Explore School of Rock Zionsville

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August 2020

Hey, Zionsville … are you ready to ROCK? School of Rock is more than just rock and roll. It is a music education program that combines individual lessons with group rehearsals and performances and teaches invaluable life lessons while jamming away to your favorite tunes!

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School of Rock is poised to open its newest location in Zionsville in early October, and I spoke with owner Steve McFarland, Director of Music Cyrus Youngman and Drum Instructor James Pacovsky about the school’s programs: Rookies for 6 to 8-year-olds, Rock 101 for 8 to 12-year-olds and Performance Program for 12 to 18-year-olds. And yes, they even have an Adult Program so parents can live the dream of playing live in a real cover band. 

What Is School of Rock?

For over 20 years, School of Rock instructors have transformed hundreds of thousands of students across the world into skilled musicians. It specializes in the instruction of guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and vocal. There are more than 260 locations worldwide.

McFarland opened his first School of Rock location in Carmel, Indiana, 10 years ago and his Fishers location five years ago.

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Steve McFarland

“School of Rock was around before the movie ‘School of Rock,’ which is loosely based on the school that was started in Philadelphia by a guy named Paul Green,” McFarland said. “He taught kids that weren’t plugged into anything and were just hanging out or getting into trouble, and he had this idea of keeping them busy by teaching them how to play in a band and play rock and roll.”

McFarland explained that it’s how he and his instructors teach that makes the school different from traditional lessons.

“Most kids don’t stick with playing an instrument unless they are really self-disciplined,” McFarland said. “My kids took traditional lessons, and they hated them. At School of Rock, we teach [music] backwards, kind of like the way you learn to speak language. You start talking first, then you go to school and learn about nouns, pronouns, punctuation, etc. And that’s how we teach music.”

McFarland continued, “We have ‘Demo Days’ where we tell parents, ‘Give us 30 minutes and we’ll have your kids playing in a band.’ We bring the kids back to the lesson rooms and teach them to play AC/DC’s ‘TNT’—a three-chord song. I say, ‘Put your finger here, now strum. Put your finger here, strum. Put your finger here, strum. OK, put your finger here, strum, strum, strum. T-N-T. After about 20 minutes, we get everybody into the rehearsal room and tell the parents to get their phones out because they’re going to want to video this, then we say, ‘One, two, three,’ and the kids play ‘TNT.’ The parents’ jaws drop as they watch a kid who has never touched a guitar suddenly rock to AC/DC. It is our mission to inspire kids to rock on stage and in life.”

The School of Rock students have weekly rehearsals in addition to their individual lessons, gaining experience and confidence to perform in an actual venue at the end of the season, which the instructors feel gives them incentive to practice and to stay committed so that they’ll be prepared for the big show.

Life Lessons and Building Confidence

After hearing from parents who were commuting to the School of Rock in Carmel who were interested in having one in Zionsville, McFarland and his team held a call-out meeting in spring of 2019 at Bub’s Burgers in Zionsville. The 40 families that attended had expressed interest in their children not only learning music instruction but also the life lessons this extracurricular program teaches kids about accountability, teamwork, listening and courage.

“I tell parents that once their kids have played up on stage in front of 200-plus people, eighth-grade speech class is nothing,” McFarland stated. “This becomes their ‘thing,’ their community, where they hang out with their friends. Inclusion and community are just as important to us as teaching musical instruments.”

Zionsville resident and drum instructor James Pacovsky has been playing drums since he was 12 years old.

“Teaching at School of Rock gives me the ability to transfer my passion [for music] and skills to young kids that want to do the same thing and want to be rock stars,” Pacovsky shared. “We’re really trying to get the kids to learn how to be performers, and we provide the environment where they perform on stage with their friends, with the adrenaline rush, the lights, the sounds and the fog machines. These kids aren’t sitting in their bedrooms, isolated, downloading music lessons.”

Pacovsky continued, “I coached my boys through the Little League system in Zionsville. If we had batting practice for an hour in the cage and he hit everything I threw at him, crushing it like he’s Babe Ruth, but was a nervous wreck when he stood up at the plate during a game, none of that instruction carried forward. We’re teaching kids to have confidence when they walk up to the plate or get up on stage. That’s the difference in what School of Rock does.”

The Zionsville School of Rock music director Cyrus Youngman is no stranger to the local music scene. His band, Cyrus Youngman and the Kingfishers, have performed for many major local area festivals. Youngman also spoke about the difference that School of Rock makes in kids’ lives.

“I’ve been teaching [music] for half of my life,” Youngman said. “When I joined School of Rock, I realized that the main and huge difference is that our kids have something to look forward to and have something to prepare for immediately. They have rehearsal groups every week and have to come in and know their song or they’re going to let their friends down. There is no better feeling for them than walking into a rehearsal room knowing their part and saying, ‘Hey, look at what I can do now.’ The culture and values that we instill in our kids teaches ownership and owning up for whatever you sign up for. We teach responsibility, freedom and how to listen—not just to their instructor but the band as a whole.”

Safety Is School of Rock’s Top Priority

Throughout the stay-at-home order, all three of McFarland’s locations pivoted from in-person lessons to virtual. As soon as it was permitted, the Carmel and Fishers locations resumed their in-person instruction while practicing the highest level of safety protocols that go above and beyond the recommended guidelines.

While the build-out has been underway at the Zionsville location, Youngman, Pacovsky and their fellow instructors have been instructing individual lessons—virtually—while the rehearsals are held at the Boys & Girls Club East facility, which has been hosting the group rehearsals since McFarland decided to expand into Zionsville more than a year ago.

Once the Zionsville location is officially opened—in early October—the students and instructors will be able to meet in rooms that were built to accommodate the 6 feet of social distancing protocol. Students will enter through one designated door and disinfect their hands before the lesson and will exit out anther door after disinfecting their hands at the end of the lesson. Students will be encouraged to bring their own instruments, mics and accessories, even though all rooms and equipment will be vigorously disinfected after every use. Masks will be required by both students and staff. This includes singers! A transparent shower curtain will be hung between students and instructors as an added layer of protection from exposure to COVID-19.

Youngman added, “It’s been a tough year, but we’re all going to come out of this stronger, and we probably won’t take as much for granted.”

Expect Not an Ordinary but an Extraordinary Grand Opening

Ultimately, the School of Rock Zionsville’s goal is to have a fun, family-oriented rock concert featuring its students in the parking lot on the day of its ribbon cutting and to open the building to tours for attendees.

“That’s ultimately the goal,” Pacovsky concurred. “We want to have the kids perform outside with the stage and lights in a concert-like environment. We’ve been going over and above the recommended safety protocols since we started back with in-person lessons about a month ago. We will also have extreme layers of protocol that we’ll be following not only with social distancing, masks, etc., but also sanitizing every instrument every time a kid switches instruments or moves around. Everything will be extremely scrutinized—probably more so than any school or hospital.”

How Do We Sign Up and What Can We Sign Up For?

Enjoy a preopening discount of $55 if you join School of Rock Zionsville now! School of Rock Zionsville offers the following programs:

  • Remote (all ages): Virtual one-on-one music instruction from your home with expert School of Rock instructors. One weekly lesson. Lessons conducted using secure video technology.
  • Guitar lessons, piano lessons, drum lessons, singing lessons and bass guitar are all offered through the School of Rock program.
  • Beginner lessons for kids and adults.
  • Intermediate and advanced lessons for kids and adults.

For the more advanced students, School of Rock Zionsville offers its School of Rock House Band program. This program gives students under the age of 18 the opportunity to join a gigging band composed of fellow musicians from their school. These students perform additional live shows throughout the year. All students in the Performance Program have the opportunity to audition for a spot in their school’s House Band. Once selected, House Band members become leaders in their School of Rock community and perform live shows at local rock venues throughout the year.

Pre-COVID-19, musicians in a School of Rock House Band played in a variety of local music venues and is looking forward to those opportunities in the future. Past students have played as openers for touring bands, at shows for local schools, at fundraisers, street festivals and more. Some schools even have the chance to go on tour and play at multiple venues across the country.

And if that wasn’t cool enough, the School of Rock franchise system offers the School of Rock AllStar Tour to the best-of-the-best students from around the world—less than 1% of School of Rock students are selected each year for an annual summer country-wide tour across the U.S. The students pack their gear, travel on a bona fide tour bus, participate in tour publicity and start in nightly performances at famous venues and festivals for two whole weeks of rock and roll splendor. Traditionally, the AllStar tour ends playing at Lollapalloza. 

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McFarland added, “The [house] band performs and opens for one of the biggest music festivals, Summerfest [in Milwaukee, Wisconsin], which is a really big deal.”

Don’t wait for the snip of the ribbon on opening day. Visit School of Rock Zionsville’s website at locations.schoolofrock.com/zionsville for its physical location, contact information and more in-depth details about its programs and lessons.