Scott Rownin has opened a School of Rock franchise at 20 Isham Road in West Hartford.
By Ted Glanzer
OK, the School of Rock franchise is named after the eponymous 2003 movie starring Jack Black and stage show that followed. But the movie and musical are based on the School of Rock music schools.
According to Scott Rownin, the owner operator of the most recent franchise that opened in West Hartford in early July, the movie was based on a wildly successful music school that originated in Philadelphia. The school was performance based, where kids would join a band, learn to play instruments and ultimately play a gig. When the movie and subsequent musical took off, the music school changed its name and the rest is history.
School of Rock – the music school franchise – has more than 260 locations worldwide across 10 countries, according to Rownin.
Rownin, an entrepreneur at heart, said he wasn’t necessarily looking to get into the music business. He took up the drums when he was 10 and played in various bands through college at the University of Pennsylvania and in New York City when he was working full-time.
After moving to Westport, he started a company 10 years ago that he recently sold. While looking for his next opportunity, he helped out one of his kids’ chorus and orchestra, which rekindled his desire to go back into music. A School of Rock had already been opened in Fairfield, and he looked into the business and decided it was a perfect opportunity to bring to West Hartford.
The whole idea, Rownin said, is to get kids – and adults if they so choose – to play on stage with a band..
“You’re not just taught to be a great keyboard player, but a great member of the band,” he said.
In addition, kids are exposed to a variety of instruments – not just, say, the piano because there might already be one in the home.
So kids might learn a little guitar, bass, singing or drums and see whatever sparks their interest.
There are lessons in the group setting and individual lessons as well, Rownin said.
After four months, the band plays a set of three songs – all rock – at a local music venue.
The music catalog is rock ’n roll, from classic all the way up to modern rock, from Led Zeppelin to the Imagine Dragons, and everything in between, Rownin said. Pieces are chosen based on the band members’ acumen.
For example, Rownin said he had a student drummer who was technically proficient, but was banging away on his equipment. To get the student to ease up a bit, Rownin had the band play “Reelin’ in the Years” by Steely Dan.
Other selections can be from The Beatles, Nirvana, Black Sabbath, The Red Hot Chili Peppers and more.
And, no, the song every guitar player learns their first riff – “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple – is not among the choices.
It’s trite, Rownin said.
“We have songs we have the right to play,” Rownin said.
Still, the songs that they have available expose kids to different forms of music they otherwise might not hear, or songs they have heard, but might gain a greater appreciation for once they peel back the layers to see how the songs are constructed.
“It’s exposing kids to music they may think they know, but now they peek under cover see how cool it is,” Rownin said. “Seeing them discover and find appreciation for it is pretty cool too.”
Modern tech is incorporated where a student can use an app to loop a portion of a song, practice and record it and send it back to the teacher for a grade, Rownin said.
Programs are tailored to students ages.
There’s Little Wing for kids ages 3 to 5 ($125 a month; a weekly group class using classic rock songs to learn about rhythm, song structure, melody and dynamics through play); Performance ($365/month – ages 13-18 or younger with experience/Rock101 Graduate, with weekly group rehearsal geared towards seasonal performance in local venues and a weekly private lesson); Rock 101 ($349/month – ages 8-13 with weekly group rehearsal focused on simplified versions of classic rock songs for beginners and a weekly private lesson); Rookies ($199/month – ages 5-8 with weekly group class covering basics of guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and vocals, as well as song structure and group performance).
There is also an adult program for people over 18, Rownin said, adding free trials are available for everyone to check out the programs before signing up.
So far, the school has been very successful, Rownin said.
“It’s amazing how quickly [the students] pick it up,” he said. “It has been fantastic, we are trying to get everyone on the calendar for the fall performance.”
Students show up not knowing what to expect, Rownin said, only to spend more and more time at the school.
“They found a new home they love,” he said. “It’s not just about music, it’s a teen center for kids to be there for hours and feel comfortable. … It’s been a lot of fun.”
School of Rock currently employs 12 instructors, and Rownin has an eye to hire more, though there is a specific needle that must be threaded: Good musicians, good teachers who are good with kids (and who pass background checks).
And Rownin, for his part, says he is having a blast.
“I’m teaching kids for a living,” he said. “It’s a playground. … It couldn’t get better than that.”
A version of this story originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of West Hartford LIFE.
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