Seven-year-old Samuel Coffin ran excitedly into the dressing room near the upstairs stage of West Philadelphia’s World Café Live.
“Did you see me playing the drums up there?” he asked, smiling from ear to ear.
His excitement made sense, given the young drummer had just stepped off stage after his first live performance. Coffin was the youngest of some 20 other products of the Paul Green School of Rock Music performing two nights in one weekend.
For this show, the students performed the Beatles’ White Album, in its entirety, from “Back in the U.S.S.R.” to “Good Night.” Different students rotated on and off the stage for each song, some playing multiple instruments throughout the set.
The kids, ranging in age from 7 to 18, played to a jam-packed room full of many of their encouraging families and friends.
Paul Green founded the Paul Green School of Rock Music in Philadelphia in 1998. It is now a national franchise, with schools in cities across the United States.
Before officially founding the school, Green taught music lessons from his living room.
Eric Slick was his first drum student then and is now a drum instructor at the Philadelphia school.
“I love hanging out with the kids,” said Slick, who directed the school’s Beatles performances. “They’re hilarious, intelligent and they like music as much as I do.”
Students enroll at rock school for a “season” and have 45-minute lessons after school, Monday through Thursday. Once a week, they attend longer group rehearsals, learning songs for upcoming shows at the end of each season. Options for shows have included Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, Guns N’ Roses vs. Motley Crüe and Led Zeppelin.
Dave Pap, a drum instructor at the school, stood in the back of the crowded room, looking proudly at his students on stage and applauding their efforts. Pap attended the school for seven years before becoming an instructor.
“It’s great,” Pap said. “You get to see these kids improve so much [during their lessons], and then you get to see it on display in these shows.”
The talents of these many young musicians were on display, as they made their way through some of the most challenging Beatles songs in the band’s catalogue.
“This is the most challenging show I’ve directed,” Slick said. “The White Album is one of the hardest Beatles albums to play, and these kids did a great job with it.”
Steve Henderson, 16, a classically trained flute player, played lead guitar on some of the songs in the set, including “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
“My dad used to put on The Who and Led Zeppelin, and I said to myself, ‘I want to do that,’” Henderson said about his start at learning guitar. “There’s so much leeway [with guitar] to create your own sounds, and it’s cool getting exposed to new things.”
The Paul Green School of Rock Music exposes its students to a lot of new things, while turning them into bona fide rock stars. Standout students from schools around the country have the opportunity to audition for the School of Rock All-Stars, who tour the country, often performing with famous rockers like Ann Wilson, Slash, Peter Frampton, Alice Cooper and Eddie Vedder.
Students performing the White Album seemed to enjoy the challenge of learning the music and reveled in the chance to perform at World Café Live.
“I was worried about it for weeks,” said Emma Boone, 15, who played keyboards and sang in the show, “but it just got to a point where I was like, ‘this is awesome.’”
“It’s a lot more fun playing with a circle of musicians that you know,” Boone added.
Madeleine Stevens, Boone’s friend and fellow performer, said playing music provides a nice break from the normal high school routine.
“The biggest thing I do outside of high school is rock school,” the 16-year-old bassist and vocalist said. “This was a hard show to pull off, but it went well.”
One of the most animated performers on stage during the show was Pete Squadrito. At 18, Squadrito is the oldest in the group of students and shined under the spotlight. For his enthusiastic performance, he offered a very simple explanation.
“The Beatles are one of my favorite bands, so I felt a lot of pressure to play the songs well,” he said. “You can’t let down The Beatles.”
For Squadrito and many other students, Paul Green’s School of Rock Music has been much more than an after-school activity. It has been a major part of their lives, pointing them in positive directions.
“I mean this in a metaphorical sense,” Squadrito said, “but if it weren’t for rock school, I would probably be dead or something close. I’ve made a lot of good friends, and I really enjoy playing with them.”
Kevin Brosky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.