It’s not uncommon to be left scratching your head over the lyrics to a rock song. That may be because, in many cases, the songwriting process is as important to an artist as the final message the tune delivers. Brian Gorman, along with the rest of the Rock Band Land staff, is teaching kids exactly that: to love the creative process.
“Primarily, we focus on creative collaboration,” Gorman said.
Rock Band Land, located on 17th Street, invites kids ages five to nine to “Rock Out!” as part of its six-week-long courses. Gorman and his partner, Marcus Stoesz, lead young rockers through various stages of story- and songwriting. They begin with an introduction to fellow classmates and instruments. Then, they form a band name. Later, they move on to brainstorming story and musical ideas, in which participants convey their favorite lyrics and musical sequences. Gorman and Stoesz take those thoughts and turn them into a song that they teach back to the kids, who practice and perform it at “The Big Show” at the end of the session.
Kids also participate in a studio recording session at Rock Band Land. Up to 300 of those songs and stories, with names like “Fish Wife” and “All the Potstickers in the World!” are available on the Rock Band Land website. RBL also produces a podcast for kids.
For four-year-olds who are ready to rock, RBL offers a pre-K Rock Out! session which explores and deconstructs a classic Rock Band Land song. By the end of the session, the four-year-olds record the song with their own vocals. RBL also hosts yoga for children as young as two-years-old.
According to Gorman, Rock Band Land has been around in some form for the better part of a decade, but it didn’t become what it is today until about seven years ago. A former pre-school teacher and touring musician, Gorman said he was inspired to make rock music with kids when he noticed that the music his students were listening to seemed lacking.
“I would come back [from being on the road] and be in class and would hear the music that kids were listening to and the school was encouraging and it would sort of make me crazy because it was very condescending and overly simplistic and saccharine and just really tedious to listen to, I felt like for everyone,” Gorman said, who previously was a preschool teacher. “I felt like we could do better.”
Part of doing better, Gorman explained, is allowing kids to create art outside their parents’ influence. “This is a place for the kids to create, and even though parents may have the best intentions in mind, their own agendas might get in the way of their own kid’s expression. Sometimes the family dynamic can be very subtle; subtly difficult at times. Sometimes the [parent’s presence] can make a child behave completely differently than if they were on their own,” Gorman said.
According to Gorman, a unique kind of confidence comes from making art at Rock Band Land. “Neither of us are at all concerned with making rock stars or making kids become wildly proficient at their instruments,” he said. “That being said, you have many kids who have been with us for all of the seven years that we’ve been open and we’ve seen amazing creative developments within them and a certain appreciation for individuality and just weirdness that I don’t think they would have had otherwise because they have spent seven years making original art and original music with us in a space where it is safe to be different, and it’s safe to be the misfit and it’s safe to be the oddball.”
That style of instruction is working for Rock Band Land. It was named California Small Business of the Year by California State Senator Mark Leno.
The next Big Show, open to the public, is at the Verdi Club on December 11. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for children.