Tell us about the size of the team that operates Music Rocks. What are their roles and how do their experiences contribute to making the school what it is?
There are 13 staff at Music Rocks – 9 are full time positions as Ensemble Directors, 2 are part time and we have Michael Hilliard who is the Operations Manager, looking after our staff and everything logistical here in W.A. Dean Blanchard is the CEO and founder of Music Rocks. We don’t normally call Music Rocks a ‘school’ as its a little bit different. People of all abilities making instrument and song choices for themselves and it really is our Ensemble Directors who are the pulse of what we are doing – it is them that eyeballs everyone even with no experience participating in music. And yes, its the opposite to traditional lessons where you buy an instrument, go to lessons and one day your in a band – you can be 6 years old and your in a band and playing the songs you most like – we do a lot of Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish and Imagine Dragons! The trust and connection is with these ensemble mentors who allow our kids and adults to gain confidence quickly and see them do things not possible out of a musical context. All our Music Rocks teachers are WAAPA trained and its that world-class knowledge that allows the music of any kind or choice to come easily and overwhelmingly concentrate and development strong relationships and trust with everyone they see. Music Rocks has a mobile transit system where $60,000 worth of gear sets up easily and we get the music out to schools and anywhere really. Our Ensemble Directors teach in that environment and also at MRA HQ in Morley.
How many students come through the school each year?
We see more than three thousand musicians each week here in Perth. Making Music Rocks the biggest music opportunity in Australia. One of missions was to increase music participation for young people and our retention rates are high by design, so its almost the same three thousand each year! With changing schools and plans we would say we see more than 4,000 people each year.
Although we sense that it may be very personal, we’d like to know a little bit about what the background to starting the school is – how did it all begin and what inspired you to open such a school?
Dean Blanchard founded Music Rocks Australia in 2006. At the time he was one of two people in W.A. who were writing and implementing the first Contemporary Music Programs in W.A. for public schools employed by the Department of Education and Training and the School of Instrumental Music (now IMSS). It was evident to Dean that the power of music wasn’t in the academia or the books that he’d written but seeing young people of all abilities, especially those at risk or with disability perform and play music collectively. To move away from traditional teaching methods by giving musicians choice on the songs they will rehearse, a choice on exactly what instruments they would like to play and a chance to perform regularly in front of family , friends especially grandparents at real music venues (such as great ones like the Rosemount) is powerful musically, socially and personally for many people. In 2006, Dean offered Music Rocks to the first Education Support Centre for children with disability and learning difficulties. It was a triumph using numbers and visual cues for kids who struggle at almost everything to nail ‘Working Class Man’ by Jimmy Barnes, without a dry eye in the venue at the end of the term – wow, how do we do this again was the schedule from there on. As we met more and more people and achieved goals for those who need help in our communities we became more and more inspired. To achieve outcomes where outcomes are difficult over and over has been the inspiration from the start until now – witnessing our musicians leaving their difficulties behind them, coming off stage ten foot tall, crowd ringing in their ears, having starred in front of family and friends, taking all that confidence into everything they do. Wow! Many times this is creating professional musicians and WAAPA entry here over and over. It is a passion and for all of us at Music Rocks our whole life! (apart from the careers in the music industry as performers that all of our directors enjoy too! – it does make a difference when my child’s teacher really is someone in the music industry too!)
What are the most popular genres of music for bands to play at the school?
Because our kids choose the songs they most love themselves to rehearse and perform, Pop music is #1. Taylor Swift, Billie, Imagine Dragons, Maroon 5 and now ‘Dance Monkey’ and ‘Old Town Road’ as favourite songs needing to be split up into sessions so we don’t hear 12 copies in the same session. These songs are interspersed with Rock classics from AC DC, Michael Jackson, Van Halen, Lenny Kravitz, ABBA and even we had a rendition of ‘Just Call Me Angel in the Morning” by Deuce Newton performed not long ago… These are the songs that our parents are passing on to the new generation. You’d also be surprised at how kids learn their instrument once we start on the individual lessons after they are so keen to learn more for band, it really is by choice for kids AC DC, Metallica, Guns and Roses etc. The same songs we learned to play at their age!
What motivates you/keeps you energized to do the work you do?
Even on days that are long – we do work sometimes from early morning to late at night 7 days each week, it is our musicians that provide us the energy. We can be tired or have other things on our minds, but then they walk through the door and everything else seems to disappear. The connections we have with people who have to overcome so much in their everyday is even stronger than usually possible. To see how important we are in the lives of so many is inspiration in itself. To be a part of the goals for so many people’s NDIS disability plans further emphasises that its not just about music, but for so many, self-regulation of behaviour and emotion, working with other people and having effective communication and so many other things where we see them overcome issues. In Perth we are SCSA endorsed which means from Year 10 and up, musicians are getting a unit of high school completed per year to help with graduating, something that Music Rocks the Rosemount will be documented as performance achievement for their courses. Importantly, Music Rocks Australia will be heading to Melbourne as the first interstate part of our programs in 2021, giving Schools, Organizations of all types, Education Support Centres and even some youth justice programs. The timing has had to be edited given our COVID circumstances but this is very exciting indeed and we are looking forward to talking with more people in Victoria about who would best benefit from Music Rocks.