ART BEAT: School of Rock proves there's more to music than classics

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

The Gwinnett School of Rock has been offering youth and adult musicians the chance to perform more than just air guitar to their favorite popular songs.

For the past 15 years, this branch of the Gwinnett School of Music has allowed classical music students to cut loose and new students to become part of music-making ensembles. On Aug. 29, festival-goers in Suwanee will have a chance to groove to the music made by these enthusiastic young artists.

Closing out the day for the first-ever Suwanee Festival of Books, four jazz and rock bands from the Gwinnett School of Rock will perform on the Town Center stage. Beginning at 5:30 p.m., festival attendees can enjoy the Soul Fusion Jazz Band, Twisted White Lightning, Redneck Turtle and the Converse Allstars. Soul Fusion includes some adult members, but the remaining three bands are all teen rockers.

One would expect the Gwinnett School of Music to teach classical technique, but rock and roll? Jazz? GSM instructor and classical guitarist Kelly Bowlin believes the addition of more contemporary types of music is very beneficial.

"Our School of Rock really motivates those students who have just started taking lessons in guitar, drums or keyboards," Bowlin said. "The bits and pieces they have been learning really come together when they play with other people in a group. Then they have the experience of playing the song. Consider the electric guitar. Musicians learn chording and a few licks, but they need to be put with the whole band to actually be making music. When this happens, the student gets excited and motivated and wants to learn more."

Students who learn classical technique from the beginning might have an advantage in some aspects, but Bowlin finds they sometimes don't experience the interpretive freedom and differences of rhythm that jazz, blues and rock can offer.

"For a trained classical musician playing rock or jazz, the technique comes easier but the music can be harder to feel," Bowlin said.

Rock can be important to the music education of a young artist.

"There are only two kinds of music," Bowlin said. "Good music and bad music. The Gwinnett School of Music has never tried to be just a classical school. We want to produce well-rounded musicians who are good technically but who can also improvise. Playing rock and jazz gives you a great ear."

Bands from the School of Rock have been performing locally at Dave and Buster's and at the open mic night at Loganville's American Tavern. Among GSM students who have also taken advantage of the open mic night event is young Africa Paschall, who will be performing at 4 p.m. in the Teen Tent at Suwanee Festival of Books on Aug. 29.

"Africa recently sang an Etta James song at open mic night and was fantastic," Bowlin said. "We are also bringing other young singers for the Teen Tent beginning at 4 p.m. (Aug. 29). Yangchen Yonzon is one who will perform. She is trying out for "American Idol" this year, and I wouldn't be surprised if she makes it. We will also present Carly Gibson, who is already writing her own songs. She was accepted into the Grammy Camp in California for the past two years."

The Gwinnett School of Music has three locations: Lilburn, Grayson and Sugar Hill. The existing Suwanee location will become the Sugar Hill location as it moves to 245 Peachtree Industrial Blvd. on Sept. 1. For more information, call 770-945-3663 or visit www.gwinnettmusic.com.

Holley Calmes is a freelance writer and public relations consultant specializing in the arts. E-mail her at hcalmes@mindspring.com.