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Playing The Wall to Raise the Bar

Shelton School of Rock gearing up to perform Pink Floyd's classic album

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The second floor home of the School of Rock above the in Shelton has that new carpet smell. The gear is in pristine condition, moreover, with few dents in the drumheads or nicks in the amplifiers. And though the fluorescent lights burning overhead evoke an ambience far removed from dark clubs and concert halls, there is serious work -- and rocking -- going on.

Students and teachers occupy the warren of practice rooms in a space ornamented with vinyl records, album covers and faux vintage concert posters. One space includes two drum sets with shiny cymbals, which sit side by side so the instructor can provide real world examples.

In the performance room on a typical Wednesday evening, around 13 students ages 7 to 16 take their first stab at playing Pink Floyd’s landmark album The Wall. Around the end of January, each student, beginners to the big kids, will perform the work live in its entirety at a local music venue.

The Wall is a rite of passage for all new School of Rock outlets, said Frank Perrouna, music director at the School of Rock outlets in Fairfield.  A nationwide franchise, the school’s schedule centers on its shows, held three times a year.

Each week, students receive a private 45-minute lesson and attend a weekly three-hour show rehearsal. In the months and years to come, Shelton students can expect to put on long-form performances of Led Zeppelin, The Doors and Queen; even Yes and Frank Zappa, artists known for complicated compositions.

“We’re a school, so we hold the bar high,” said Perrouna. “We’ll play Yes or Zappa, even though pro musicians have to work hard to master those artists. The kids will always have another level to reach and if they believe they can do it, they do it.”

The school doesn’t teach music to do shows, he said, “we use shows to teach music. The Wall is great to break a school in with because it’s basic, but it’s also meaty and advanced things can happen. Usually, for young kids with talent, the first thing they learn to do is overplay, especially drummers. We teach them to support the band. For guitar players, the focus is on what it means to have feel and tone.”

There are two other School of Rock franchises in Fairfield County, including Fairfield, the busiest location in the nation with 220 students, and New Canaan. A new outlet is coming to the Stamford-Greenwich area soon, said Perrouna.

John Humes, 13, a talented drummer and guitarist attending the School of Rock in Shelton this season, played in the organization’s summer camp program, where he performed a Fleetwood Mac vs. The Eagles show.

“It gives you an opportunity to play in front of a crowd without having to form your own band,” said Humes, who lives in Hamden. “Most kids are not as into it as I am and going to the School of Rock, I can find people who are serious about making a band. The lessons help, but a big part of the teaching is how to play in front of a crowd.”

The school gives Shelton resident Jake Salemme a platform to help develop his vocal style.

“I like to sing and I want to learn how to sing better,” said Salemme, 17, who had never heard of Pink Floyd until he enrolled in the school and enjoys pop, rock and show tunes. “I like Pink Floyd now. I like the lessons and the practicing. I’m definitely getting better.”

For now, Perrouna helms the school, but he is grooming Craig Sasson, a guitarist, nightclub impresario and former hair salon owner from Stamford, to learn the ropes and take over day-to-day operations.

“Since I have experience running a business, it will translate well to administering the school,” said Sasson. “Plus, I’ve done some marketing and promotion before, so we’re looking to do some big things here.”

Like other faculty members, Sasson has extensive experience playing live, a requirement for instructors. “I’m looking for professional performing musicians, not formally trained educators who have only played for their doctoral committees,” said Perrouna. “I can guarantee results with your child. If they do what we implement with them, they will reach their musical potential. Not everyone is destined to be virtuoso, but we’ll find out if they enjoy it.”

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