Wexford school's young musicians learn their craft thanks to dedicated instructors

| Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

When School of Rock-Wexford opened last September, organizers didn't cut a ceremonial ribbon, they smashed a guitar.

Since the obliteration of that six-string, 63 students have enrolled in the program, which began in Philadelphia in 1998 and now has more than 130 locations worldwide. Another franchise is slated to open in Castle Shannon by the end of the year.

Attendees — ranging in age from 2 to 17 — get to experiment with guitar, bass, drums, keyboard and vocals until they find their musical niche. One-on-one instruction and weekly group rehearsals prepare them for the spotlight.

To showcase what they've learned, students will be playing a free concert on Aug. 14, at 7 p.m., in Cranberry Township Community Park.

“When they come in we ask them what their favorite band or song is and go from there,” said General Manager Alicia Pascazi, 23, who has been playing the drums since she was 9.

For years, Haley Zaleski, of Franklin Park, took violin lessons. These days she shreds on an electric guitar in venues such as The Rex Theater and Jergel's Rhythm Grille.

“I like (School of Rock) because it gives me the opportunity to play in shows and play more diverse kinds of music,” said Zaleski, 16, who will perform in an upcoming performance at the Hard Rock Café.

The gig is a two-hour tribute to the bands that dominated music festivals such as Coachella and Bonnaroo in the 2000s. Past performances have focused on everything from ‘80s arena rock to the British Invasion.

Keyboardist Zach Muci, 10, of McCandless, wasn't familiar with any of the acts on the current set list — his dad, a guitar player, raised him on heavy metal — but now he's taking an interest in electronic dance music called dubstep.

“I'm a very musical guy and I like to learn different instruments,” he said.

Muci also serves as percussionist on a few tracks. This rotation of talent gives students a chance to flaunt their skills and strengthen their weaknesses.

Alex Robertson, 25, one of seven instructors at School of Rock, said he selects students for each number much like a director casts actors in a musical theater production.

A song that boasts a highly technical drum beat might have a more straightforward guitar part, giving students of varying skill levels a chance to rock out.

The result, he said, is that they all get better.

Manuel Bautista, 14, picked up a guitar when he was in third grade, but he's only been on stage twice.

During his debut performance, he admits that nervousness caused him to play too fast.

Under the tutelage of Chip Homer, he's learning how to relax and bask in the glory of an on-stage solo.

Homer, 29, of Ross, is a drum and guitar instructor. He grew up in a musical family and credits his parents for nurturing his talent, even at the expense of their eardrums.

“Living with a bad drummer is not an easy thing,” he said with a laugh. “The first step to being good at something is to be bad at something.”

When students first start jamming together, mistakes are made.

“But then they start to get good really fast,” Homer said. “By the end of the semester we have a bunch of really great musicians.”

Kristy Locklin is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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