School of Rock Is Inspiring Youth to Rock On Stage & In Life

Photographer: Brian Brosmer

Steve McFarland has always enjoyed music — especially Classic Rock. When McFarland was a kid he took music lessons, but his dreams of grandeur and being on the big stage were not exactly fostered by the lessons he took.

“I took the traditional way of music lessons, and it was boring,” he says. “It was not exciting at all.”

Even though he never became the next Jimi Hendrix, McFarland’s love for music never went away. About eight years ago, his daughter, a rock fan as well, brought up the idea of them doing something together musically. That is when McFarland did some research and stumbled upon School of Rock nationally. While there was one School of Rock location in Indiana at Ft. Wayne, McFarland quickly realized there was not one in his area in Hamilton County or the surrounding communities.

McFarland, a longtime Carmel resident, decided to take the leap or, better yet, rock out. Today, he is the owner of both School of Rock locations in Fishers and Carmel. The Carmel location opened seven years ago, while the Fishers location has now been around for more than three years.

“My wife accuses me of hitting a mid-life crisis, and instead of buying a sports car I bought a music school,” McFarland says laughing. “I absolutely love classic Rock & Roll. When I saw this, it was a dream.”

Those initial fears of starting something new were there at the beginning, but McFarland’s confidence in School of Rock, and what it could mean to kids in these communities, never wavered.

“There is always that initial fear of, ‘Will this work here?’ McFarland says. “One of our first kids that started with us was taking lessons through another music store and asked that owner about the School of Rock concept. The owner said, ‘I looked into that, but it will never make it around here.’ There is always that fear of starting a business, opening your doors and nobody showing up. But it took off pretty quickly. We literally have grown by total word-of-mouth. Our best advertising is our parents who come to the shows and shoot video of their kids playing on stage. People see those posted all over social media.”

Today, School of Rock in Fishers has around 150 kids that attend. In Carmel, more than 200 are rocking out each month.

The concept, McFarland says, takes the boring out of normal music lessons by flipping the script.

“I really wish this had been around when I was a kid because I would have loved it,” he says. “We do things differently. We teach the kids by inspiring them and getting them playing immediately by learning songs first. Then we work backward to teach them what chords and notes they were just playing.”

Today, the School of Rock house bands in Fishers and Carmel play all over Indianapolis including venues like Alley’s Alehouse at Pinheads in Fishers, Hard Rock Cafe, Old National and the Irving Theater, among others. The kids all range in age and skill level as they continue to learn and rehearse each week.

The impact the organization has made on the lives of local Hamilton County kids, and their parents, has already been far-reaching.

“Neither my daughter or I have any musical background, but we both love music, and we love the impact we are having on these kids’ lives,” McFarland says. “To have parents at our shows with tears running down their face because they see their kid who, before this might have been spending most of their time locked in their bedroom playing video games, and here they are up on stage as the lead singer or playing guitar in The Rolling Stones show. The parents just can’t believe it.

“There are kids at these big high schools that aren’t plugged into anything,” he adds. “It is just as important for parents who are trying to find that thing for their kids, too. At School of Rock, kids find their place to connect and feel good about what they are doing. They gain confidence by playing on stage. Once they’ve played on stage at Old National in front of hundreds of people, what is eighth-grade speech class? That’s no big deal anymore.”

The School of Rock kids will tell you much of the same.

“This is the best thing I’ve ever done,” says Easton, a 16-year old Bass player. “I’ve met my best friends here. The staff is super caring about the students, and they treat it like an actual band. School of Rock doesn’t just teach you how to get better, it inspires you to play by yourself, and music becomes a passion rather than a hobby.”

“All the people here are really nice and funny, and I love that this is a place for kids who want to make friends and find something they really like to do,” adds Ava, a 12-year old guitarist.

The School of Rock kids are performers and devoted to their craft. The kids rehearse and practice often, making sure to nail their solos and be ready for their performances each week.

The hard work shows. Anyone who has been to a house band show finds out quickly that the School of Rock students are quite talented.

“In the world of basketball, you have Nike scouting all of the AAU basketball tournaments looking for the next big star,” McFarland says. “We are the ‘AAU’ of music that has all the best kids performing. Now we have Atlantic Records and others wanting to sign some of these kids at a young age.

“Most kids are doing it for fun, obviously, but they all grow and develop. These kids know they have to show up and prepare, and they take it seriously. Who wants to practice because you have to practice? They practice because they are getting ready for a show. Getting up on stage, they love it.”

McFarland plans to keep on rocking. The School of Rock owner hopes to open more locations around Central Indiana in the future, with Zionsville perhaps being the next probable location in his sights.

Whether more locations are on the horizon or not, the goal, he says, will remain the same for School of Rock.

“Our mission statement is to inspire kids to rock on stage and in life,” McFarland says. “We start off all of our meetings always asking, ‘How are we inspiring the kids?’ Twenty years down the road, the music scene in Indianapolis will have changed. All of these kids, when they get older, are going to want to go to restaurants, bars and clubs where they can watch live music. We’ve got 200 kids every year learning to play classic Rock & Roll. If you do that for 20 years, that is a lot of consumers for live music. I think School of Rock can have a significant impact on Indianapolis and the music scene here.”

School of Rock Fishers is located at 11740 Olio Rd Suite 100. You can give them a call at 317-284-1148 or visit them online at locations.schoolofrock.com/fishers for more information.

School of Rock Carmel is located at 626 S Rangeline Rd. Visit them online at locations.schoolofrock.com/carmel or call them at 317-848-7625 for more information.

School Of Rock Upcoming Summer Camps

Rock 101 Camp

Want to play in a band on stage? The Rock 101 camp is designed for beginners 7-12 years of age. No experience necessary! Students will explore their instruments, musical games and activities. The nurturing environment makes this the perfect camp for budding musicians. Students will work on songs Monday through Friday and the camp will culminate in a concert at the end of the week for family and friends.

Fishers:

June 17 – June 21

9 am to 3 pm daily

PRICE: $500

 Carmel:

June 10 – June 14

9 am to 3 pm daily

PRICE: $500

 Carmel:

July 15 – July 19

9 am to 3 pm daily

PRICE: $500

Best of the 90s

Come celebrate bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Green Day, Weezer, and many more at the Best of the 90s summer camp. Students will spend Monday through Friday learning and practicing songs from the 90s, all culminating in a live performance. Great for students 7-18 years of age who have had some instruction. Designed for intermediate to advanced students.

Fishers:

June 3 – June 7

9 am to 3 pm daily

PRICE: $500

Carmel:

June 24 – June 28th

9 am to 3 pm daily

PRICE: $500

 

Songwriting Camp

Through this special 5-day songwriting camp, students will learn how to write their own songs! Students will analyze some of the greatest compositions of the last 60 years in order to develop their own tunes. They will learn about chord progressions, arrangements and other tricks of the trade. Great for students 7-18 years of age who have had previous instruction. Designed for intermediate to advanced students.

Fishers:

July 8 – July 12

9 am to 3 pm daily

PRICE: $500

 Carmel:

July 15 – July 19

9 am to 3 pm daily

PRICE: $500

Classic Rock Rewind

Campers will learn the music of the 60s and 70s rock icons such as The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and The Rolling Stones in this Classic Rock Rewind summer camp. In addition to songs, students will learn about rock history and the stagecraft needed to perform on a stage. At the end of the week, students will put on a live performance. Great for students 7-18 of age who have some previous instruction. Designed for intermediate to advanced students.

Fishers:

July 22 to July 26

9 am to 3 pm daily

PRICE: $500

Carmel:

July 29 – August 2

9 am to 3 pm daily

PRICE: $500

Rookies Camp

In this camp, 6 to 7-year-old beginners will learn about the difference rock instruments and begin their introduction to music theory and appreciation. This summer camp is designed for 6 to 7-year-old students who have little to no experience with music. This five-day camp runs Monday through Friday with a mini-performance at the end of the last day.

Fishers:

June 17 – June 21

9 am to 3 pm daily

PRICE: $250

 Carmel:

July 29 – August 2

9 am to 3 pm daily

PRICE: $250