The School of (Virtual) Rock

Well, we all made it through the first week of school; perhaps some of us with less hair…or maybe more grays. But we are GOING to get through this.

We’ve done it so far!

One school in particular has been “getting through it” throughout the pandemic. The School of Rock in Latham essentially never closed. They shut down for a brief time at the start of the state-mandated lockdown, but very quickly learned how to make lessons almost 100 percent virtual to allow students to continue learning.

At the time of the mid-March shutdown of all but essential businesses, the school was right in the middle of its “season” with students receiving lessons regarding such rock legends as Queen and RadioHead. They were rehearsing for three different shows that would have culminated in live concerts. That, quite clearly, was no longer feasible at the time.

However, as Jesse Calhoun, School of Rock’s general manager said, “The show must go on!” And so, remote learning was put into place until the school officially reopened in June. That season’s show was held at the Malta Drive-In in July so social distancing accommodations could be made.

I reached out to Calhoun – (full disclosure, we’ve been friends for over a decade) – because I thought that as public schools experience cuts across the board, including to music and the arts as a result of the financial strain COVID has placed on local/state/national government, the School of Rock would see a jump in enrollment so that children (and adults) could continue to experience the benefits of music education.

Actually, Calhoun said, the school lost half its enrollment initially due to COVID, but has seen a slight increase recently. He believes that everyone is still feeling a little cautious and “waiting to see how things go.”

Calhoun also said that the virtual environment has helped to foster an even stronger sense of community among the students, and enabled the School to do some pretty cool things that perhaps wouldn’t have been possible before.

The Drums instructor, Sean Cranston, helped put together amazing virtual rehearsals and “Metal Masterclasses” with some famous musicians like the leader singer of Smashing Pumpkins and Ryan Strong of Johnny Booth. This added value for students over the summer when, ordinarily, they wouldn’t have this opportunity.

Calhoun says that going online has enabled the School to provide more offerings, like custom songwriting camps, and also reach more demographics of students, such as those who have mobility issues.

“It’s now part of what we do,” he said. “When the pandemic ends, we’d still have remote offerings.”

Calhoun said he feels the School is very fortunate to have been able to adapt so easily to the new normal.

The School did experience its share of hardship, as most businesses have, losing nearly 10 employees when the pandemic first hit. Calhoun says they weren’t laid off, but rather those staff members didn’t feel comfortable coming in. The School was a recipient of the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) for a bit, but it just wasn’t enough. So they’re actively recruiting more students to enroll, which you can do here, if you’re interested.

Bonus: The first lesson is free!

The school now is enforcing appointments, smaller group sizes, and utilizing larger separate rooms more. They’re even thinking about using curtains to separate students in some of the larger rooms to further keep everyone safe, and comfortable. The school is using sanitizer everywhere, social distancing, and ensuring universal masking.

Because of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s mandate about music in bars and venues, the students will likely be shopping around for venues to perform this season’s concerts. But Calhoun says they will do it virtually if they have to and stream the concerts.

The School of Rock offers programming for various ages beginning at three years, up to adults. They have three seasons a year, each with a concert at the end. But students are able to enroll at any time. They even have an open door policy for students who wish to come and practice on their own…or for mothers who don’t allow drums in the house.

The School of Rock is Located in Newton Plaza, in Latham. Readers can find out more on their website and Facebook page.

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