Settlement Music School is not just for kids anymore. The nation’s largest community arts school system, now well into its second century, has long been renowned for children’s music lessons (both of the Burwasser kids are alums), especially its celebrated multidisciplinary early-education program, Kaleidoscope. And yes, there have long been adult chamber-music groups. But this year, Settlement has made a major thrust outside of what might be called its comfort zone.
You’re 60 years old and always wanted to take a spin at the guitar solo in “Stairway to Heaven”? Come to Settlement and find your inner Jimmy Page. Adult Rock Band is the oxymoronic-sounding class now being offered at the school, led by guitar vet Nero Catalano. The key here is to have fun without the pressure of practicing hours for lessons (although you can be sure the teachers would welcome as much practicing as you can manage). “This is a place for any adult who wants to play for the first time,” says Settlement executive director Helen Eaton.
The new programs have been up and running since earlier this year, but the first annual citywide Make Music Philly event (the local version of National Day of Music), on June 21, marked a kind of affirmation of the concept. “People just showed up with all kinds of instruments,” recalls Eaton, “and we put them together into ensembles. There were classical groups, but also rock, jazz and folk.” One of the more amazing aspects of the day was the diversity of age within the groups; most were multigenerational, with typical age spans of 30 years.
Eaton emphasizes that although the children’s music programs will continue to stress high levels of musicianship (yes, kids, you still are expected to practice), the adult programs are designed to be low-pressure, and even a way to blow off some steam, such as the world-percussion classes for “absolute beginners.” But be forewarned: Those big taiko drums are not as easy to play as you might think. After whacking away for a few minutes with both arms, you will appreciate how much upper-body strength it takes to be a decent rock ’n’ roll drummer.
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