We Will Rock You—An Interview with Portland's School of Rock

I have a special place in my heart for kids who play musical instruments. Much of my youth was spent at band practice and I have fond memories of those days. Sadly, music and art education curriculums are being cut from schools every year taking away important creative outlets for our community’s young people. 

The team at WeMake is built on a creative foundation. We love supporting art, music, and the creative community because it is something we are all personally passionate about. Our upcoming event, WeMake Celebrates, is the culmination of this passion. It is an opportunity to raise funds and awareness for art and music education in Portland’s public schools and give back to the community we love so much.

One of the highlights of the event on October 12th will be a special performance from Portland’s School of Rock. Not only will this group of talented kids completely rock your socks off, they will leave you feeling more inspired than you can imagine. That’s exactly how I felt after I dropped in on one of their practice sessions a few weeks ago.

Walking into the School of Rock headquarters, I was instantly struck by a cacophony of sound coming from kids tuning their instruments, drummers warming up in practice rooms, and the general hum of excitement that emits from groups of teenagers. 

The School of Rock show band was in the middle of “Long Distance Runaround,” just one song in a very eclectic set list they perform regularly. I quickly realized that this band is the real deal. Ranging in age from twelve to eighteen, each performer has to audition to be part of the show band.

Assistant Music Director, Adam Corkery manages the band and gave me a little insight into their program. 

"For the show band, you have to audition every three to four months to get in. It’s a three-part audition and they have to learn a song without any of our help. Then during the audition we piece them together and they all have to play the song," Corkery said. "It’s pretty obvious when someone isn’t as prepared as someone else."

The audition also includes answering questions about musical theory and a solo performance. “We have sixteen show band kids right now. Last season we had about thirty kids audition so it’s really hard having to cut it down.”

Originally called the Paul Green School of Rock, the establishment has been in Portland for over eight years. All of the teachers are professional musicians that are active in the Portland music scene.

"The coolest thing about our school is that it’s an open curriculum. Everything is based around the student and what inspires them," said Corkery. "Some kids want to learn the songs note for note, other kids want to learn how to write their own music. Our number one goal is that they’re having fun." 

From beginners to advanced students, School of Rock is able to cater to each musician’s needs and interests. For the show band, it is a culmination of all those skills. 

"These guys are all really talented. I don’t even like to say talented because I’ve seen these kids come so far just through hard work and practice. They have a passion. They’re dedicated and they work endlessly."

For many of these kids, music is their creative outlet. Connor, a 15-year-old drummer in the show band explained why he loves playing music. 

"I’ve always loved drumming, ever since I was two years old. I was always drumming with my hands on the walls, pillows, during rides on the airplane. It just feels great. Whenever I’m dealing with some problems, music is there to take it away. It’s my own zone."

Fellow instructor, Ryan Moore, pointed out why music education is so critical to include in a young person’s life. “For one, it encourages self-discipline. It’s an artistic form of expression. It’s been proven to help with math skills and for some kids like myself, if that wouldn’t have been there for me I might not have had any interest in being in school at all.”

"I think kids really suffer when you take away that creative aspect of learning," said Moore. "It’s proven statistically that students who are involved in music programs like choir and band tend to do better academically than the kids that aren’t. It’s essential to becoming a well-rounded, functioning part of society."  

Corkery agrees, “I think anytime you have music in the schools, it’s just one more avenue of creativity for kids. Some kids are really into sports, and for others that’s just not their thing. Most importantly it’s the creative side of music. It opens their minds up to so many new opportunities.” 

Be ready to rock and join us for this special performance from School of Rock at WeMake Celebrates on October 12th. The event is free and the whole family is welcome! 

For more information about WeMake Celebrates check out our official announcement or our event page for Design Week Portland

Thanks to Adam and the School of Rock show band for letting us drop in on your practice. Be sure to check out their other upcoming performances through the rest of September!

Photography by Ethan Allan Smith.