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‘Guitar Hero’ comes to life for young musicians

When Gary Lennox was 17 he discovered a passion for rock music. He picked up a bass and hasn’t put it down in 40 years. For Lennox, the only way to play his bass is to crank up the speakers to full blast — which doesn’t sit well with parents, neighbors or cops.

“When I was a kid I would always play music loud, and I would always end up in the dog house,” he says. “I thought, why not build a place for musicians to come and play as loud as you want?” Lennox runs Dog House Music Rock & Roll Camp, where kids can learn how to play rock music without deafening their parents. Each summer, campers ages 11-17 choose among guitar, bass, drums or vocals and form a band. Over the course of one week, campers write three original songs and perform a concert at the end. Whether they’re strumming a guitar, slamming the drums or thrashing their hair back and forth, they get to crank up the volume and pour their energy into their passion.

School of Rock, another rock camp option, focuses on simplifying the instruments for kids with any skill level, say Chris Shepard, music director for School of Rock.

“Rock ’n’ roll is an awesome thing, but it doesn’t have to be that hard,” Shepard says. “You can go as easy as a Ramones song or as complicated as a Yes song. I’m always surprised and impressed at what these kids can do.”

Rock is a natural choice for kids, says Jason Olson of Live Performance Rock Camp, especially considering the craze of rock ’n’ roll video games like Rock Band or Guitar Hero. But when coming to rock camp, kids get a chance to learn an instrument instead of pressing buttons on a controller. Olson says other music camps might not cater to the electric guitar or drums, so rock camps are for those kids who want to, well, rock.

“We’re playing music that is rock and is relevant to the kids,” Olson says. “Kids are becoming familiar with these classic rock songs [through the video games], and, with this camp, the kids can play songs that they know and like. Love it or hate it, kids know more rock as compared to classical music.”

In writing their own music, kids get a chance to express the ideas that matter to them. Over the years, Shepard and Lennox have seen songs ranging from school problems to personal issues, and even silly songs about falafels.

“They’re going to be writing original music — music that they own. They play their own music. It’s not a Beethoven song that’s been written already. The music takes on its own personality,” Lennox says.

Kids walk away from the camp with more confidence, he says, and he sees kids coming back with their own bands and continuing their careers. He says allowing the kids to stretch their creative muscles adds in personal development.

“It’s amazing to have kids be able to play their music and sing their feelings,” Lennox says. “You get see the kids bloom like a flower.”

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