Rock Band show puts students in the spotlight

by Stephen Dafoe

Morinville Public School (MPS) students and a few parents had premium seating for a rock show in Morinville May 5, one with smoke, fog, and professional sound and lighting. The only thing distinguishing this cultural centre event from a touring show was the band was made up of musicians in the school’s Rock Band program.

“It was a way to showcase that we take our music seriously here,” said MPS teacher Chris Layton. “Music class is good, but Rock Band is a chance for these kids to dig a little deeper, and learn to play an instrument all the way. I’ve found that if you put a guitar in their hand, they’ll actually practice as opposed to giving them a flute and they’ll play a little bit. They’re a lot more excited to practice songs that they are going to impress their friends with. Playing Beethoven on the flute is all well and good, but they are not going to call up their friends and say, ‘Hey! Come and check this out.'”

Layton said the program, which runs as an option for two hours on Tuesday mornings, had such an impact on the musicians that they are inviting one another over to their homes to practice outside of school. Additionally, students doing solos in the show came in on their recess break and after school to get in more practice.

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The teacher pushes the students hard with the attitude that the music is done when it is done right. Though sometimes spending a long time on one small section, by the end it is mastered.

For Layton, the value of the effort far surpasses the annual rock show in front of peers. “We need kids to care about music,” he said. “It teaches you math. It teaches you rhythm. It teaches you perseverance, which is a big one.”
The magic is in seeing the students evolve from looking at sheet music to that moment when it all makes sense. It is then the student finds their groove and the individual pieces fall together.

“The smiles on their faces and the sweat because they’re working so hard; there’s nothing more exciting,” Layton said. “When I was 14 I wanted to be a rock star. I practiced looking cool with my guitar strapped on before I knew how to play the stupid thing. I didn’t have anyone teaching me. I had to do it all by ear, and I drove my mom crazy. These kids have an opportunity to learn how to do it when they are young.”

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The program has about a dozen and a half students involved, ranging from Grade 5 to Grade 8.

But the afternoon show was not all music from the student’s age range. The band performed Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Beatles, and a powerful version of Metallica’s Enter Sandman, before closing with Queen’s anthem rock classic We Will Rock You.

Layton said the annual show gives students the chance to show that music is important to them. “I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a teenager that isn’t into some kind of music,” Layton said. “This is a chance for them to go beyond the t-shirt they are wearing. If they can actually play the songs of the bands they like, that’s cool.”
Visit to view video of the entire Morinville Public School Rock Band concert.

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