Young musicians take to the stage
Kids at School of Rock's summer Pop Legends camp learn music by playing songs
Last updated 7/24/2023 at 1:32pm | View PDF
Some summer camps require things like bug spray, hiking shoes and sleeping bags. Equipment for the camp attended by 13 kids in Hinsdale July 10-14 included drumsticks, microphones and earplugs.
Pop Legends camp is one of several weeklong day camps held at Hinsdale's School of Rock. While Pop Punk camp features favorite songs by bands like Paramore, Green Day and Blink 182 and the '90s camp showcases the best bands of the late 1900s, Pop Legends is the place for fans of stars like Adele, Harry Styles, and of course, Taylor Swift, to recreate some of their favorite music.
The school's rock camps often put guitarists in the spotlight. The school's general manager, John Nugent, said Pop Legends give keyboardists and vocalists a chance to shine along with guitarists, bass players and drummers. Like all instruction at School of Rock, students are taught music through the song. Rather than learn scales or chords, they learn to play a song while learning about the chord progressions, rhythms and sounds that the song contains.
Each weeklong camp is an intense dive into the camp's repertoire, Nugent said. What typically would take three to four months to learn is jammed into just three or four days of instruction and rehearsal, culminating in a live performance on Friday.
"Most of these kids, this is their first time performing in a show," Nugent said.
That means that along with learning the songs, students also have to learn how to work a microphone and how to act on stage.
"Stage presence can't be overstated," Nugent said. "When you have fun, you give the audience permission to have fun, too."
The musicians in Pop Legends range in age from 7 to 13. On the first day of camp, they were divided into two bands, Pop Rocks and Ice Pop.
Avery and Anna Brennan of Hinsdale are sisters and fellow members of Ice Pop. Both attend School of Rock year-round, where they're learning to play guitar and sing. The stage is nothing new for either sister.
"I've already sung on stage eight times," said Avery, who is 10. During Pop Legends camp, she stepped to the microphone to sing "Last Friday Night" by Katy Perry and "Love Story" by Taylor Swift.
There was no shortage of Swift songs in the Pop Rocks and Ice Pop repertoires, and no shortage of "Swifties" among the band members.
Avery credits her School of Rock voice teacher, Rachel Bandler, with teaching her to use both her head voice and
her chest voice.
"Now, I can sing super high songs," she said.
Rian Shah, 10, played guitar on another Swift song, "Shake It Off." But unlike some of his bandmates, he stops short of calling himself a fan. He did, however, enjoy learning to play the song, along with Adele's "Rollin' in the Deep."
Nugent said "Rollin' in the Deep" was particularly ambitious for this young group of musicians, but he watched and listened as they rose to the challenge.
Maeve Cuttica, 10, already has her sights set beyond the stage at Q Bar in Darien, where the Pop Rocks and Ice Pop played at the end of camp on Friday. Her goal is to make School of Rock Hinsdale's performance group, House Band, and perform with her older sister before she leaves for college.
"I'm getting better at bass," she said, and gaining more experience and confidence with every practice and performance.
Although he certainly wouldn't mind if a student turned into a pop star or a rock icon, Nugent said School of Rock and its summer camps aren't about creating the next musical legend. They're about introducing kids to music through songs they like and can relate to - and teaching them the confidence that comes with learning a new skill and performing in front of a crowd.