School of Rock students will take to the Coca Cola Stage during Stampede

School of Rock trains everyone from first-timers to emerging rock stars. The young people who study there say the experience changed them.
Calgary's School of Rock brings aspiring young rock stars together under the banner of rock and roll, to bond and play music together. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Mack Shaw wants to grow up to be a shred goddess — and thanks to the School of Rock, that may not be an impossible dream.

Shaw is one of the students at the School of Rock's Calgary South location. The school offers musical education for everyone from beginners to budding legends, from the age of five to adults looking to fulfil a life's dream of playing in a band.

What separates School of Rock from other music programs is that it teaches songs first, says co-owner Paul Toth.

"We teach songs for people to learn how to play music," Toth said, in an interview with CBC's Monty Kruger.

"They learn theory from that."

The difference, at School of Rock, is that things go very quickly from theory to practice, when bands find a room to perform in front of an audience — an experience that's often as unforgettable for audience members like parents and friends as it is for the musicians themselves, Toth said.

"When they actually get in front of people, the energy that the crowd delivers to them as they're playing really opens them up and they become this incredible thing to watch.

"And for the parents watching, it's almost like, I can't believe little Johnny can play," he said.

Mack Shaw is one of the students at the School of Rock's Calgary South location (Monty Kruger)


For young students such as Rylan Todd-Shoemaker, the School of Rock changed everything — even if his introduction to it was a bit haphazard.

"I was rarely singing and it wasn't until I started hanging out with one of the guitarists here and found out she had a real passion for guitar," said Todd-Shoemaker. 

"That's when I started to get pushed into joining the School of Rock. Once I did, I knew I'd made a very good decision in my life," he said.

"It's a great way to get into the musical life. It opens so many doors for you."

School of Rock's Calgary South Band, aka H for Hasselhof, will perform at the Coca Cola Stage at the 2019 Calgary Stampede (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Performance program

In the Performance Program, which includes kids between eight and 18 years old, young rockers form bands, and friendships, Toth said.

"Because they're playing together —  that peer pressure of being in a group — you don't want to let down buddy and buddy doesn't want to let you down," Toth said.

"So you kind of  motivate each other to become better players, and by that process, that's really the secret of the School of Rock."

Toth can't guarantee anyone they will transform into a mega-star by attending the School of Rock, but everyone who enrolls in the performance program does get the chance to play before an audience, he added.

That can mean performing at the corner bar, or — as it does for the School of Rock Calgary South House Band, a.k.a. H for Hasselhof —  performing on the Coca-Cola Stage at the Calgary Stampede.

That's where H for Hasselhoff, including lead guitarist Mack Shaw, will get the opportunity to perform in front of a few thousand people, on the same stage that artists such as Feist will also perform on.

And for Shaw, it's as much about the journey as it is the encore at this stage of the game.

"[I'm a] guitar player, trying to get better. I don't really have a place in the rock world at the moment," she said. "Working on it."

So what's the final goal then?

"I have no idea! Rock star," she said.

"Shred goddess. That's the goal."

And thanks to the School of Rock, Shaw and her bandmates — and buddies — will get the chance to play rock stars when they take the Coca Cola Stage during Stampede — and Shaw, for one, can't wait.

"That's the best the world," she said. "When you have a band that's not only close with their instruments, but also close with everyone else in the band

 "It's the most amazing feeling — when you feel like that rock star you always wanted to be."

With files from Monty Kruger/CBC


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