Aug. 14, 2009
Let’s Rock Sarasota is starting to roll. The rock school for kids that kicked off last September held the finale concert of its inaugural summer season on Sun., Aug. 9. The band, calling themselves Uneven Lanes, ranged in age from 14 to 18, and blew the roof off the school’s new location at 1646 10th Way. Founder Julio Madrid beamed with excitement, as did the parents who came to watch. With a four-song set of classics including a spot-on rendition of The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” the band didn’t disappoint.
Drummer Alex Shames, a recent Out of Door Academy graduate, was the instructor for the school’s first band. Along with Madrid, he helped to create the concept behind the program’s success. “I was looking for a summer job and my sister saw Let’s Rock Sarasota in Creative Loafing,” says Shames. “It sounded like just what I was looking for, so I called and met with Julio. He didn’t have much going on but he had a good idea, so we got the ball rolling.”
Shames had participated in a rock school at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center’s Patel Conservatory, and wanted to model Madrid’s school after that program. “I was always surprised there wasn’t something like this in Sarasota because it’s supposed to be one of the more cultural rich places in Florida,” says Shames. “The thing that seemed to be lacking was something for the kids so they can learn to play in a band, start booking shows and playing gigs — open their minds to the whole world of music.”
Shames realized music was his calling after he attended the Berklee College of Music’s Summer Percussion Festival in Boston. “I got a real accurate sense of what a music college might look like,” he says. “When I came home I said, ‘This is what I want to do.’” His passion has paid off, between a Bright Futures scholarship, another academic scholarship and a college of music scholarship, he has earned a full ride to Florida State studying percussion, which starts next week.
Although Shames only had one summer working with Let’s Rock Sarasota, he has shaped the formula that Madrid will expand upon. “I’m just glad I found someone who had the resources and the tenacity to say, ‘Let’s do it,’” says Shames. “It’s reinforced the fact that I want to be involved with music. Working at Let’s Rock has given me a chance to try teaching. I’ve thought about [going into] teaching because I’ve had such a good time.”
Let’s Rock is designed to progress kids from beginner to band member in a matter of weeks. They start with individual lessons and are soon paired up with other kids of similar tastes and skill levels to form a band. Band instructors, like Shames, who know how to play all the instruments, teach parts to the other members and help them develop their chops. Then a blowout performance caps off each seasonal session.
“We want to help the students to focus better,” says Madrid. “They don’t have to go to any garage. They can find the right musicians at the right level with the right skills without wasting time. And it takes away the danger of getting involved with alcohol or drugs or all the things that can get in the way of the music. Parents can come and see how they’re progressing. And they know that when they’re doing something that’s fun, they advance faster. It’s a good experience for everybody: for teachers, for students, for parents and for me.”