So you want to be a rock and roll star | Programs tune up Myrtle Beach-area talent

Many young musicians have the good fortune to test their dreams of becoming rock stars in two local programs: Dino Capone’s School of Rock “Rockin Band Lessons;” and North Myrtle Beach High School’s Skoolhouse Rock.

If you haven’t seen them perform, seriously consider adding one of their performances, at local venues including he House of Blues and Hard Rock Cafe, and events like “Monday After the Masters” and “Mayfest on Main,” to your entertainment calendar. They are talented enough that you needn’t be a proud family member to enjoy the experience.

Just ask Brice Hillard and Summer Marshall, who read about a School of Rock performance at Wild Wing Cafe in the Weekly Surge and decided to come out. “I think they’re great,” said Marshall.

“They always bring out a crowd; they’re one of the best groups we’ve ever had,” said Sarah Hawks, Wild Wing general manager.

Strong reviews for any band, but even more impressive when you consider that Capone’s students range in age from 6 to 18.

Such maturity comes from the program’s expectation of excellence. Although the school is a “place where fun and learning go hand in hand and students are treated like family,” according to its website, Capone’s Rockin Band Lessons are serious business.

“Nobody’s allowed to just join the band, they have to earn it,” said Lori Corrente.

That’s how it should be, according to band member and her son, Nicky. “You shouldn’t automatically be in the band. You have to work hard, pay attention and practice and practice and practice some more.”

He may be a tough taskmaster, but Capone employs a student-led approach to teaching.

“It’s fun and exciting. After learning the basics, they learn what they want to learn, whether it’s Taylor Swift or Ozzy Osbourne,” said May Cox, mother to band members Josh and Karma.

“You can express yourself in your own way – funk, jazz, country, punk, heavy metal, anything that you want to do,” Josh said. “Other places are a little too formal. He [Capone] caters to each kid’s interests.”

It’s a method forged from personal experience. The school’s website declares that, “It’s a place where we promise not to bore you with ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ or smack you on the knuckles for hitting a bad note.”

“I have taken thousands of lessons from all kinds of teachers; some were good and some were terrible,” Capone said. “Looking back on all the lessons I had, I decided the best thing that I could do was to do what I would have loved back when I was learning.”

Skoolhouse Rock was also inspired by the experience of its founder, but it was of the cinematic kind, the movie “School of Rock” with actor Jack Black.

North Myrtle Beach High School social studies teacher Brad Davis established the extracurricular program “to create a social environment where students can develop positive relationships through the universal language of music,” according to a news release.

That’s just what participant, Steve Pethel, got from the experience. “[It] gave me a place to go play music and get away, as well as bond with some great musicians.”

Senior Will Jackson, who is currently preparing to audition for the Berklee College of Music, echoes the sentiment.

“[It’s] a pretty great outlet for kids to express themselves and to hang out with other musicians,” he said.

On a more practical note, he said that Skoolhouse Rock has given him, “a huge professional advantage; it’s like an internship. There’s no greater learning tool than doing.”

In addition to rocking out, students “have a chance to showcase their talents as well as participate in more ‘behind the scenes’ aspects of the music business,” a news release said, “including recording, audio/visual production, lighting, marketing, and advertising.”

Their professionalism shows. At performances people often ask ‘How old are these kids?’ and are surprised to learn they are only in high school, said Skoolhouse mom Terri DiLisio.

Their maturity, as well as their musical acumen, belies their youth.

“It’s given her [granddaughter, Hannah] the confidence to play in front of an audience,” said Linda Tierney. “This program has made her an individual and given her a direction. It’s helped her find herself.”

Program alumnus and Coastal Carolina University music major Matthew Skipper knows how Hannah feels. “The group helped me realize that this is what I wanted to do.”

It also taught him how to perform. “I used to be nervous to even walk out on stage, and now it’s like second nature,” he said.

That’s how it has been for student Halice Schoonover. “I was really scared; I had only sung in church before. Now I have stage presence, knowing how to perform and not just stand there,” she said.

In addition to the poise both programs engender, parents also laud the academic benefits.

Skoolhouse mom Kim Johnson said it has helped her son Sam keep up his grades.

Holly Sasser, an educator herself, said the Skool program “has contributed greatly to [her daughter, Shelley’s] excellent school grades. It’s a quality program that is so valuable academically.”

Many studies, including one conducted by James S. Catterall, Richard Chapleau and John Iwanaga as part of The Imagination Project, equate the study of music with academic success.

“Students who report consistent high levels of involvement in instrumental music over the middle and high school years show significantly higher levels of mathematics proficiency by grade 12,” the report concluded.

Whatever paths these young musicians choose, there is no doubt that the lessons they have learned will stand them in good stead.

Ami Beever said the Skoolhouse Rock program is teaching them to be the musicians they want to be. In addition, they are learning to be individuals who know that hard work, however tedious, is worth it and to never “forget what you are, you’re a rock and roll star. La, la, la.”