With the steady thump of a bass drum and slowed-down guitar riff to guide them, six Kindergarten-aged Joe Strummers belt out the Clash's eternal question, "Should I stay or should I go?" In an open warehouse room attached to the Foothills School, these wee wailers fidget in their seats waiting for the song's chorus, the part where they get to thrash about in a mock mosh pit. Though this carpeted classroom—where Boise Rock School is conducting a five-week introductory After School Rock course—is no smoky dive, you'd have a hard time explaining that to these tenacious tykes.
Boise Rock School was started earlier this year by two local teachers and longtime musicians, Jared Goodpaster and Ryan Peck, a BW contributor. With help from friend and musician Thomas Paul, they offer regular classes Tuesday through Friday at the Fulton Street Theatre in addition to a summer camp called Camp Little Rockers and the aforementioned After School Rock programs.
"We're both teachers, so we had some available time and we decided to get the summer camp going," explains Goodpaster. "So our first big Rock School extravaganza was the camp this summer."
Taking inspiration from the popular Jack Black movie School of Rock, Peck and Goodpaster decided to bring the concept to Boise. Though this summer's Rock Camp saw an enrollment of only five students, the Rock School has grown to around 20 students this fall. With ages ranging from 5 to 12 and instruction available in guitar, bass, drums and vox, Boise Rock School offers a unique blend of tailored one-on-one and group rock 'n' roll lessons.
"Kids are really looking for their passions, and sometimes their passions are sort of forced on them, like 'you're going to play soccer or the clarinet,'" explains Peck. "We want to provide an outlet for these kids who would otherwise ... be doing something that they're not passionate about. Not only do they find a passion, but it's a huge confidence builder."
Back at the Foothills School, the kids have moved on to a new song, "Wild Thing." With choreographed dance moves, they channel their inner wild things—dinosaurs, cheetahs, horses—learning to count beats and recognize the difference between a chorus and a verse. Though these rockers wield electric guitars and drum sticks for part of the class, they're still too young to play the tunes that they've been singing. As a chorus of squealing voices stretch out "gro-o-o-vy," Goodpaster wraps up the song on guitar and Peck calms down the rowdy room by bellowing, "and a hush falls over the crowd."
"We have to come up with activities to make sure that they're all engaged," says Goodpaster. "We incorporate a lot of games into our activities because kids love that. It's got to be fun, as well."
With the resounding popularity of video games like Guitar Hero, Rock Band and Wii Music, Ninja Turtles and Nerf guns are being replaced by Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails. Kids who previously wouldn't have cradled a guitar until their pimple-faced, poster-hanging adolescence are now noodling on mini Fenders while watching the Disney Channel. And according to Peck and Goodpaster, this is a good thing.
"Rock is relevant, it's something they listen to that they can relate to," says Goodpaster. "He's not listening to John Coltrane when he's 6, he's listening to whatever he's playing on Rock Band. If they've already made that connection with music, that's what they're going to want to play."
And though they've barely mastered their multiplication tables, these kids are charming crowds 10 times larger than most Boise beginner bands. With a spot at this year's Trailapalooza at the Idaho Velodrome and a fundraiser gig at Donnie Mac's Trailer Park Cuisine, Boise Rock School's performing band, Zap 5, has already shared the stage with local legends Ned Evett, Curtis Stigers and Bill Coffey.
"It's really amazing to see what they can do and just the confidence of the kids as rock stars, they owned it," says Jodi Peterson, mom of Zap 5 singer Max and bassist Sam. "Max is 8, and he was the lead singer. He walked out and welcomed everyone and was the emcee and broke into a song by Neil Young, 'Rockin' in the Free World.' My son Sam just picked up the bass guitar, and he plays bass guitar now."
Peck and Goodpaster view Boise Rock School not only as a way to build confidence, but also as an opportunity to grow the local music scene from the ground up.
"With the Rock School far off on the horizon, we're building all these new bands that are going to be coming up 10 years from now," says Peck. "It's going to be like, 'have you guys heard about Zap 5? Man, they're killing it.'"
Though tightening budgets put extra-curricular programs like Boise Rock School on the back burner, Peck and Goodpaster are adamant that they won't turn away any kid with a passion for Poison. Watching them instruct tots on the proper way to do an air guitar riff or a synchronized high kick you can see why: They're both kids at heart.
"We're very, very passionate about this school," says Goodpaster. "I go to bed smiling a lot more, now that we've started this."
Ages 8 and up: Tues., Thurs. and Fri., 3:30-5:30 p.m. Ages 6-7: Wed., 3:30-4:30 p.m. For information on Boise Rock School and to view a performance by Zap 5, visit boiserockschool.com