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School of Rock Midlothian sets the stage for achievement in music, life

Just weeks after signing up for the School of Rock, Rebekah Kusterbeck noticed a difference in her daughter Dottie’s confidence.

Though Dottie was always interested in learning guitar, Kusterbeck said Dottie was shy by nature and unsure if she wanted to participate in group lessons or band practices.

But by the time of her first School of Rock concert, Dottie could be seen rocking out on stage with fellow students to songs such as “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and “I Love Rock ‘N Roll” – even performing two guitar solos.

School of Rock is a performance-based music education program with over 300 locations worldwide, including eight in Virginia.

School of Rock, which has over 300 locations worldwide, was founded on the idea that music is best taught through performance.
Eva Russo photos, Times-Dispatch

Dottie is one of the approximately 50 students currently enrolled at the Midlothian School of Rock, which music enthusiast and former emergency medical services provider Bryan McRay opened at the Commonwealth Center shopping mall in February.

Before becoming a small-business owner, McRay worked a variety of roles in emergency services, but after 32 years, McRay said he was ready for a change. Having seen a similar transformation in his own daughter as she developed her passion for singing at the Short Pump School of Rock, McRay said he believed in the program enough that he decided to open his own location.

“Not everybody is into sports, not everyone is an academic and not everybody finds that space in school,” McRay said. “But seeing it firsthand and watching my child come up through the ranks to find her niche in music and the opportunities that being part of this program has done for her – that’s what I wanted to go and share with others.”

Bryan McRay is photographed at his School of Rock in Midlothian, VA
Eva Russo photos, Times-Dispatch

For McRay, overcoming the financial obstacles to get a small-business loan was the biggest challenge when launching School of Rock Midlothian, he said. McRay also said that developing a client base large enough to at least financially break even proved difficult because not everyone can afford the School of Rock program.

“It is tough seeing a potential student get excited only to find out that due to financial reasons they cannot take part,” McRay said.

But McRay was able to overcome these obstacles with advice from fellow School of Rock owners as well as guidance from members of the Chesterfield Chamber of Commerce and Chesterfield Development Authority, he said. McRay also noted that while other businesses may struggle to find staff, he has been fortunate to have found an enthusiastic group of instructors.

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Tanner High, who teaches guitar, is one of the members of McRay’s all-star staff. This is High’s first teaching gig, and after developing his own confidence through music when he was younger, High said he is eager to return the favor for School of Rock students.

“Loving music and being able to play it is definitely something that becomes a part of you,” High said. “But just getting to help people grow and develop their confidence within a fun hobby is the best thing to do.”

Founded on the idea that music is best taught through performances, School of Rock deploys a teaching style that focuses on improving students’ music proficiency through preparation for live performances and allowing them to practice songs of their choice in all of its programs.

Whether it’s a musically inclined toddler, an aspiring songwriter, [or] someone looking to perfect their pitch or hone their skills playing a variety of instruments, School of Rock offers music programs for students of all ages and abilities, McRay said.

The Little Wing room is where the music program for preschoolers ages 3 to 5 is offered at School of Rock Midlothian
Eva Russo photos, Times-Dispatch

The goal of the performance program is to prepare students for live performances, which take place at the end of every season, and give students the opportunity to showcase their hard work and rock out on a professional stage, McRay said.

For those who do not have their own instruments, School of Rock uses GearSelect, a program through which students can buy new instruments and gear directly from School of Rock.

There are also summer camp options available that allow students to sample School of Rock’s programs. Though this is the first summer School of Rock Midlothian is open, McRay said camps can be a tricky but worthwhile business to break into as they help offset the natural lull in business during the summer months and gain more full-time students.

Instruments for the Little Wing class await preschoolers at School of Rock Midlothian
Eva Russo photos, Times-Dispatch

“Our regular programming continues on through the summer — we don’t have a summer break. It does become challenging as other warm-weather activities and vacations cause some attrition in our student population,” McRay said. “The camps help offset this to keep our students engaged and our instructors employed.”

Along with several individual studios and lesson rooms, School of Rock Midlothian also has a main stage specifically designed for group practices that comes equipped with lights, a drum set, microphones, guitars, and amplifiers.

McRay emphasized that group practices and performances allow students to sharpen their music skills and help foster confidence and camaraderie.

As a corporation, School of Rock also focuses on supporting students’ mental health through partnerships with nonprofit organizations like the Society for Prevention of Teen Suicide and hosting companywide mental health webinars. Kusterbeck and McRay also stressed how the program supports students’ well-being by offering a safe space for those who may be going through hardships or lacking confidence.

McRay recalled that while deciding to open a new location he had several conversations with fellow parents who told him how the School of Rock program provided their child with a crucial outlet and means of expressing themselves while navigating the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic and challenges at home.

“Being able to see a student who comes through the door shy or timid, and a few weeks later and through the support of both their peers and our instructors, they’re a totally different person and their shell goes away,” McRay said. “That’s what it’s about: being able to provide that environment that helps support students, and music just happens to be the reason that we’re here.”

Read the full article originally published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. 

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