SALT LAKE CITY — Marla Bailey’s son had a dream, and she wanted to do everything in her power to make it come true.
About 10 years ago, Marla Bailey and her husband, LaMont, took their youngest son, Colton, to a rock concert a few of their friends were playing in. When the friends invited Colton onstage during the show, the dream was born.
“We were driving home that night after the show, and (Colton) looked at us and said, 'I want to do what those guys do,’” Marla Bailey remembered. “And I'm like, 'OK, he's 7. How do I make that happen?'”
She pulled up Google and discovered the School of Rock. Founded in Philadelphia in 1998 — five years before Jack Black's movie with the same name hit theaters — the real School of Rock is very different from the one Black's character Dewey Finn clandestinely established, but both schools have much the same goal: helping young musicians “define themselves and develop the tools they need to rock their world … and ours.”
As the national touring company of the Broadway musical "School of Rock" comes to Eccles Theater May 28-June 2, a group of 150 kids will be living the stage story in real life — just like they do every week — at Sandy’s own School of Rock, a locally owned music school dedicated to teaching kids and teens rock ‘n’ roll, and a few life lessons along the way.
The rock ‘n’ roll dream
After Marla Bailey came across School of Rock, she signed Colton up for guitar lessons at the Sandy school — one of more than 170 locations around the world — and immediately fell in love with the program.
“It's like a clubhouse for these kids, and it keeps them busy and they have something in common,” Marla Bailey said.
The Baileys found a community at the School of Rock that welcomed them with open arms, but the experience that cemented their dedication to the program came about two years after Colton joined.
Marla Bailey said parents often wait together in the school’s lobby as their children practice in the student lounge, a “no parents zone.” One night, she needed to go back to the student lounge to talk to Colton and saw him sitting on the couch with an older student, heads bent over their guitars practicing a song together.
“That would never happen anywhere else, that my very young elementary school kid would have something in common with a high school student and they would actually be working on something together — willingly working on something together,” Marla Bailey said.
At the time Colton joined, the Sandy school was a corporate-owned location, but after seeing their son and the camaraderie he had developed with the other students, the Baileys decided to franchise the school themselves — despite the fact that neither of them had professional music experience.
“I think (seeing Colton practice with the older student) was the moment that I most remember that I was like, 'I need to make this accessible to more kids,'” Marla Bailey said. “More parents and more families need to experience this.’”
All play and no work
At the time the Baileys purchased the Sandy School of Rock, about 75-80 children and teens attended classes there. Now, approximately 150 students of varying skill levels come to the Baileys' school, both for the music and for the friendship.
"We joke all the time that this is kind of like the sports team for the kids that don't want to play sports," Marla Bailey said. "We really are a team environment, and we've got this … positive peer pressure because the kids don't want to let each other down.”
Students in the School of Rock’s basic program participate in a private, one-on-one lesson each week with an instructor, then take what they learn and apply it in a separate group rehearsal once a week. Every three to four months, the Baileys book a venue and the kids perform a concert, complete with the fancy sound system, bright lights and an audience.
“Because the kids play in a group setting every week, it's not just mom yelling at you to practice your guitar and you play by yourself in your bedroom to your dog,” Marla Bailey said. “These kids really want to practice because they know that they're going to be onstage with these kids the very next week, and they don't want to let their friends down.”
For the more advanced group — the audition-only House Band — an additional weekly group practice is required as the group performs more often. On one recent weekend, the House Band played three, three-hour evening shows and a two-hour benefit concert during the day. It’s a big-time commitment, but one students take on with enthusiasm.
"We really feel like music should be fun, that the kids should just love it and be driven to want to play it and want to do it. One of my instructor says it's called playing music for a reason. It's not called working music,” Marla Bailey said. “If it isn't fun then why would you want to do it?”
More than music
Allison Hodsdon is a 17-year-old high school student, but sometimes she feels like a professional musician. Between being in the School of Rock’s House Band, taking advanced placement music theory, performing in her high school’s orchestra, wind symphony and jazz band, and preparing to participate in a recent performance with the Utah Symphony, you could say music is a big part of Allison’s life, and joining the School of Rock 8½ years ago, she says, has made all the difference.
"From a musical perspective, I really do feel like it's expanded my mind into a broader way of thinking and it's really interested me in, you know, expanding different kinds of genres of music,” she said. "It's a pretty unique thing to do, so my newer friends don't really expect us to be quite as good as we really are. It's kind of a surprise when people listen to us and see like, 'Wow, these kids can like actually play.'”
But for Allison, her time at the School of Rock has given her life skills she’s taken beyond the practice room.
"The No. 1 thing here is teamwork. You're part of a band — it's not just you playing. Like, if you don't learn your stuff, then it lets everybody down, which is a really valuable lesson to learn,” she said.
And although Allison has always considered herself an outgoing person, she’s enjoyed watching others come out of their shells through years in the program.
“Kids that are very shy tend to thrive here with other people that just seem to have a little bit of an interest in the same thing as they do,” she said. “... Along with the music, it's really a social enlightenment, I'd say, with some kids that come in.”
For Colton Bailey, who practices at the school four times a week between his private lessons, House Band rehearsals and time with his own personal band, learning to work as a team with each band he plays in is important in the long-run.
“I'd love to (play music) professionally. If that doesn't work out, I want to be a teacher. … That's kind of my dream,” he said.
And it’s Colton’s dream, as well as the dreams of their other students, that keep LaMont and Marla Bailey, both of whom have other full-time jobs, dedicated to the program.2 comments on this story
“If you were to ask me 10 years ago, I would have thought you were crazy if you had told me this is what I would be doing,” Marla Bailey said with a laugh. “But … we always say there's just something here that you can't explain. You just have to see it. You have to experience it. We just fell in love with the place, the program and wanted a bigger part in it, and that is really what brought us to it.”
If you go …
What: "School of Rock" national touring production
Where: Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main
When: May 28-June 2, dates and times vary
How much: $35-$125