Kids' Guide 2011
A fun-for-all helping of the area’s best activities, learning tools, gathering places and more for little Main Liners.
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When Elvis changed the world back in the 1950s, who would’ve thought rock would still have such an impact on kids in the 21st century? Erin Riley, a former music director for WMMR and DJ for WXPN with 30 years’ experience in the music business, might’ve had a clue. She opened Phoenixville’s Rock & Roll After School in June 2009, and her students haven’t been the same since.
Kids ages 7-18 come to Riley’s spunky 6,000-square-foot facility with few, if any, musical skills. Before long, they’re drumming, singing, grooving on guitar, bass or keys, even composing songs and DJing. Ten-year-olds make up the most popular age group, and they often take up several instruments. “Because they’re young, they’re not really afraid of trying stuff,” says Riley, who plays flute and a little guitar and clarinet. “And by two weeks, they say, ‘I play bass.’”
Riley’s 175 students have enrolled for a variety of reasons. Some are simply curious. Others are looking to escape bullying or have limited music programs at school. Naturally, there are the ones who love Guitar Hero. Or—like Riley’s 18-year-old son—they’re more edgy and artsy than sporty and academic. “There’s a lot of kids who write, draw, compose music—all kinds who don’t have the personalized guidance we provide,” says Riley. “This is where they can really shine.”
A 15-year-old boy with an autoimmune disease attends R&RAS. And while his build is much smaller than a lot of his peers, never underestimate the power of Riley’s professional stage. “When he performs at my school, he just comes alive. He says, ‘Erin, I wish I could live here.’ And I say, ‘I’ve built this school for you,’” she says. “It’s really more about self-esteem and friendship making. Great musicians make themselves.”
R&RAS’ 10 instructors are a major part of that growth. And though the kids can’t exactly grasp the fame of some of their mentors—like Hooters drummer Dave Uosikkinen—they learn about the big-time game of touring, what it takes to succeed in today’s music industry, and the importance of a solid work ethic.
Programs for boys and girls include weekly 45-minute lessons, a 12-week band program, summer camps for ages 7-15, and “Makin’ Music” family classes for infants to age 5. In the band program, kids form groups, rehearse, then perform onstage at the school or a local First Friday venue. R&RAS also features a game room, a homework space with Internet access, a candy-and-strings store, and the imaginative murals of Philly artist Kirk Dupuis.
Call (610) 983-4650 or visit rockandrollafterschool.com.