Getting schooled in the art of rock ‘n roll

Day 1: Green Day. Day 2: Elvis Presley.

If this sounds like a dream itinerary, you’re the type of kid Rock ‘n Roll Band Camp was made for.  

The 2-week course is being offered through the Claremont Educational Foundation’s annual S.L.I.C.E. summer enrichment program for the first time this year. Its aim is to turn a rag-tag group of kids with fair to middling instrumental and vocal skills into a cohesive band with a toe-tapping sound.

So far, the class, taught by Claremont High School jazz band instructor Rick Melanson, has delivered on its promise.

By the end of the first class meeting, held this Monday in the instrument room at El Roble Intermediate School, 14-year-old Carly Sanden was belting out Green Day’s “Holiday,” accompanied by 12-year-old Kamron Curlin on bass, 11-year-old Masoud McLeod on drums and 13-year-old James Bradley on guitar.

The group gelled further the next day as 2 additional singers, Samantha Rodriguez and Hannah Aquino, both 12—hamstrung the first day by bashfulness and a lack of mics—joined Carly in a rousing rendition of Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog.”

“The mic should only do so much. A singer’s got to project,” Mr. Melanson advised the ensemble, which includes an additional bassist and guitarist not yet ready to plug into their amps.

“Has anyone not seen School of Rock?” Mr. Melanson continued, referencing the 2003 movie starring Jack Black. “What he talks about is attitude—sticking it to the man.”

With his rockabilly-style hairdo, Mr. Melanson projects more than a little attitude himself. Nonetheless, he knows what it feels like to be self-conscious, something he shared with Samantha and Hannah when they balked at channeling Presley.

“I was a shy person and I had to get over it,” he said. “Some people aren’t shy and they’re lucky. This is the place to get used to getting embarrassed, getting over it and going for it.”

Mr. Melanson seemed to be everywhere during the morning class. He went over a bass line with Kamron, reminding a less experienced girl how to form a C chord, enjoining James not to overpower the vocals with his guitar and demonstrating a drum fill for his pre-teen percussionist.

James and Carly, who is a double-threat with skills on guitar and vocals, are members of Syc Kids, a band they joined while attending El Roble. Currently on hiatus, the group has performed gigs like Friday Nights Live in the Claremont Village. They specialize in covers by contemporary bands like Maroon 5 and Green Day and classic acts like The Beatles and Stevie Wonder. Rock ‘n Roll Band Camp offers the Syc Kids a chance to take to the mic again and move to the next level.

For Kamron, an El Roble student who has been taking private bass lessons for 2 years, the camp is his first chance to jam with other musicians.

“It was pretty cool. I liked the whole unity of the band,” he said. “Everyone did their parts well.”

A newbie to the band scene, Masoud deemed his first day “neat” but challenging. As soon as he got home, which also included drumming class, he planned to station himself at his drum kit for a nice, long practice.

At the end of the session, the kids will give a live performance for parents and S.L.I.C.E. students whose schedules permit.

Mr. Melanson has taught a rock ‘n roll band camp in the private sector before, but this is his first time taking the course to the Claremont Unified School District. It’s a great way for would-be rockers to dabble in the music world, but there’s more involved.

“You’ve got different talent levels,” Mr. Melanson said. “One thing I emphasize is that we need to work together and help students who need help. It teaches the more advanced students leadership skills.”

A S.L.I.C.E. of summer

As any parent knows, summer days can seem like an eternity. Many families fight boredom and summer “brain drain” by enrolling their kids in as many of the 3 S.L.I.C.E. sessions as possible. During each 2-week session, kids can get in up to 3 or 4 classes per day.

Aimed at students in the first through twelfth grades, the program offers myriad classes cultivating curiosity, talent and confidence. There are music and sports and even driver’s education.  There are foreign languages, artistic pursuits such as stop motion animation and clay sculpture and academic courses like Geometry Boot Camp. There are also fun applied science classes like Exploring Electricity and Ultimate Fort Building.

Some families may have difficulty paying for S.LI.C.E. classes. Most cost from $95 to $150, but they can easily be more, especially for some of the high school classes. Luckily, the Claremont Educational Foundation is able to offer scholarships, a number that continues to grow with the help of a brand-new S.L.I.C.E. sponsor, Metro Honda, a Honda/Acura dealer serving communities throughout the east San Gabriel Valley.

With the pool up to $45,000, up to 150 new scholarships can be offered. Between word of mouth about the fun and rigor of the classes and increased financial aid, participation in the program has grown 25 percent this year alone. This summer, S.L.I.C.E. will have hosted 942 students, taking a total of 1,666 classes.

Another exciting development for organizers this year is participation by the Claremont Graduate University (CGU). Many classes have gone from a one to 10 teacher-student ratio, to a one to 3 ratio, with a master teacher from CUSD supported by 2 CGU student teachers.

With all of these attributes, Jeremy Troesh—a CHS counselor who serves as co-director of S.L.I.C.E. along with CUSD teacher on special assignment Brian D’Ambrosia-Donner—can be excused for raving about the program whenever he gets a chance.

“We get the unique opportunity to hand-pick our teachers here,” he said. “We’ve got the best teachers in the district. It’s a unique staff, with the best curriculum in their areas.”

—Sarah Torribio


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