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Rock School DVD (Sony Pictures)

20 December 2005

Rock School is a documentary about music teacher PAUL GREEN’s Philadelphia-based school of the same name, which teaches children ages 9-17 how to play rock music after school. The movie depicts Green’s unorthodox teaching methods, which often involve a lot of yelling and screaming at the children to the point where you think that he’s having an epileptic fit at times. Nevertheless, as the documentary unfolds, it shows that the kids genuinely love Paul and his teaching style and even more so that his methods get results. The film culminates with some of his best-trained kids playing the extraordinarily complicated music of FRANK ZAPPA at a Zappa festival in Germany with a guest musician from Zappa’s band joining them and at one point even bowing at his feet to them because he was so taken with their playing. It also attempts (somewhat successfully) to get at the core of what drives Green and has a lot of interview footage with him where he talks about topics ranging from his childhood to his time spent playing guitar in local bands to his wife and kids.

So while I enjoyed the documentary, I had one major problem with it. During one scene, Green explains to his kids that his dream is that Rolling Stone will cover a movement of “significant new music” in the future and that it will all be traced back to his school and teaching methods. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I always thought that “significant new music” came from original ideas, not from Green’s perfectionist ethos, which truthfully has more to do with how classical musicians practice previously written pieces to play them perfectly than anything to do with rock and roll, which is as much about “feel” as chops. More importantly, it’s also about imagination and I don’t think that Green’s school is a breeding ground for that. Rather, though he claims that the school isn’t about kids playing music, but about them playing it well, it’s clear that what he produces are automatons who may be well-versed in a lot of different musical styles, but not musicians who will produce “significant new music.”


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