Rock school students learn to play like pros
Classes at Royal Oak music studio let pupils choose music, organize into bands to perform.
Wendy Case / Special to The Detroit News
(Photos by Gary Malerba / Special to The Detroit News)
When one considers the words “music teacher,” the image that usually springs to mind is that of a pinch-faced curmudgeon at a piano, rapping pupils across the knuckles with a ruler. But for Detroit School of Rock and Pop Music proprietor Jason Gittinger, teaching people to perform and enjoy music is much more than an act of discipline; it’s a moral obligation.
“Music is the only thing I’ve ever done,” says Gittinger, 33, who plays drums for popular area tribute band the Mega ’80s. The product of musician parents, he studied Jazz at Wayne State University, eventually earning a bachelors degree in music. But it wasn’t until he started training players for other tribute acts (through the Mega ’80s parent company, Tangerine Moon Productions) that his plan for a full-fledged “rock school” started taking shape.
“I’ve played in professional situations my entire life,” says Gittinger. “I was, like, ‘if I could just show rock and pop musicians the professional side of all this, they could do amazing things.'”
With some creative financing, and the support of wife, Sherry, and their two young daughters, Gittinger purchased a non-descript storefront in Royal Oak. He immediately gutted the place and set about rendering it into a gorgeous, full-service recording studio with seven private lesson rooms. Though his budget was limited, Gittinger found creative ways to cut corners, including scavenging materials from places like Architectural Salvage in Detroit.
“This floor came from an old basketball court on the Michigan State Fairgrounds,” he says. “It was half the cost of carpeting and it looks beautiful. I bought all of the windows used and all 15 doors came from Architectural Salvage in Detroit.” Gittinger is quick to distinguish that his School of Rock and Pop is not related to the Paul Green School of Rock in St. Clair Shores, a franchise made famous by the film “The School of Rock.”
Though he still considers the business to be mostly a real estate investment, the school has provided Gittinger the opportunity to employ his unique teaching strategy. Students (mainly kids) audition and are put into classes that match their skills with other players of the same aptitude and experience. They are then organized into bands that decide, democratically, what material they want to learn. The school’s instructors (a staff of nine independent contractors) work with them, individually, to learn their parts and then they come together to perform them in a band setting. Monthly tuition ranges from $149-$299 and includes workshops with professional musicians of both local and national renown and occasional gigs at area venues like Memphis Smoke.
Susan Miller, 52, of Bloomfield Hills is watching daughter Alie, 13, play drums with a surprisingly adept teenage rock ensemble in the school’s main studio. “She’d live here if she could,” says Miller, who describes Gittinger’s methods as “special.” “Everything he’s done here has been first class,” she says. “It has given Alie confidence in everything else she does.”
Gordon Stump, president of the Detroit Federation of Musicians Local 5, says that the Federation supports Gittinger’s efforts as well as his business. “If you wish to play professionally, you must develop your skills,” says Stump by phone from the Federation’s offices. “And it’s been proven that music education improves math and science skills. We believe it’s the prescription for a fulfilling life.”
Gittinger expects the company to move into the black when it turns a year old in March. And, though he doesn’t expect to get rich running a rock school, he embraces the opportunity to share his passion with others.
“Music is a brotherhood of sorts,” he says, “and those of us who participate are charged with bringing up the ones that come after us. If this place can inspire a kid who has a passion for music, it’s doing its job as a business.”
Wendy Case is a Metro Detroit freelance writer.