When the Jack Black-starring film “School of Rock” premiered in 2003, Ross Howell was a music instructor at the former Guitar Central on Mission Rd. in Mt. Pleasant.
“I remember a friend's mother, she literally whispered in my ear, ‘You need to do what the movie did; something to that effect, right?’” shares Howell. “And I'm like, yeah, I gotta get that together.”
It wasn’t long after that Howell moved his music instruction clientele over to his current location on Independence Dr. off Lincoln Rd., and became owner of the Mount Pleasant Music Studio. The very next year, in 2006, a local version of School of Rock was born.
“What I always saw from my students,” says Howell as he starts describing one-on-one lessons, “is that kids would go home and come back again the next week. There's a certain arc with that, where they're super excited, and they're going home, and they're actually putting some time in and they're practicing. But then when there's no sort of ends-to-the-means with that – you're just staring at the walls in your bedroom.”
“This is what it was like for me when I was their age,” he continues, relating to his students. “I was always trying to find people to jam with.”
“Eventually their interests would just die out,” he shares about his students’ learning experiences. “So my whole idea was: we need to get the whole reason
to play music. At the end of the day, it is to play with
other people. What's another way we can help these kids learn and grow?”
Creating a School of Rock program that encourages students to stay engaged in their craft – in a way that allows them to continue playing and growing as both musicians and human-beings – was Howell’s solution. Without placing limits on styles of music they can perform, or types of instruments musicians are allowed to play, Howell has formed several bands per season from his one-on-one instructional student sessions.
Last weekend, the Mount Pleasant Music Studio’s School of Rock program kicked off their 29th touring season across the region, with their “Back on the Attack” tour. This is their first tour of the area since 2019.
“This program features music students of all ages (current members range in age from 4th grade to 60s), playing popular cover music using skills which they have been honing since the current season began last November,” shares Howell.
Torrential Reign band members Christina Schafer (drums), Shirley Clifford (black guitar), Rosie Moyer (ukulele), Torren Robinson (green guitar), and bassist Ben Straus (absent) perform at Rubble's Bar in downtown Mt. Pleasant April 2023. (Photo courtesy of Donna Ronan)
“We've got somebody playing ukulele in the high school band,” Howell continues. “We've got someone playing mandolin in the adult band. There have been occasions where we've had a mini horn section, saxophone and trumpet, trombone and trumpet. There have been plenty of times where we've had kids playing fiddle and violin in some bands – Dave Matthews kind of stuff. Whatever else the kids' talents are, we try to bring all that in. But our main instruments are electric guitar, bass guitar, drums, and keyboard.”
Howell says the tour brings additional life skills beyond the growth of musical abilities.
“At the end of the day, the music is really a small part of it,” Howell says, sharing that social skills, teamwork, public speaking, and performing in front of people are all elements being learned through the tour’s experiences.
This season’s tour consists of seven stops at local venues. From auditoriums at CMU to downtown theaters to outdoor pavilions, the schedule runs from Earth Day in April through the weekend before Memorial Day in May.
Audience attendees will have the opportunity to jam to four featured bands at each Spring 2023 show.
My Pet Rock band members Nathan Hohner (drums), Ethan Blom (bass), Liam Rountree (keys), Quentin Rossignol (red guitar), Charlotte Clifford (purple guitar), and Liam Murphy (black guitar) perform at Rubble's Bar in downtown Mt. Pleasant April 2023. (Photo courtesy of Donna Ronan)
My Pet Rock is a band consisting of 4th through 6th graders: Nathan Hohner; Ethan Blom; Liam Rountree; Quentin Rossignol; Charlotte Clifford and Liam Murphy.
Torrential Reign ranges from 8th grade musicians through late teens: Christina Schafer; Ben Straus; Shirley Clifford; Rosie Moyer; and Torren Robinson.
Two adult-aged bands are also on tour, including Mind’s Eye consisting of Bret Cook, Donna Ronan, Stefanie House, Lorinda Moss, and Jim Bollella; and Mayan Medicine’s David Jesuit and Dan Jesuit.
“It's like the MasterCard commercial,” shares Howell. “What I get to do is something I love to do. That's priceless. And as long as people are loving it like I do – or at least some fraction of that,” he adds with a laugh, “that feeds into the joy for all of us, I think.”
To view the full Mount Pleasant School of Music’s School of Rock schedule, visit http://www.mountpleasantmusicstudio.com/upcoming-shows.