In the 2003 film School of Rock, Jack Black plays a struggling musician who masquerades as a teacher at a prestigious prep school, where he tries to get a group of musically talented fifth-graders into a group that can compete at an upcoming Battle of the Bands. The Port Washington-based Bach To Rock (B2R) music school takes this concept to another level by teaching aspiring musicians to have fun while sharpening their instrument-learning chops. Owned by Glenn Fleischman and Alan Goodstadt as of six-and-a-half years ago, B2R currently has about 500 students who take classes for all ages, levels and instruments. There are even adaptive lessons for individuals with special needs and a program run by an on-staff therapist. For Elana Hayden, the school’s director, students having a good time while learning their craft is at the crux of B2R’s mission statement.
“One of the main goals [for us] is for the kids to have fun. For me, it’s very different from what it used to be. There was a time where you used to study lessons in a traditional manner and it wasn’t always fun. Kids would get turned off. For all of us here, music is a passion and we have a deep joy to have music in our lives and to be performers and musicians,” she explained. “A huge goal for me is to make sure the kids are having fun. I want them to get a well-rounded musical education in whatever capacity that they and their parents want for them and for the kids to be able to perform. I can’t tell you the changes I’ve seen in some of these kids who are so introverted and shy. They get up on stage, perform and they’re like a different person. It’s such a huge change in their confidence and how they carry themselves.”
While traditional music instruction is usually based on rote learning that tends to stray away from delving into popular musical trends, B2R’s approach is based on the belief that students learn faster playing the music they like, be it rock or Bach, and the technical foundation is the same. In applying special age and skill appropriate arrangements, students soon find themselves playing songs in no time. Early results make these aspiring musicians more motivated to learn thanks to there being an achievable goal. For Hayden, a successful vocalist and performer in her own right who has held this current position for about four and a half years, it’s these kinds of small victories that make her role as a music educator so rewarding.
“There is nothing like seeing those kids hit those home runs—to be able to get up on stage with confidence, perform and have that unbelievable magic. I know it, because I’m a performer and there is nothing like it—getting that positive feedback from your audience and knowing that you worked hard, prepared and achieved this thing that you thought was unachievable,” she said. “It’s really scary to get up in front of an audience, whether you’re singing in a class or performing. You have to be very vulnerable and put yourself out there. When they get up there and nail it, there’s nothing like that. We have an expression in Yiddish—that you’re kvelling. These are not my children, I truly kvell when I see them up there have these great, positive experiences that stay with you for your whole life.”
Hayden also noticed B2R’s other by-product was how her students learned to work together.
“I equate it to sports because it’s the same thing—you have to learn how to work like a team,” she said. “You have to learn how to compromise, how you fit into this ensemble and what your role is.”
While Bach To Rock has a sister school up in Mamaroneck, the Port Washington location currently draws students from surrounding communities including Roslyn, Manhasset, Great Neck, Glen Cove, Huntington, Rockville Centre and Bayside, Queens. Not unlike Black’s fictional School of Rock, B2R offers a thriving rock band program. It couples rigorous individual instruction with band “jam sessions,” that motivates students to play in a group. The idea behind this approach is that it builds teamwork, develops social skills, fosters self-esteem, promotes peer recognition and leads to lasting friendships. Hayden also pointed out that students eventually get the chance to perform in a number of professional live music venues in Manhattan and Long Island.
“We perform at City Winery in Manhattan. We did our Battle of the Bands two years ago, which was remarkable and amazing. We completely took over the whole space. We’ve also done the Cutting Room in Manhattan, played KJ Farrell’s in Bellmore and performed at the Landmark Theater in Port Washington,” she said. “The Red Lion on Bleecker Street was our first venue but we grew so much we had to move on to the City Winery. We also appeared at the Sands Point Preserve’s Castle Gould, which was really fun.”
While the challenges of running something like B2R include competing with various activities ranging from karate, dance, gymnastics and sports of any kind to SAT prep, tutoring and school theater productions, the demand for this kind of unique instruction means Hayden is constantly expanding her current 25-person staff. But it’s the people of Port Washington that allow this unique school to thrive.
“Port Washington has a really strong sense of community. It’s a very unique town and kind of old school in that way where you know your neighbors and everybody knows everybody’s kids. Having raised my daughter here—she was in first grade when we moved here—I’ve been in this community and a part of it as a parent, a resident and a musician,” Hayden said. “The community is a huge proponent of supporting the arts—dance, music and theater. There was a void. There have been other music school nearby, but having been in this industry myself and living in this town makes it a little bit easier to understand what people are looking for and to be able to provide that service to them.”