Sunday, July 18, 2010

My Week At New York Rock Camp...

This past week I took a break from the endless client phone calls, the meetings, and the life as an account manager to return back to my roots. For the majority of my life I have been infused with music. From a young age, I was playing the piano and composing songs on my first Mac. In college, I started a local music magazine which lead to my first foray into my professional life working at a radio station and then a music website.

It was such a big part of who I was for so long that the "goodbye" I experience two years ago was almost a little too easy (I had since left the music industry and all the good and bad that came along with it). I toyed with what I could do to get back into why I first fell in love with music, but going to local shows and all the mingling that came along with it wasn't doing the trick. A couple of months ago I saw a twitter friend post something about New York Rock Camp, a Brooklyn-based music camp for kids where they learn "rock" instruments (guitar, drums, bass, keyboards, vocals) and eventually form a band to perform at the end of the week. I thought I'd give a shot and applied to be a volunteer. Lo and behold, I was accepted to be an assistant teacher for both Keyboards and DIY Arts & Crafts. And oh yes, I was going to be a band manager as well.

My timeoff request had been approved by work, and I was ready. Actually, I was terrified. It had been a while since I was embarking on something totally new. I consider myself a rather methodical person, so agreeing to do something where I had no idea what to expect and knew no one was definitely outside of my comfort zone. Sunday night as I was trying to fall asleep, I thought it must be a good thing -- everyone should do something different and here was a chance to not only do something different for myself, but hopefully help out some kids in the process.

I'm not sure if I'd call this week fun -- it was utterly exhausting, but wholeheartedly rewarding. It restored my love in music, at its root form through the eyes of the most genuine and crazy kids. I watched an 8 year old girl who never touched a piano in life life learn how to play the 12-step blues, Coldplay's "Clocks" and perform Katy Perry's "California Gurlz" in one week. These kids weren't pretentious, they were willing to work hard and showcase their work and be part of a team. I've never been in a band before, but I can see the appeal -- it's definitely not easy, but a hell of a lot of fun when you get it right.

The major appeal of New York Rock Camp for the kids is that on day 1 you form you band, and then on the Saturday you perform for your friends and family. Once the kids form their bands, they find a manager and start the ball rolling -- band name, pick a song, pick your parts, write the song, and go! It's a lot to do in one week.

Since it was my first time at Rock Camp, I didn't know any of the kids and the kids didn't know me. No problem. Once the kids scrambled around and found their bands there was a group of five left in the middle. With one swoop I declared them a band and offered my services as band manager. Luckily I asked to be paired with another band manager who actually had musical experience, and just like that -- the band was formed. We accomplished a lot on the first day: a name: The Rock'n Pop'ns and parts: two drummers (!), one guitarist, and two singers. We spent most of the first day deciding between an original song or a cover. At the end, we all agreed upon Coldplay's "Viva La Vida."

To say our band had a rough time would be an understatement. We had ups and downs, from our singers unhappy with their parts to the drummers unable to match the beats. By Friday we had our parts ready (we moved one drummer to the keys), and were able to run through the whole song (complete with solos!) and it actually sounded pretty good. The band was pumped, and so was I, for our performance Saturday night.

Of course, our lead singer didn't show for Saturday's performance.

I could go in a long tirade of why this was such a bummer personally, but that isn't the point of this post. I did my best to keep the band's spirits up but there were noticeably worried. I worked with our other singer to learn the additional parts, and he seemed confident with it. I gave them all high-fives backstage wished them luck and then they were on their own. I crossed my fingers and got my camera ready to document their first gig.

The Rock'n Pop'ns learned a valuable lesson that night -- not every gig is perfect. It was a bit of a meltdown on stage -- our singer forgot his words, they didn't finish the song and the keyboard and guitar were never in sync. There were some high emotions afterwards and they weren't the bright shining faces I had hoped would come offstage. I hope that in time they realize that they gave it their best shot, and that's all we could ask.

Watching the other bands perform well made me feel like I let my kids down. If only we had practiced more, or picked an easier song, maybe we would have done better. But it wasn't a competition and the lesson this week was to learn and appreciate music. I can't speak for the kids, but I know I had a great experience. I felt like I was able to step out of my comfort zone and volunteer my time for a really great cause. Music was everything to me as a kid -- I was able to relate math, science, writing all back to my piano and flute lessons. I got to hear stories of Zombies and Piefaces (I won't share this because one day it will be an awesome comic book) and make macaroni necklaces. And I got to tell my guitar player at the end of the performance that his solo was awesome, and the rest doesn't matter -- rock 'n roll is messy, and we did our best.

I encourage everyone to check out New York Rock Camp and either volunteer their time or instruments to this awesome camp. Even if you can't volunteer or donate, spread the word! These kids were given a great opportunity to rock out for a week, and I was so happy to be part of it. For more information check out:

The Rock'n Pop'ns perform "Viva La Vida" (July 17, 2010)

The Rock'n Pop'ns backstage:

During practice:

DIY Arts & Crafts:

Keyboard Lessons:

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