On Saturday, I attended my first Paul Green School of Rock showcase in Portland. The show was called Best of the Season and featured highlights from the Portland and Seattle schools.
My first exposure to a rock school was in 1994, when I visited the Rock n' Roll High School in Melbourne, Australia. That being 14 years ago, I don't recall much, except that the kids formed their own bands, a compilation CD came out every so often, and the school launched the career of more than a few female Aussie musicians, including Brody Dalle from The Distillers. I do remember at the time that, despite good intentions, I wasn't convinced that the essence of rock could be institutionally conveyed -- that a scholastic approach might even be antithetical to the form itself.
Starting in the early '00s, I began volunteering at Portland's Rock n' Roll Camp For Girls, where the girls write their own songs -- the camp focuses on personal expression over technical proficiency. The culmination, naturally, is a lot of great songwriting, sloppily played. Imagine getting a present wrapped in duct tape and you get the idea. But, while a lot of great bands get on stages before they're "ready" -- and they should -- the notion of readiness itself is ridiculous when it comes to music. Who wants to only ever witness grace? And how would we know gracefulness if the opposite didn't also take our breath away?
The Paul Green School of Rock show was in some ways the opposite of the Girls Rock Camp performances. One friend called the kids "trained monkeys," but I am (for once) not so cynical. Sure, the branding of Paul Green is obnoxious, and I don't think you can teach someone how to write songs, or how to write good songs. (There are plenty of amazing guitar players, drummers and singers in the world who can't write an original part to save their lives, and who will be nothing more than noodlers at office parties, air drummers and karaoke superstars.) But there's nothing wrong with instilling a love for music. Sure, I'd rather see more funding in public schools that would allow music programs to exist and flourish, but Green's school fills a gap, and should be appreciated for doing so.
Plus, it's hard not to be in awe of 16-year-old boys who can solo on guitar better than any adult I know, or a 10-year-old girl singing "War Pigs" backed by a bunch of older teenage dudes. I'd rather watch boys and girls play music than video games any day. For one, it's more fun for the audience, and for another, it alleviates my nagging worry I about games like Rock Band -- namely, that if you're going to spend 20 hours a week playing it, you might as well learn how to play a real instrument.
As for my old fears about schools of the Paul Green ilk institutionalizing rock, I've come to think that the process of learning about music is multifaceted and varied in rituals. Not every kid has friends or parents who possess encyclopedic knowledge of music, or who have vast record collections. So if the Paul Green School of Rock is where a 12-year-old can learn about King Crimson and The Wipers, so be it. But I still believe that no amount of technical skill or lessons or historical knowledge can force magic upon a soul or put fire in a heart -- and when you witness those untaught moments, you know the difference.