Middle School of Rock
New Paltz Middle School (NPMS) has always been a rocking place, and now its students are taking their rock on the road.
Recently, NPMS’s School of Rock band traveled to Duzine Elementary School, where Duzine Principal Ross Hogan introduced the group’s performance by asking the time-honored question, “Are you ready to rock…?” The under-eight-years-old crowd responded with a resounding ‘Yes!’”
Grade 7 and Grade 8 student musicians from band and chorus audition every fall for the Middle School’s afterschool School of Rock program. Students who pass the audition form one large ensemble, composed of horns, a rhythm section, and singers, all supported by a student-led sound crew. According to School of Rock co-producer and Music teacher William Halpern, more than 35 student musicians are participating in the program this year. The program runs during the winter months, to avoid conflicts with fall and spring sports as well as All-County chorus and band.
The first iteration of School of Rock was called Rock and Soul, which featured NPMS staff in the rhythm section as well as a few student singers. These days, more than five students play in the rhythm section, 20 students play horns, strings, and wind instruments, and a dozen students sing. Since the selections need to accommodate a variety of instruments and musical tastes, the pieces range from Stevie Wonder compositions to Amy Winehouse songs.
“There are so many different ways to interact and do music,” said Halpern. “Singers can add harmonies and elaborate or explore, rather than hitting every single written note like they do in choir. School of Rock is a further opportunity for students to play different music, differently.” Halpern said that the rhythm section includes a guitar, a bass guitar, and a drum set–instruments that do not exist in the school band. Halpern added that School of Rock gives prospective rock band members “the blueprint” to start their own rock band.
Grade 7 student Olivia Trainor, who plays bass guitar in the rhythm section, said that she enjoys the process of putting different voices and sounds together to perform for the younger students in Duzine and Lenape Elementary Schools. Fellow guitarist and Grade 7 student Dylan Freer agreed that the School of Rock has been a worthwhile experience. “This has been a lot of work; I practice every day,” said Dylan. “But I enjoy music a lot. This has been a lot of fun.” Grade 8 flutist Anya Weinstein appreciates having the chance to expand her repertoire. “This is a fun way to play different styles of music that I don’t get to play in the school band,” she said.
Students who do not play instruments are welcome to join the sound crew, where they will have the opportunity to learn how to operate the band’s microphones, speakers, mixing board, and amplifiers. Halpern said that many of those students will transition into the High School sound crew.
Since every bona fide rock band has its own iT-shirt, the School of Rock band performers wear matching T-shirts designed by a band member. This year’s design was created by Stella Zigouras, a Grade 7 trumpet player .
School of Rock performs at the Grade 6 Winter Concert and at the two elementary schools.
NPMS Principal Ann Sheldon said that she appreciates the enthusiasm shown by the student rock musicians. “I can see how much fun and enjoyment the students have playing their instruments together in the School of Rock,” she said. “The high number of student participants shows that too. They are exploring creative freedom in this setting, which I think encourages students to continue learning the mechanics of their instruments or singing.”