Winnipeg Free Press Newspaper Archives Apr 5 2015, Page 8

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Winnipeg Free Press (Newspaper) - April 5, 2015, Winnipeg, Manitoba winnipegfreepress. com THIS CITY . OUR WEEKLY LOOK AT THE PULSE OF THE CITY . A8 SUNDAY, APRIL 5, 2015 JOHN EINARSON REMEMBERS A T my very first teaching interview after graduating in the spring of 1978, what excited my potential employer was the fact that prior to my decision to become a high school history teacher, I had played in rock bands for several years. That set me apart, bringing my rock experience to students. What I anticipated as a potential liability — given preconceptions of the rock- band lifestyle — proved instead to be my ace in the hole. Throughout my 30- year teaching career, I taught guitar, ran a guitar club and organized rock- music events. I was the rock ’ n’ roll teacher. When I went to university prep school St. John’s- Ravenscourt, known for world- class debaters and mathematicians ( and later hockey star Jennifer Botterill) in the fall of 1990, it was suggested I consider organizing a choir. Huh? Instead, I organized an official school rock band. The concept was to audition potential musicians and singers, select eight or nine to be the band, prepare a set list of suitable songs and rehearse after school once a week for a performance at the annual Spring Sizzler or school dance. Thus began what would become the school’s Rock Show program. For the first five years, the plan pretty much stuck to that single- band concept. One year, the rock band served as accompaniment to the drama teacher’s production of The Who’s Tommy , learning the entire rock opera by ear ( only the keyboard player read music). I noticed, however, auditions at the start of each school year were drawing larger numbers of students as the program became more popular. It was becoming tougher to reject so many of the eager and talented students who sought to join. For the 1995- 96 school year, I decided instead of one band, we would organize a revue centred on a musical theme and use everyone who came out and demonstrated a minimum proficiency. Young & The Restless: A Tribute to the Music of Neil Young proved to be a resounding success, selling out the school’s theatre for two nights running. Some 35 players and singers organized in various lineups performed 27 Neil Young songs with a slide- show backdrop of Young photos and album covers. The expanded concept was a winner. The following year, The Summer of Love 1967 included more than 50 performers tackling flower power and psychedelic classics over three sold- out shows. By this point, the school parents association had bought amplifiers, a synthesizer and a drum kit, which were set up in my classroom for after- school rehearsals a couple of days a week. For Oh What A Feeling: 40 Years of Canadian Rock , strings and horns were added for several songs as the participation numbers continued to grow. In 1999, we moved into the gymnasium to mount Woodstock , complete with stage announcements ( done by students) throughout, the appearance of farmer Max Yasgur, a rainstorm and a rain chant. The Rock Show, as it was now titled, returned to the theatre for the next three years, but by then, five nights was required to meet the demand for tickets. The number of students participating was approaching 100. For 2001’ s California Dreaming , the theatre was transformed into the Whisky a Go- Go, complete with go- go dancers in elevated cages. The following year, it became the brick- walled Cavern Club for The British Are Coming . Rehearsals were now running four days a week in addition to my full teaching load. We Will Rock You in 2003 saw a return to the gym, where the shows have remained to this day. Production has expanded, with elaborate staging, lighting, lasers and even giant video screens for live highlights. A crew of some 24 students handles the various production and staging needs. We even sell T- shirts. It’s the full rockconcert experience, minus the intoxicants. The annual Rock Show performances have become the highlight of the school year. For the 1,500 or so students who have passed through it, the Rock Show remains their fondest high school memory. “ No one remembers that English class or assembly 10 years later, but everyone remembers the Rock Show,” notes alumnus Elise Menec. “ It’s an unforgettable experience.” “ I cannot believe I had the chance to perform shows in which most musicians only dream of performing: the lights, sounds, stages and setups that one could only find by paying big bucks for some big band rolling into town. I had the opportunity to experience what a rock star experiences without leaving my high school,” says former student Dylan Grymonpré. “ I have yet to meet anyone outside the SJR community who had a high school activity as uniquely innovative as the Rock Show,” says alumnus Dean Smith, who enjoyed the distinction of playing Johnny Rivers, Roy Orbison, Bill Medley and Ike Turner during his Rock Show years. “ There is no other program in the school that connects so many students from so many different social spheres. That is, perhaps, its greatest accomplishment. The Rock Show unites the school as a whole. It has bettered the lives of countless students.” Productions of The British Are Coming and 2010’ s Across the Universe were both invited to perform at the Manitoba Museum. In 2011, several Rock Show participants were fortunate to perform with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra at the Centennial Concert Hall for the Rock Owes the Classics concert. Over the years, the productions have featured the banjo, mandolin, oboe ( I Got You Babe ), French horn ( After the Gold Rush ), flute, ukuleles, bagpipes, dancers and even a champion whistler. As vocal demands became more complex, Bonnie Wallace came on board to arrange harmony vocals. The 2008 production of I Know It’s Only Rock ’ n’ Roll featured real rock concert pyrotechnics. A local fireworks company hired to operate the explosions assured us the curtaining we were using behind the stage was fire- resistant. The students were over the moon at the thought of flames shooting into the air and ear- splitting explosions. However, a visit from the fire marshal three days prior to the show revealed the curtains were not up to the fire code, and under no circumstances could flames be used near them. There was no such curtaining available in the city on short notice. We would have to rent appropriate fireretardant curtains ( nine metres high by 15 metres wide) from a theatrical supplier in Montreal and fly them in at our expense. A call was made to one of our participant’s parents who, without hesitation, told us to bring the curtains in and bill them. The shows went ahead, to great excitement. While the vast majority of Rock Show alumni have gone on to vocations far from laser lights and Marshall amps, a few have pursued music or theatre- related careers. Heather McGuigan, who recently starred in Nova Scotia’s Neptune Theatre production of Mary Poppins , enjoys a successful musical theatre career. James Richardson designed many of our productions and now does the same for a large cruise ship line. Scott Ord and Blair McFarlane are record producers/ engineers in Los Angeles. Keyboard player Wendy Ip served as musical director for legendary singer Ronnie Spector, released two CDs and worked with Gene Simmons of Kiss. Lindsay Nelko danced in our shows and is now a choreographer on the popular U. S. television show So You Think You Can Dance . But vocational preparation was never the goal of the Rock Show program. It was, and remains, all about giving students an opportunity to develop and express their love of rock music in an extracurricular context. “ The things you learn and take away from Rock Show, you will never forget,” states alumnus Devon Bate, who played guitar, keyboards and sang in the shows. “ I owe so much of what I’ve become to my experiences over four years in the Rock Show,” notes former student Becca Lang. “ It gave me confidence and motivation. I am so lucky to have had the chance to play amazing music with friends. Every one of us got to be a rock star for a few days each year.” “ The years I spent in Rock Show were the most wonderfully exhausting, educational, frustrating and ridiculously fun moments of my SJR years,” says alumnus Jessica Lee, whose rendition of To Sir, With Love complete with string section in 2002 remains a highlight. “ We learned co- operation, appreciation for music and the joy, friendship and admiration it brings. What Rock Show does for the growth of students has lifelong impact.” As former head boy Ricky Müller notes, “ Rock Show is the single most important event of the school year. Along the way, I have learned how to work better with others and how to take responsibility for my part of a project. But most of all, I had tons of fun.” Over the years, we’ve endured fire alarms, power outages, a potential flood ( 1997) and last- minute substitutions because of debating tournaments, hockey or basketball playoffs. We’ve even had students performing while wearing casts or using crutches. Regardless, the Rock Show endures. The program also survived my retirement from teaching in June 2008 after the administration persuaded me to continue running the Rock Show. The program was given its own permanent rehearsal room. This year’s production, I Gotta Feeling , marks the 25th year of Rock Show and will feature not only a more contemporary set list, but also a retrospective glimpse at 25 years of productions in video clips on a giant digital screen. The shows are Sunday, April 19 at 1: 30 p. m. and Monday and Tuesday at 7 p. m. in the school gym, at 400 South Dr. Every year, I insist it’s my last, and yet each fall I’m back. In a school built on tradition, Rock Show has created its own tradition. As for me next year? Ask me on April 22. Tickets for this year’s SJR Rock Show can be purchased by contacting the school at 204- 477- 2408. School of ROCK Prep school has been putting on stellar shows for 25 years Rowan Dorin in the 2003 production The British Are Coming. BELOW: Horn players from 2011’ s Hotel California. Pyrotechnics in 2008’ s I Know It’s Only Rock ’ n’ Roll. Heather McGuigan sings in the 1998 show, Oh What A Feeling. BELOW: Summer of Love 1967 in the school gym ( 1997.) CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Students wait to go onstage in Across the Universe ( 2010); John Einarson gives a pep talk during dress rehearsals for the 2009 show; Tannie Lam ( left) and Anna Stewart perform Loreena McKennitt’s The Lady of Shalott in Made In Manitoba ( 2005); students operate the sound system; and Nathan Wong plays electric violin in 2013’ s The Age of Aquarius.

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