The halls are alive with the sound of music at Williamsburg’s Juan Morel Campos Secondary School, where rock ’n’ roll high schoolers play concerts in the corridor every Friday afternoon.
The bands set up right by the school’s main door and play rock and pop tunes as kids and teachers are heading home for the day — and now students actually want to stay behind after class, says the teacher-turned-band-booker behind the gigs.
“Every week, everyone will crowd around the musicians,” said Stacey Wong, who teaches music to kids from sixth to 12th grade at the school on Heyward Street, between Marcy and Harrison avenues. “They love it.”
The acts cut their teeth in Wong’s music classes, where she forms the mini Hendrixes and junior Joan Jetts into rock supergroups — each including several guitarists, bass players, keyboardists, and vocalists — and schools them in songs such as “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele, “Take Me To Church” by Hozier, and “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran. Kids learn music more quickly by playing Bruno Mars than Beethoven, she said.
“I want them to be able to enjoy playing music and then they can throw themselves into the theory,” said Wong. “If they are playing music they do not like, they will not stick with it. I get them playing Adele right away and they love it.”
Wong uses a curriculum called Amp Up NYC, which helps educators to get their students hooked on music class by teaching them the modern songs they already listen to. Little Kids Rock — an organization that offers free instruments and teacher training to low-income schools with shoddy or no music classes — created the program in partnership with Massachusetts’s Berklee College of Music and the New York City Department of Education, and they collectively intend to roll the scheme out to 600 schools city-wide by 2017.
At Juan Morel Campos, the school of rock has been such a success that some of the students have split off into their own bands and solo projects outside of the class. And the kids say they intend to keep on rocking long after school’s out forever.
“Doing this makes it seem easier for me to branch out when I leave here and continue with music,” said 10th grader Shanice Rodriguez, who has formed a duo with 11th-grade guitarist Elvin Jaquez. “I really want to keep doing this.”
Jaquez said he learned jazz drumming in middle school, but didn’t realize he was really born to shred until he was exposed to the axe in class.
“My family never had that kind of musical direction, but now that I am doing this, it is something that really interests me,” he said.
Amp Up NYC provides the schools with some equipment, but Wong says she has kept up with student demand by asking for donations to purchase extra guitars, amps, strings, picks, and tuners on fundraising websites.
Sadly for music scenesters, the Friday shows are the only gig in Williamsburg you can’t get on the door-list for — they are open to Juan Morel Campos students, parents, and staff only.