Academy provides grooming for rock's next generation

Instructors teach teens music basics

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Shortly before summoning the kids inside to start day three of the summer session, Joey Granati hailed a man and his doe-eyed daughter, who carried a bass guitar, as they crossed the yard from the street.

"You made it!" he called, smiling effusively at Dave and Kerry McCollum, who wore ripped jeans and multi-colored blond hair. She smiled and ducked her head. "And you look like a rocker," he said, lifting the jazz bass out of her arms and caressing the neck. "Oooo," he said. "You've got a good bass."

Kerry, 18, of Scott was the new kid at the Maplewood Studios in Ambridge that day last week, joining 19 musicians, most of them teens. For two weeks in summer and 12 Sundays each winter, Mr. Granati, his brother David and Cathy Stewart organize and train youth to play in rock bands at the For Those About to Rock Academy. The three founded it in 2006.

Kids learn about music and life at Rock Academy

At the Granati Brothers' For Those About to Rock Academy in Ambridge, kids learn a little about rock and roll and a little about life. (Video by Kelly Tunney;08/11/2013)

"It's named for an AC/DC song," Joey said. "I thought it was a perfect name for kids starting out."

The Granati brothers were steeped in music as children in Beaver Falls and have played in bands since. In the 1970s, with two other brothers and a cousin, they formed G-Force. The band opened arena shows for the likes of Van Halen, Def Leppard, J. Geils, Bruce Springsteen, Sammy Haggar, Heart and Southside Johnny. They still play gigs as the Granati Brothers regionally and Joey, a nationally known dueling pianist, plays regularly at Sing Sing at the Waterfront.

David said he splits his time evenly among performing, teaching and in the recording studio. Ms. Stewart, a music educator, song writer and rocker, plays and sings in the local band ReCover.

They all give private lessons on a variety of instruments.

The brothers have classic rocker hair styles, burnished voices and a been-there coolness the campers admire, but what makes teens follow them anywhere is their sense of fun and captivating kindness.

Wende Dikec of Beaver said her 12-year-old son Dan "wouldn't sing in front of anyone before he came to Joey. Now he sings in front of thousands of people. I think the kids feel safe here and free to try different things."

As the students straggled into the studio that morning and took their places, Kerry sat off to the side with her bass, deciding to observe at first. Immediately, Cheyenne Raithel, 16, of Moon, his foot on the pedal, thumped the bass drum like an urgent heartbeat. Three guitarists launched riffs of different songs.

The song list on a white board included "Smoke on the Water," "Wipeout," "Roadhouse Blues," "Heartbreaker," "Walk This Way," "Won't Get Fooled Again," "Under Pressure" and "Sweet Home Aliquippa."

The academy's sessions give students the opportunity to play in an ensemble and smaller bands and to write their own songs. The course includes 12 live concerts.

One day in late July, in Market Square Downtown, they quickly drew a crowd. Here was a gaggle of mostly kids, two and three deep on bass and guitar playing strongly stitched versions of songs that were hits before they were born.

Three men in suits crossing the plaza stopped abruptly as 10-year-old Eliana Schrier of Clinton, so small she stood practically in her guitar's shadow, jumped into rock star posture and revved out a solo on "Rockin' in the USA." The men looked at each other with raised eyebrows. One began playing air guitar.

In June, the ensemble played the Dean Martin Festival in Steubenville, Ohio, and in September they will play at ZanaFest, named for the late Beaver County music teacher Richard Zana, at Harmony Ridge in Ambridge. Both events raise money to support music education. The group also performed for the Pittsburgh Marathon in the spring.

That's the kind of exposure Mr. McCollum, a music instructor at West Virginia University, wants for Kerry.

"She plays with friends at home but they don't record so they don't listen to themselves," he said. "She's good. I want to get her involved in a band. It looks like the kids here really have a connection" with the Granatis and Ms. Stewart.

As the ensemble worked through song sequences, the instructors called out chord changes, held up fingers to signify repetitions and mouthed words. Some students know the music even though it's of their parents' or grandparents' vintage.

Nicole Smiley of Midland ably tackled Grace Slick's vocals on Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" though she had not known the song or singer before, she said. Joey beamed at the 15-year-old when she finished.

"These kids just learned this," he told visitors in the studio. "Ryan, you can learn anything on the fly," he said to guitarist Ryan Hartman of Beaver. "He can learn something backstage for five minutes and come out and play it."

The 16-year-old, who has played in bands for several years, enrolled in the academy 3 1/2 years ago after seeing the Granati Brothers in concert, he said. "David did a somersault and landed right in front of me. I was blown away."

Eliana took guitar lessons from Ms. Stewart before joining the academy. "We ask them each to play something at the beginning, and Elly was so adorable," Ms. Stewart said. "She took this rock and roll stance" -- feet far apart, knees bent -- and started in on 'Crazy Train,' " an Ozzy Osbourne song.

Dennis Whalen, 35, of Evans City is one of two adults in the academy. He has enrolled for four years. "I played guitar in high school but sort of let it slide," he said. "A friend of mine took lessons from David and wanted to be in the rock academy and asked me to come along. I got hooked."

At first, it felt weird to be so much older, he said, "but a lot of these kids are so much more advanced than I am, I'm just trying to play catch-up."

After lunch at the Maple Restaurant, the group walked back for the afternoon session.

"Want to strap on your bass?" David asked Kerry. She looked momentarily panicked then drew a breath and joined a him and three others. He sat across from his new student and led her through the opening bars of "Frankenstein," the Edgar Winter classic from 1973.

She repeated them flawlessly. They worked through the next segments before the others joined in.

After a few stumbles, she began holding down the floor on the song.

David raised his eyebrows at her and said, "Can you possibly learn any quicker?"

Her father smiled from a chair in the corner.

"Wow," David said. "I am going to have fun working with you."

neigh_west - music

Diana Nelson Jones: or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at First Published August 12, 2013 4:00 AM


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