The Record-Review – The official newspaper of Bedford and Pound Ridge, New York

 
SCOTT MULLIN PHOTO

Fox Lane Rock Ensemble 11th-grader PJ Van Galen, and 12th-grader Ben Lebonick in the FLHS Rock Ensemble at the Fox Lane Middle School Little Theater.

 
By NATALIA BAAGE-LORD

The audience cheered as the Fox Lane High School’s Rock Ensemble stunned the crowd with a near-exact replica of Rush’s “Closer to the Heart.” The difficult song was well suited for the students’ talents, said Matt Vanacoro, the ensemble’s director.

“They pulled off some stuff that was really incredibly challenging,” he said. “I’ve been in professional bands that can’t play ‘Closer to the Heart’ by Rush. And the fact that these ninth- and 10th-graders are pulling that off is amazing to me. They’re great.”

On Thursday, May 31, the rock ensemble performed their final concert of the  year, regaling audiences with tunes from Jane’s Addiction, U2, Stevie Wonder and the Eagles.

“These are a bunch of kids who are really dedicated to rock music,” said Dr. Paul Tooker, Fox Lane’s performing arts coordinator and high school band director.

The high school’s rock ensemble is an after-school club that began in the fall of 2009 at the behest of several students who wanted to continue with the instruments they played in middle school. Roughly 10 years ago, middle school students wanted to learn instruments other than the clarinet and flute, so they asked if electric guitar and drums could be included. The district soon OK’d the addition of a rock music class for the middle school.

“It’s our dream as teachers that the rock ensemble will eventually be a class in high school as well,” said Mr. Vanacoro. “We did go from seeing the kids every day in middle school to seeing them once a week in high school. We have a really strong parental base in Bedford that supports the arts. And they get astounded at how good the kids can become when they really get the proficiency and age behind them. It’s been really good.”

The May 31 concert went off without a hitch as the ensemble performed more hits from Aerosmith, the Barenaked Ladies, Van Morrison and Eric Clapton.

“The concert went spectacularly,” said Mr. Vanacoro. “It was an amazing time. They played some awesome stuff. I’m incredibly proud.”

While many school districts do not have a rock music class or after-school club, the music is well received at the high school, both by other students and by parents, said Dr. Tooker.

“It’s unique,” he said. “It’s a genre of music that plays an important role. When the kids play ’60s rock, they learn about the social injustices of the time. Although we don’t have it in the day-to-day curriculum, if there are kids who want to come out and study it, we are more than happy to work with them.”

Mr. Vanacoro, who has been the rock music teacher at Fox Lane since its inception, said that to be good at what you do, you have to know its history, and not only be knowledgeable of the current issues.

“They can learn the newer stuff on their own,” he said. “Just like if you’re going to be a classical violinist, it’s important to go back and learn Bach and Mozart. If you want to be a successful modern rock musician, you have need to go back and learn Clapton and Stevie Wonder.”

Some of the current members of the high school rock ensemble have been with Mr. Vanacoro for nearly seven years, as they began under his instruction as sixth-graders in the middle school’s rock music class.

After graduating from Fox Lane, some of the students go on to become professional songwriters and musicians. When they are out of high school, Mr. Vanacoro sometimes hires students to play with his band because he knows that they have talent and discipline.

“We want to teach them to be professional musicians on the instruments like electric guitar, drums, piano,” Mr. Vanacoro said. “I think that it’s hard to get that kind of education out because a lot of programs like ours are pretty unique. When the kids come out of our program, they have a really good sense of what it’s like to be a working musician. If they gain anything, they gain a sense of what it’s like to be a working professional musician.”

In addition to the rock ensemble, the high school also has a jazz band, a jam club, and both an all-boy and all-girl a cappella group. The middle school’s after-school music clubs include jazz strings, jazz band and a bel canto choir.

Students interested in joining any of the aforementioned groups are encouraged to speak with Dr. Tooker at the start of the 2012-2013 school year.



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June 8, 2012

Rock-rock-rock-rock-rock ’n’ roll high school