They want to rock.
Though most of them will never end up on stage in an arena — the sixth grader still has a shot — the class gives budding musicians of all ages a place where they can get together to learn and jam. Not for money, not for fame, but for a love of making music.
Sparks Music & Learning Center at 2975 Vista Blvd. offers a weekly class called the School of Rock. Taking its name from the 2003 Jack Black movie, the class encourages music students of all ages to bring their particular instrument and learn to play together as a group.
Manning said the learn-in-a-band style helps musicians avoid learning on the “road of hard knocks.”
“In our environment we control that in a positive, inspiring way which helps students to realize their dreams of rocking without going into less-than-desirable environments,” he said.
Manning’s class covers musical styles from Latin to jazz to blues to shuffle so students can become well-rounded musicians. He also teaches them to read sheet music and play by ear.
A former professional musician who went back to college to formally learn music, Manning works with his students on some music theory in addition to giving them the band experience.
Two Saturdays ago, four living-room musicians got together to work on a generic rock song from their lesson book.
On bass guitar was Don Peer, a computer technician. He took up the guitar three years ago for his 50th birthday.
“Instead of having a mid-life crisis and getting a convertible and a blonde girlfriend and a divorce, I got a guitar,” Peer said as he tuned his shiny red instrument.
Peer said he learned bass out of necessity since finding a person to play bass is difficult. In the last three years he has bought three bass guitars and four six-string guitars, spending between $2,500 and $3,000 plus amplifiers and effects.
“Guitar players all have GAS,” he said. “Gear acquisition syndrome.”
To Peer’s right, on the keyboard, was bleach-blonde Marguerite Crokus, a 42-year-old artist from Sparks. Crokus has played piano all her life and six months ago was looking for an opportunity to play. She looked in the newspaper and found a listing for the School of Rock.
“There are very few opportunities to play with people without the pressure of being a professional and going to gigs at a certain time,” she said about the School of Rock.
Crokus said she does not lean toward a particular style of music, but rather just prefers a good, rockin’ bass beat — especially if she can dance to it. When she’s part of the band, she creates that beat with her keyboard, which Crokus describes as more like playing a machine than an instrument.
On drums was Derek Smith, a 49-year-old carpenter who in a former life was a professional musician. He played with the once-popular northern Nevada band the Lazy Eights, and is “one of area superstars who comes in and plays with us,” according to Manning.
Smith said his mom got him started in music by “dragging” him to jazz clubs in Virginia City when he was a kid. Now, he is working to pass his musical gifts to his young daughter.
“She’s already got a little drum set, a guitar and harmonica,” Smith said. “We’ll probably start her in the Little Mozart (program) here soon.”
Smith has taught drums at Sparks Music in the past and said the draw of the School of Rock is that it gives some immediate gratification.
“My main thing was to try to help them get turned on with the music and not turned off by too much sterile book work,” Smith said. “Once we’ve got their interest they are more willing to learn to read music. Mike has a real good thing here because kids in private lessons have a forum to actually feel what it’s like to play with other musicians.”
After Manning warmed up the three adult members of the group by helping them establish the rhythm of the song — and jamming out an impressive guitar solo of his own — it was time to bring on the star of the show. Waiting in the wings, cradling a jet black Epiphon guitar on his lap was Ian Ferriott, 12, a sixth-grader at Bud Beasley Elementary.
“Age doesn’t matter with good musicianship,” keyboardist Crokus said. “They’re dedicated and they stick to their lessons.”
With an impressive musical pedigree, Ian is destined for rock stardom. His father, a classic rock fan, plays guitar. His mother also plays guitar and this particular evening had just come from a banjo workshop. Ian’s cousin Mike Young plays drums for the local band The Saddle Tramps.
Ian first picked up a guitar when he was 7 years old; it was a pint-sized instrument with nylon strings. When he showed that he was serious about playing, he got an electric guitar, then an acoustic/electric and finally his prized Les Paul. He started taking private lessons at Sparks Music and then joined the School of Rock. It was there that he sat behind his first drum set and discovered his new musical destiny.
“One day he said, ‘Hey, Mike, can I beat on the drums for a while?’ ” Ian’s father, Glenn, recalled. “Now he plays them more than the guitar.”
For his most recent birthday, Ian got his own drum set. They reside in his older brother’s former bedroom, which has been converted to a music room. He practices every day and even though he closes the door, his father said, there’s no real way to hide the drums.
“At first I felt funny, but this is my space,” Ian said, inspecting the drum arrangement around him and tapping out the beat to a Tom Petty song.
But this night he was behind the mic with his guitar receiving some rock guidance from Manning. As his young fingers worked the strings and he figured out the rhythm, his adult bandmates waited patiently.
“If he becomes a rock star he’ll take care of us,” Glenn said, watching his son. “He’s the Tiger Woods of rock ‘n’ roll.”
“That or he’ll live with us forever,” said Ian’s mother, Cathy.