September 4, 2008

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Face melting rock and roll, from the kids
A headbanging education at RockRight Academy
By Dana Unger dunger@hippopress.com

The idea for a rock ’n’ roll school began, not so surprisingly, after a couple of friends from Ralph’s House of Tone music store in Dover (Ralph Napolitano, Gary Leighton, and Seamus Burke) saw the 2003 Jack Black film The School of Rock.

“We already had a strong music lesson program going at the store,” said Napolitano, owner of Ralph’s House of Tone and dean of the RockRight Academy. “Once the movie came out, we thought it was something we could actually do. And actually, in some of my younger photos, I do look a lot like Jack Black.”

With years of guitar experience under their collective metal-studded belts, the guys set out to create a music school focused on rock in all its forms, from classic to modern metal and even punk.

For the most part, RockRight Academy, located in Ralph’s House of Tone, functions like any other school. Kids take classes during the week, in addition to Saturdays, and learn rock theory and fundamentals from Napolitano, Leighton and Burke, the academy’s teachers. And if you miss a class, there are no make-ups.

However, that’s where the similarities end. With courses in guitar solos, how to hone your axe-playing chops, music biz marketing, and even what to name your band, RockRight aims to hook kids by being atypical.

Kids are grouped according to age, ability and rock preference.

“The 15-year-olds don’t want to be in a class with 10-year-olds, and the 10-year-olds would feel overwhelmed in a class with 15-year-olds,” Napolitano said. “We want the kids to be on similar music levels, so the kids aren’t bored, and that means finding out first where they are at in their ability and what kind of music they are interested in. Really, when you think about it, what drives most kids to pick up the guitar? It’s the inspiration they get from their favorite bands and the desire to play like their favorite guitar player.”

Napolitano also knows that his students want the actual experience of playing live with a rock band, so three years ago he created the “Rockband 101” summer camp, which affords the academy’s aspiring Hendrixes and Claptons the chance to form a band, learn a song, practice their stage presence and then perform live for a public audience.

On Monday, Sept. 8, at 7 p.m., the students of this year’s “Rockband 101” camp will take the stage of The Dover Brick House for the annual live performance.

“We didn’t want to do a typical music recital for these kids,” Napolitano said. “We’ve all been to those kinds of school music recitals and they can just be brutal. We wanted to do something that was really going to showcase the talents of our students and give them great experience playing live rock.”

This year, the academy has introduced another band, Parental Advisory, composed entirely of parents of academy students.

“We thought that would be a riot to do,” Napolitano said. “Plus, all the parents in the band are musicians themselves.”

In the future, the guys hope to branch out with new classes in subjects like songwriting, and to find a location that would better fit the demand of the kids wanting to attend.

“Right now, we do it all at the store,” Napolitano said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to move to a bigger space and expand what we’ve already been able to build with this program. That would be our dream.”

Through RockRight, Napolitano says, he ultimately wants to show kids how much fun making music can really be, using the school to banish the stereotypical vision of music lessons for kids.

“Those kinds of boring, run-of-the-mill classes can sometimes be too rigid and strict for them,” he said. “You can get more kids with ‘Smoke on the Water’ than ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep.’”