Rock Of All Ages

Rock Of All Ages

Students from 6 to 86 find their inner tunesmiths at Rhapsody School of Music


By Madison Rutherford

Upon entering Rhapsody School of Music in Anthem, patrons will immediately notice the kaleidoscope of colorful electric guitars that grace the left wall. Hang a right to head down a narrow hallway lined with practice rooms where various brass, string, percussion and piano lessons take place. On a recent Wednesday night, the last room on the left reverberates with a rendition of “A-Punk” by pop-rock band Vampire Weekend.

The majority of the musicians behind these melodies are barely old enough to drive. They’re part of Rhapsody’s Rock Band Program, a 10-week session that places music students in real bands that rehearse together once a week.

High school senior Cleopatra Speed is the band’s frontwoman. Her dad, Justus, is behind the drum set.

“I don’t like being the center of attention,” she says, but as the group’s singer, she has to be. She also says learning how to sing into a microphone — as opposed to in her room or in the shower — took some getting used to. Weekly practices have helped her come into her own.

She’s slightly apprehensive as she approaches the microphone. Pete Rose, who runs the Rock Band Program, is in the center of the practice space. He gives Speed a quick tip to keep in mind if she forgets the lyrics that seems to put the whole room at ease. Justus smiles at her encouragingly as she begins to belt out the chorus to “A-Punk.”

Speed, who previously took guitar lessons at Rhapsody, says having her dad in the room makes her feel more relaxed. “Our first week, we could barely get through a couple measures of a song,” Justus says. Now they’re a full-blown band. And the bond is tangible.

The Rock Band Program’s current session will culminate with a concert showcase at Rosati’s Pizza on December 15 at 4 p.m., where each band will perform two or three songs. Members of each band are brought together based on skill level, age and music taste, but Rhapsody prides itself on welcoming all musicians, regardless of age or experience.   

“It never ceases to amaze me. I will get a group of kids and it’s, ‘We’re never going to get this. This is never going to sound like anything.’ Come time for the concert and it’s music,” says Rose, who is also a bass and guitar instructor at Rhapsody. “They might not even realize it. Learning music has so many other benefits besides just learning a musical instrument. Kids will learn stuff that they don’t even realize they’re learning.”

Rhapsody has also proven itself as the premier place for music gear, private lessons and instrument rentals in Anthem, but it’s more than just a music shop. It’s somewhat of a neighborhood institution.

“I think Rhapsody serves a great need in this community because there really isn’t anything nearby that has this,” Rose says. “I get parents who come in with their kids all the time and they’ll say, ‘Boy, I wish I’d stuck with it when I was younger. I wish I’d learned how to read music,’ so we’ll hand them a flier. I’ve got 6-year-olds and I’ve got 86-year-olds and everybody in between. It’s never too late to get the enjoyment of playing an instrument.”

Rose has been a professional musician for 43 years. He’s toured along the West Coast and worked in retail music since he was in high school. Rhapsody’s manager and brass instructor Mike Tuttle says having an industry veteran like Rose at the helm speaks volumes about the program’s caliber. “His leadership in what we’re doing here has been critical,” he says.

Tuttle was a high school band teacher for 13 years before becoming Rhapsody’s resident brass specialist. Both he and Rose play in the Rock Band Program’s Chicago-style jazz ensemble.

Rhapsody has changed locations twice and undergone five management changes in the last five years alone, but the Rock Band Program has been a permanent fixture since its inception nearly a decade ago. Dozens of students have bonded with their bandmates, boosted their confidence and become more comfortable with their instruments over the years, but their growth was limited to a standardized 10-week session. That will all change in 2019, Tuttle says.  

“This session is about revitalization; it’s about putting us back on the map. We’re going to expand the lateral foundation platform, so instead of it being a rock band program, it’s going to be a performance program,” he says.

This means implementing different sections and introducing new performance opportunities such as chamber ensembles and jazz combos. Students will learn about rehearsal strategies, stage presence, chord writing, improvisation and instrument techniques. “We want to start taking the steps of getting beyond the experiential level to the teaching level,” Tuttle says.  

“We want to take the Rock Band Program and make it more educational in that we’re not just putting bands together and learning the songs and playing them,” Rose adds. “We’re actually trying to teach — particularly the younger kids — how to work in a band, how to rehearse, how to listen to songs and tear them apart, learn the different sections and arrange them as such.”

The ultimate goal is to get students to start working on original compositions. Tuttle says next year’s session will include a tier system that will encourage growth and development within the program.

“We have our tier one rock bands… but we’re going to expand to tier two. There’s only going to be two or three of those bands available and you’re going to have to kind of audition to be in this group,” he explains. “So, now we’re going to have an elevated sense of accomplishment and interest level… and we can start teaching a little differently. It’s not just about having fun; we’re also going to have the opportunity to grow as musicians.”  

The progression within each band in the program is already palpable. Just ask Desiree McDonald, whose son Colin plays bass in one band and drums in another. “Two and a half years ago, Colin never knew a note of music,” she says. “You start from scratch and see where the kids go and they have the ability to bring that out in every kid, no matter what their experience level is.”

McDonald says she raised her son in a musical household, exposing him to everything from The Bangles to Metallica. “We’d be watching videos or TV and he would just start drumming along, so we kind of figured there was something there,” she recalls. Now, he is the only freshman drummer in the Ironwood High School jazz band. He and Desiree commute from Glendale every week so he can practice at Rhapsody.

“We’ve been in several music programs around the Valley. We do drive 30 minutes to be up here and we feel it’s worth it,” she says. “Anybody can come in and explore their musical talents. Both Mike and Pete are really accomplished and they have a lot to teach.”

According to Tuttle, about 70 to 75 percent of Rock Band Program participants are drawn from in-house. “Most kids that are taking lessons, the instructors say, ‘Hey, this is a great way for you to take what we’ve been doing and go apply it.’ Kids that used to take lessons and are looking for an outlet cycle back in and do the program,” Tuttle says.

One of those students is Gavilan Peak School eighth-grader Ian Walker. Though he’s only been playing trombone for three years, the 13-year-old keeps up with the seasoned musicians in Tuttle’s jazz band.  

“The age range is amazing and I think it’s really interesting how we can have a small group of musicians come together and play these songs,” Walker says.

Walker says music is in his blood — his mother is a flutist and his dad plays bagpipes. He says playing trombone came surprisingly easy to him.  

“I’ve seen so many kids that just start talented. You see it in athletics and engineering too… but there’s no one that’s born without any ability to be musical,” Tuttle says. “As a teacher, you have to find the right path, the right motivation and the right inspiration.”

Rose says he lives for the “light bulb moments.” But getting there isn’t always a smooth process. Though music might come easy to some, it requires equal parts practice and persistence.

“I tell them, ‘This isn’t a video game. You can’t get the cheat codes and get the high score in two weeks and move on to the next game,’” he says. “These days, people want to know; they don’t want to learn. I insist on teaching music, not just where to put your fingers on the instrument.”

In addition to helping students comprehend complex concepts like music theory, Tuttle says seeing kids come out of their shells is one of the most rewarding facets of the Rock Band Program.

“You see the group begin to coalesce a little bit… they’re starting to get comfortable with each other. That rehearsal room now has become more of a comfort zone for them,” Tuttle says. “You see that comfort level begin to set in as tunes are being completed. The singer sings out a little bit more because they’re comfortable. The bass and drums are playing together… There’s a vibrancy that comes out of that.”

Rose believes music programs are integral in developing discipline, creativity and critical thinking. “The benefits of learning a musical instrument are that kids are generally better at math, their thought processes, problem-solving abilities, drive and stick-to-itiveness are all improved markedly,” he says. “I think any music program is worthwhile, just on that basis.”

According to research published by the National Association for Music Education, children who take music lessons show different brain development and improved memory over the course of one year compared to children who receive no musical training. The College Entrance Examination Board also reports that high school students with a background in music statistically perform better on standardized tests.

Yet music programs are one of the first things to go when it comes time for schools to balance their budgets, especially in low-income areas.

“It’s the first thing the schools say we can’t afford,” Rose says. “We’d like to see (the Rock Band Program) integrated more with the public schools and have it kind of grow together hopefully.”

Rhapsody’s 10-week Rock Band Program only costs $125, less than half the cost of comparable camps and workshops in the Valley. Next year’s tiered system will cost between $125 and $250, with a $50 discount for students who are currently taking lessons or participated in the last session.

The importance of music programs, especially in small communities, is also not lost on Tuttle. He hopes the Rock Band Program will help bolster the music scene in Anthem and surrounding communities like Tramonto, Carefree and New River.

“There’s a ton of music down in Phoenix, but it doesn’t get up here and the people from here don’t get down there,” Tuttle says. “I really want to expand the understanding of what the culture of music really should be about. Rhapsody wants to become the hub of that.”

For 16-year-old French exchange student Josquim Martin, that music culture and community is especially comforting. Martin, who has been playing piano for nine years, has been in Arizona since August and has found somewhat of a haven at Rhapsody. He feels comfortable behind the keyboard in Tuttle’s jazz band. “I feel at home here,” Martin says.

Rhapsody’s Rock Band Program also aims to recreate the collaborative nature of classic rock bands, which Rose says has become almost obsolete.

“It’s an American Idol world… It used to be, guys would get together in a room and they’d write songs. They don’t do that these days,” Rose says. “It’s all pre-packaged… you download something on a computer that you rap over and you think you’re a producer and a singer.”

Although the landscape of music has evolved over time, music itself is timeless. “Unlike sports where you peak or you get hurt, you can be 80 years old and you can play music, anywhere, anytime,” Desiree McDonald says. “That’s the beauty in it.”   

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