School is a Sanctuary for Kids Who Love Rock Music

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Some 200 students in Salt Lake City are getting ready for a number of performances this month that could be compared to musical recitals that is, if you don't count the hundreds of screaming fans, concert T-shirts, blue hair and serious rock 'n' roll.

The Paul Green School of Rock, made famous by a Sundance documentary, "Rock School," and the blockbuster "School of Rock," has been in Utah since 2005. It provides a performance-based rock music education that aims to teach students not only how to play a rock instrument but how to be successful as part of a band.

"If you like music and you want to learn how to play, this is the place for you for these kids, it's like their sanctuary, they don't write on the bathroom walls here," said Steve Auerbach, branch manager of the Utah Schools of Rock. "The idea is to leave the Nintendo alone, leave the Xbox alone, do your homework and go practice music."

Paul Green founded the program in 1998 in Philadelphia. Classes started in a rusty old building in the city. It has grown to 31 schools nationwide including Salt Lake City, Sandy and, soon, Park City.

The school is no ordinary place. Walking in, it almost looks like a trendy club with pictures of rock stars on the walls next to students performing onstage. It's sometimes hard to tell the difference.

It's noisy. There are skateboards, big hair, long hair, headbands, pets, food, laughter and lots of music. Within the Salt Lake school there are a number of practice rooms where instructors work one-on-one with students as well as in groups. There is also a room where students get together to rehearse or just to jam.

During each of the three seasons that the school is in session, students are working on songs for a concert series held at the end of the season. Most of the concerts are "cover" concerts, featuring music by such bands as AC/DC, Metallica, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. So, not only do the students learn how to play, they learn to perform.

"It's awesome being out there in front of other people showing them what you can do and having somebody cheer you on makes you want to keep on playing, and it feels really good," said Connor Clawson, a 17-year-old from Olympus High School who attends School of Rock.

Auerbach said getting the students to practice isn't an issue. The students have lessons four hours a week but are welcome to come rehearse, practice or just hang out whenever they want. And the desire to be the best they can be onstage is usually enough to drive them to spend time practicing at home.

There is no coddling at the school, though. Auerbach said he tells it like it is, and students learn they need to check their egos at the door.

"I tell the kids they suck, because (some) do ... but I am never going to turn down a kid's volume," Auerbach said. "Every student here is given the opportunity to do amazing things, and as long as you trust us, that we are going to push you and allow you to do things that are pretty fun and amazing, you're going to learn a lot, you're going to get great results, and you are going to be a great musician."

He said, as a teacher, it is incredibly emotional watching the students finally come together and perform for the first time after working so hard.

"What they walk away with is self-reliance, self-determination, the ability to set short-, medium- and long-term goals, humility, teamwork, and the lessons are life lessons," Auerbach said.

He said there are a number of misconceptions about the school.

"One, we are not Jack Black."

Auerbach said the popular movie "School of Rock," starring Jack Black, has become somewhat a thorn in his side since the character who taught the students about rock was an unemployed phony. But he admits that the movie boosted the visibility of School of Rock.

Though the kids sometimes idolize rock legends who have been linked to drugs, alcohol and even violence, the school prohibits drugs, alcohol, put-downs and negativity. Auerbach also works to weed out the songs his students learn, and they avoid explicit and offensive songs.

The third School of Rock is opening in Park City School District this year as part of the community education program. The schools have open enrollment and accept students ages 7 to 17. The tuition in Utah is $225 per month.

Students will be performing in concerts throughout September.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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