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Students are rock stars on the Sunset Strip

By Aaron Blevins, 1/24/2013

Annual music event showcases children’s talents


For the second consecutive year, youngsters will be invading the area’s best music venues to showcase their musical talents during Winter Rock Fest 2013, a series of performances facilitated by RockSTAR Music Education.

Melrose Avenue Elementary School student Raymond Ibarra sings as Julia Semendyayeua plays bass during rehearsal on Tuesday. (photo by Aaron Blevins)

Students in the afterschool program from all over Los Angeles will be performing at the Whisky A Go-Go, The Roxy and The Key Club on Jan. 26. West Hollywood, Gardner Street and Melrose Avenue elementary schools will be represented.

“It should be pretty good,” RockSTAR director Jordan Vernik said. “It’s a great family event.”

At Melrose Avenue Elementary School, The Angry Nerds — comprised of drummer Zach Harris, 9, guitarist Sam Eisner, 8, bassist Julia Semendyayeua, 10, singer Raymond Ibarra, 9, and keyboardist Elliott Day, 9 — will perform the Queen and David Bowie song, “Under Pressure”.

The band is scheduled to perform at 12:50 p.m. on Saturday at The Key Club. Another Melrose Avenue band, The Black Eyed Freaks, is slated to perform the “Ghostbusters” theme song at 12:40 p.m.

On Tuesday, The Angry Nerds held their last rehearsal before hosting an in-house performance for friends and family at the school. Grace Ibarra, Raymond’s mother, said the performances are “wonderful” and are of benefit to the students.

“They pay more attention in school,” she said. “The music’s opened his mind.”

Zach, the drummer, certainly enjoys the program.

“I’ve only been in RockSTAR twice and I’ve already learned two different songs,” he said. “It’s fun because … I don’t really know.”

He is being taught by teacher Paula Stefanini, a Musicians Institute graduate who has worked for the program for four years. She has guided the Melrose Avenue program for the last three years, and last year, one group of her students performed Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”. Although the bands do experience some turnover, those who have stayed in the program have “definitely” gotten better, Stefanini said.

“I think it’s really beneficial,” Stefanini said of the program. “They can discover something that they love. If not, it’s always good to learn something.”

The program runs in 16-week sessions, culminating in the winter rock fest and a battle of the bands on June 1 and 2. Vernik, the RockSTAR director, said it’s quite a spectacle to see such young students rocking out in front of thousands of people.

“It’s inspiring to even the adults in the crowd,” he said. “They’re basically empowered beyond their years.”

The program has been in existence for eight years, though the winter fest is only in its second year. Vernik said the program continues to expand, and now has approximately 1,200 students. It provides services in Nashville, Sacramento, San Diego, Los Angeles and New York, and has support from several musicians, such as Carlos Santana, Gene Simmons and The Black Keys.

“It seems like every year our growth rate is much faster. It just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” Vernik added.

The program was created in response to schools cutting music education from the curriculum due to budget cuts. Vernik said music education has a positive impact on learning as a whole.

“They’re incredible,” he said of the programs. “It raises test scores, confidence.”

And, as Stefanini said, RockSTAR introduces students to a hobby that could lead to a greater passion later in life, or a professional career.

“A lot of students find that they actually have a talent, and they become passionate about it,” Vernik said. “It can change their entire life. They kind of have an array of instruments they’ve learned by their adult years. …Everyone’s blown away by what the students can create.”

Furthermore, the program teaches children about genres of music beyond pop culture. Vernik said students can learn about old rock and roll bands and old styles of music “instead of just Justin Bieber.”

Gardner Street Elementary School’s bands will also perform at The Key Club, as will the bands from West Hollywood Elementary School. West Hollywood students will perform at 11:20, 11:35 and 11:45 a.m. Gardner Street students will perform at 11:40 and 11:50 a.m.

Attempts to get additional information about the bands from those schools were unsuccessful by deadline.

Winter Rock Fest 2013 will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. Approximately 140 bands will perform, and rock and roll memorabilia will be auctioned. Tickets are $12 for each club.

For information, call (323)848-6400, or visit www.rockstarmusiceducation.org.



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One Response to “Students are rock stars on the Sunset Strip”

  1. Armando says:

    Music is the best way to boost your kids self Steem and IQ
    Good job Melrose.

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