
Ryan Brasfield, Andrew Marzalkowski and Nick Vanderhaden
For the first time, this event had a fully formed band sign up. Only the vocals were provided by the staff. The group consisted of two second-timers: Ryan Brasfield on drums and Andrew Marzalkowski on guitar. Nick Vanderhaden played bass. Just for the concert, the group named itself "The Beverly Brothers" (the actual name of the band is yet to be determined).
They played a song by Weezer: "Beverly Hills." Clever name, guys! These musicians played so well together, they had people in the audience actually singing along. A few ladies, if you know the song, started filling in the female vocal lines, "Gimme, gimme." Everyone seemed to really enjoy this act. These guys did an exceptional job; don't be surprised to hear more from these guys.
Having a complete band sign up and play in this event means one of the "visions" I'd had for this program was fulfilled before my very eyes. Man, how cool and rewarding!
And the staff
For the sake of the participants, the "Staff Band" gave a surprise performance. This helped to demonstrate and reinforce concepts that were taught throughout the school. The "Staff Band" consisted of Steve Koenigs on rhythm guitar and vocals, Rob Wessel on bass, Donny Jirschele on lead guitar, Dave Melstrand on sax, and myself on drum set.
After liberal use of the smoke machine, we grooved hard on a medley of Stevie Wonder's "Superstitious" and Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music." While we were playing, I glanced over at the program's participants. They were smilin' and boogyin'. Mission accomplished!
At the end of the Academy School of Performance concert, I called up each student performer one by one and handed them a framed "Participation Award for excellent stage presence and musicianship," signed by each member of the staff. The students were all very proud of their performances, and this moment commemorated the hard work they had all put in. Each musician received a hearty ovation as they accepted their certificate.
When the concert ended and the audience was dismissed, I found myself in many, many conversations about how this type of program is great for kids and students of all ages. Not only for the main part of performing and musicianship, but for the mentoring aspect of this process as well.
I was taken aback at the honest and heartfelt thanks of a few of the parents that approached me. One parent told me that it's amazing seeing their child connecting with other kids and having side conversations with them. Because, "It's totally not like him. This activity and the drum lessons have really helped bring him out of his shell."
The Academy School of Performance has taken an amazing direction after only three events. Witnessing the camaraderie and hard work of the students and teachers, the stage presence and courage shown by all participants, and the love and support shown by family, relatives and friends have been a huge blessing to me!
Mark your calenders: The next concert will take place in March. Hope to see you there!