School of Rock founder becomes the student

The School of Rock founder created a nationwide music education franchise.

Paul Green, a first-year law student, teaches music at The Paul Green Rock Academy in Roxborough on April 4. Green is the founder of the School of Rock franchise, which has brought rock music lessons and a chance to perform at concert venues to middle and high schoolers all over the country. | JAMIE COTTRELL / THE TEMPLE NEWS

During a conference with his professor Mary Levy, first-year law student Paul Green recorded the conversation as she critiqued his legal brief.

“She’s just like, ‘Oh no, no, that’s not how you spell that, no. Apostrophe! Apostrophe!’, and I’m just there laughing,” Green said. “She’s like, ‘Paul, no one ever laughs when I’m tearing apart their paper, and you’re so not defensive.’ I’m like, ‘This is what I’m paying for.’”

Levy said she’s never had a student so open to feedback.

“It’s delightful to him when I do that so he can see how to improve it, how to get better,” she added.

Green, a Port Richmond native and founder of the nationwide music education program School of Rock, returned to Philadelphia in August 2017 to attend the Beasley School of Law, while also starting a new Roxborough-based music school, The Paul Green Rock Academy.

Green founded the Paul Green School of Rock in Philadelphia in 1998 to provide middle and high schoolers with music lessons and the chance to perform as bands at music venues. In the next decade, dozens of School of Rock franchises were established across the country.

In 2010, he sold the company. He then spent several years living in Woodstock, New York, where he founded the first iteration of The Paul Green Rock Academy. Last year, he sold his stake in that business and moved to Philadelphia with his wife Lisa and their son to attend Beasley and open the new school in Roxborough.

Before he founded the first School of Rock, Green said no other models for group music education existed.

“Lessons were something that happened in the back of a crappy guitar store,” Green said. “I stumbled into a gap. I said, ‘There’s an opportunity to codify music lessons for kids.’”

Now a law student, Green said he hopes to practice law to help other artists and entrepreneurs protect their creations.

Green, who studied philosophy as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, added he also wants to study law because of his interest in argumentation. Listening to a professor like Levy teach law feels like “listening to a concert pianist,” he said.

“Because he’s a performer, he really responds to a good performance,” Levy said. “As a matter of fact, one day I gave a lecture and he actually did clap.”

Outside of his legal studies, Green conducts weekly group rehearsals for Rock Academy in a rehearsal space on Ridge Avenue near Leverington. The group will perform its debut concerts on June 9 and 10 at The Fire, a music venue on Girard Avenue near 4th Street.

Since beginning rehearsals in February, Green has worked with his 14 students on learning 50 songs, including popular classic rock songs like Elton John’s “Rocket Man” and Led Zeppelin’s “The Lemon Song.”

Each song he chose, Green said, is meant to teach a particular musical skill, like improvisation or singing harmonies.

When explaining these concepts to his students, Green employs dozens of unusual, off-the-cuff analogies. As his students improvised over a blues chord progression during last Wednesday’s rehearsal, Green compared the importance of developing motifs in improvisation to playing a fighting video game.

“If you find [an attack] combo that works, keep doing the combo until it stops,” Green said.

Many of Green’s students, like 14-year-old drummer Joe Guller, started at the School of Rock before auditioning for Rock Academy.

In his audition, Guller said Green warned him about the commitment the program demanded. Knowing his reputation as a critical teacher, he expected Green to be like actor J.K. Simmons in the film “Whiplash,” who plays the role of a verbally abusive music instructor.

But Guller said his initial expectations were wrong.

“I was kind of surprised like how much nicer he was, because he made himself out to be like ‘Whiplash,’” Guller said. “I thought it was going to be a lot more hectic than what it is, but I still like it.”

At Beasley, Green has a different reputation. Many of his peers know him for his passion and desire to meet everyone.

“He’s one of the most popular people at the law school by far,” said Stephen Vanyo, a first-year law student. “Everybody likes him. He’s friends with professors, he’s friends with students, he’s friends with support staff.”

Last fall, Vanyo and first-year law student Dan Blabolil, who play drums and bass respectively, formed a band with Green called The Mailbox Rule. The name refers to a legal term they learned in their contracts course.

In February, the group served as the house band for Beasley’s student talent show, playing short musical interludes between performances. The group will perform again on May 10 at The Fire for a live karaoke night to honor graduating Beasley students.

For Green, whether a person studies law or music, it’s essential to understand your weaknesses in order to improve.

“Unfortunately, the two most important words in teaching kids music are, ‘You suck,’” Green said. “You don’t say it, you show it.”

To prove this to his students, he played them the recording of Levy critiquing his work.

“He wants his students to know that what he’s doing to them is not anything other than what he is subjecting himself to,” Levy said.

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