Class at the Bushwick School for Music is starting late. It’s 11am on a Sunday, when the session is supposed to kick off, but rock & roll isn’t for normal people, man—tweens, teens and twentysomethings (i.e. the teachers) are still filing in.
In the studio at the back of the Bushwick DIY space Silent Barn, Lizzie Conner, who teaches the instrumental side of the school’s rock band class and is also the director of the local musical nonprofit We Make Noise, is setting up amps while her mostly teenage students slouch on couches and poke at their phones. She gets their attention by playing Machine Gun Kelly’s “A Little More”—the melodramatic pop-rap ballad they’ll practice today and play at an open mic at Silent Barn on May 1—over the PA system and uses a chart on an oversize piece of paper to walk the kids through the song’s structure.
Getting the kids to actually play proves to be a challenge. They have the shy, skittish way of teens doing something new in front of other teens, and from the looks on their faces, it seems like the penalty for failure is nothing short of total, world-ending humiliation. Eventually, one by one, Conner gets them running through the song’s three-chord progression, and as the kids shake off their uncertainty, they start showing how good they are. Yanelli, a 14-year-old guitarist, throws in syncopated rhythmic flourishes. Melon, an 18-year-old lead keyboardist with an undercut and pom-pom earrings, adds arpeggiated riffs. Nine-year-old bassist Jada, meanwhile, plucks out a surprisingly solid rhythmic foundation, considering her instrument’s almost as big as she is.
Vocal coach CheekiPowPow then brings in the rapper and the two singers she’s been working with in another room. So far the musicians have only reached the song’s first chorus, but when they run through it with the vocalists in the mix, they make the unspoken decision to keep going. They play through the whole thing.
And it’s kinda fucking amazing. You can actually watch the kids’ confidence building and hear the group connecting. It’s like witnessing a newborn pony stand up and take its first shaky steps, then unfurl a pair of Pegasus wings and take flight. Conner and Cheeki, standing off to the side, look close to tears.
Looking to get in on the fun? The school’s next six-week session starts May 8 and seeks audio engineers (the students record a track in the DIY space’s in-house studio, Gravesend Recordings), roadies, administration helpers, musician instructors and other volunteers. To be enrolled as a student—the youngsters are from all backgrounds and abilities and must be between 8 and 17 years old—requires a donation of zero to $200, depending on the available funds of guardians.
Neighborhood resident and activist Yazmin Colon’s art-enrichment nonprofit for youth, Educated Little Monsters, is a collaborator with the BSFM, where her son Johnny is learning guitar. And she sums up the initiative nicely. “It’s so much more than just the tunes that you hear playing,” she says after class. “We’re all playing a different instrument, and when we come together, we make this tune so beautiful that it could never be replicated anywhere else.” Rock on.
Visit the official website to volunteer or donate.