Back in 1998, a 25-year-old Penn philosophy student named Paul Green started a music school to teach kids how to be rock stars, or at least to play rock music. Nearly two decades later, Green is long gone, having sold his school to the company behind Sylvan Learning Centers, and the School of Rock has flourished, with more than 130 franchises, 10,000-plus currently enrolled and a new headquarters outside Chicago. “But the spiritual epicenter is still in Philadelphia,” insists Yanni Papadopoulos, the recently installed music director for the flagship, now located at 7th and Callowhill.
Papadopoulos, the guitarist in veteran West Philly rock group Stinking Lizaveta, has been with the School of Rock off and on in one capacity or another since its loud, profane and raucous beginnings, which were captured in the documentary Rock School and which many believe inspired the Jack Black movie School of Rock. You didn’t enroll your kids at the old school — where students could start as young as age six — unless you were comfortable with Green screaming and dropping the F-bomb at them.
These days, things are a bit calmer thanks both to Papadopoulos’s very Zen approach and to, you know, a thing called company policy. “There are some corporate policies that we pick and choose from,” he admits, trying his best to still sound very rock-and-roll. “But there are most definitely corporate consequences.”
Some of the Philadelphia school’s biggest successes include Gina Gleason, currently featured in the Michael Jackson ONE show in Las Vegas, and brother and sister Eric and Julie Slick, who perform with Dr. Dog and Adrian Belew, respectively. “School of Rock is where I learned to perform and turn all the anxiety of being a kid into positive energy for the stage,” says Gleason.
Students pay $295 each month for a weekly private lesson and a group rehearsal; “recitals” are at places like the Hard Rock Cafe and the Trocadero. (Catch a performance at the Hard Rock Cafe on August 22nd.) Most recently, the kids have been learning the music of Blondie, David Bowie and Judas Priest. “It’s a bit of a balancing act,” explains Papadopoulos. “It’s between what the kids want to learn and what their parents want to hear. Otherwise, I’d probably just be teaching them Slayer.”
Originally published as “For Those About to Rock” in the August 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.