‘Rock Star University’ in Park Ridge offers youngsters advanced degree in awesomeness
Updated: September 3, 2012 6:10AM
PARK RIDGE — The budding musicians in Jared Skiba’s Rock Star University had to perfect their performance of Green Day’s “21 Guns,” learn the chords and choruses of two other rock songs and come up with their own original piece in a mere five days.
But, most importantly, they needed a name.
“Bucket List!” called out guitarist David Cather, 13, as the band took a break during a July 25 practice session at First United Methodist Church in Park Ridge.
“Bucket list,” someone explained to the other members of the group, is a list of things you most want to do before you die.
“But ... none of us are going to die anytime soon,” replied drummer Dan Mallerdino, 14.
On a chalkboard at the other side of the room, suggestions of band names were scrawled and voted on. They included Bucket List, Spoons, Distraction, Totes and Toast Masters.
“No, not Toast Masters. That was last year’s band name,” Skiba pointed out.
Ultimately, with four votes received, Distraction was selected as the band’s name.
“Actually, that’s pretty apt,” Skiba remarked dryly.
Rock Star University is a summer rock ’n’ roll camp offered for a one-week period by Allegro Music of Park Ridge. It is open to musicians in seventh through 10th grade and this year took place from July 23 to July 27, concluding with a concert for family and friends.
“It’s basically learning how to be in a band,” explained Skiba, who works hands-on with his students, teaching them song structure, how to play established rock songs, how to write a song around a guitar riff and what to listen for in their performances.
They also learn the finer points of setting up on stage and how to use their instruments as a group.
As the owner of Allegro Music, Skiba got the idea for Rock Star University about five years ago through the National Association of Musical Merchants.
“Several stores have done it successfully as a summer program and found it to be a very beneficial thing,” he said. “We’re doing it and we’ve found it to be a very positive program for us, as well.”
The youths who dedicate six hours of their day to Rock Star U appear to feel the same way.
“It’s a lot of fun and it gives me a chance to play with other people,” said Mallerdino, who is in his third year of the camp.
“I joined this to get better as a guitar player. It’s helped me out for the past two years,” added Cather, of Park Ridge.
For vocalist and bass player Marie Francque, 13, of Park Ridge, Rock Star U is an opportunity “to play like a real band.” It can also lead to members forming their own bands outside the group, like Cather and Spencer Marks, 12, who performed in Lincoln Middle School’s variety show last year.
“I sign up for this camp so I can improve my instrumental skills,” Marks, who plays bass guitar, explained. “Plus, I have a lot of friends in the camp.”
Also making up the group of eight are Nathan Lin, 15, of Chicago and Jack Kuchera, 15, of Rosemont, on guitar and Hannah Warlick, 13, of Park Ridge, on electric viola.
Warlick described her instrument as “different from a regular viola because there’s a rock feel to it.” She also expressed enthusiasm about possibly learning Coldplay’s recent hit, “Paradise,” once the band received the chords for it. Her fellow musicians encouraged her to perform vocals on the song.
“You have to hear her sing ‘Paradise,’ ” Cather told Skiba. “She’s got skills.”
Skiba, who provides the students with suggestions for improvements and will even take up, say, the drums to demonstrate what he is looking for, calls Rock Star University “one of my favorite things to do in the year.” He is even looking at the possibility of offering the camp during the school year, as well.
“My personal experience is that when you play with other people, you learn your instrument faster. You progress better than just sitting by yourself,” Skiba said.
Another lesson for students of Rock U to take to the stage.