Students rock out at Rock School
Reported on Oct. 1, 2009
It was just before noon on Saturday and four pre-teens from Park Slope were stuffed into a small recording studio on St. Marks Avenue in nearby Prospect Heights.
They had been practicing with their instruments for about half an hour with music teacher Jason Domnarski when 12-year-old Jack Ellrodt asked, “Can we turn on the AC?”
“What are you talking about?” Domnarski replied. “We haven’t even started sweating yet.”
This was no regular music lesson.
Domnarski, 28, a professional rock musician, founded the Park Slope Rock School one year ago when he noticed a demand for a creative, musical outlet for the neighborhood’s teenagers.
The Rock School, which organizes 12 middle schoolers into four different small rock bands, is held every Saturday. Domnarski charges $450 per student per semester – 12 weeks of small group tutoring. It’s a price many parents say they are willing to pay in order to compensate for budget cuts to music education programs in their children’s schools.
“I was surprised there wasn’t a program like that already there. It’s grown quite rapidly,” he said. “You really don’t have a rock-based curriculum at the public schools. I think that’s a very big draw. It’s a form of music they don’t get to play very much. They are very interested in that kind of music.”
Stacey Ruiz’s son Brandon, 13, is a Park Slope Rock School student who attends Park Slope Community Middle School. Ruiz said one of the main reasons she enrolled her son in the rock school was because of the lack of quality music he receives programming during the week.
“My son’s school is a very small school which shares a building with another school,” Ruiz said. “Unfortunately his school does not have the budget or resources to start a music program.”
This week, the Rock School played Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl.” The students hadn’t even registered as twinkles in their mother’s eyes when the song debuted in 1969. They enjoyed practicing it, all the same.
“I think working as a group allows them to feel more like performers at a jam session,” Ruiz said. “The music they play is something they can relate to and the parents as well. It kind of bridges the gap between the two. Take it from me – there is no ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ in this class.”
Jack, who had the tendency to jump up and down during his electric guitar solo, exclaimed mid-way through Saturday’s practice, “This is by far the most fun I’ve had all week.”
And having fun is a point not lost on Domnarksi. Wielding a grande coffee in one hand and two drumsticks to keep the band’s beat in the other, he tries to instill in the group solid music theory and an appreciation for giving a good performance at the same time.
“On a different level, it allows them an hour and a half every week to play in a band in a rehearsal space that sounds good,” he said. “This semester there’s a very good chance we’ll be heading into the studio to record.”
Ian Silverstein, 13, who performed vocals and a bass guitar this week, said these lessons are unlike anything he has ever done before.
“Jason is much more involved with us and the way we play music,” Ian said. “I just like to play with people who are good musicians and who are creative.”
Seth Miller said his son Asa, who plays the drums at the rock school, looks forward to coming to rehearsals every week.
“It’s just a great outlet for his talent,” said Miller, who listened to the end of Saturday’s rehearsal. “It almost brings a tear to my eye.”