School of rock

The snare rumbled under Brad Lent’s drumsticks.

His extended drum roll filled the music room at Palo Alto’s Kehillah Jewish High School. When he finished, he looked stunned.

“I did it. I’ve never done it before,” he exclaimed during a recent band practice.

The 14-year-old pushed his shaggy brown hair away from his eyes and kissed his right bicep. His peers congratulated him, and then moved on to the next song, Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.”

Lent is one of 10 students in a new class at Kehillah, which the students themselves helped create. The jam band class resembles a band practice in someone’s garage. Students play their instruments throughout the entire class, overseen by music teacher Tom Romero. It isn’t about theory, and it isn’t about pitch.

It’s about rock ‘n’ roll.

Evidently, the students know a little about that: They just beat out nine high schools to win first place in radio station KFOX’s (98.5 FM in San Jose) annual School of Rock competition, and as a prize, they won $3,000 for the school’s music program and got to play live on the air April 20.

“We were totally psyched when he heard we were finalists,” said Jeff Cohn, 16, who plays lead guitar.

“We sent emails to everyone so they could vote for us,” added Shani Cohen, 15, who sings and plays keyboard. “When we heard we won, we were freaking out. We all screamed” when KFOX announced them as winners.

“All Along the Watchtower” was one of three songs the students submitted to the station. The demos were played on the air, and listeners voted for the bands they liked.

During the jam band’s in-studio performance, the school administration served the student’s breakfast and played the morning radio show through the school’s loudspeakers.

“You should have been here. The whole school heard them, parents came, even teachers were cheering and yelling,” said Marion Peterson, principal.

Then, when the students returned to the school, the quasi-rock stars played a show in the cafeteria, where the school celebrated with ice cream sundaes.

The class is part of the school’s new music program, launched in the fall. The 10 students enrolled play electric guitar, bass, drums and keyboards. They spend three afternoons a week learning classic rock tunes by bands like AC/DC, the Beatles and Cream.

While the jam band class is unconventional, it’s complemented by other, more traditional classes: Guitar, music theory and chamber music.

Since student requests created the class, administrators will also let students decide how to spend the prize money. Some of it will likely go back into the music program, for instruments and amps, and some of it the students will likely donate to the community, Peterson said.

The students all want to take the jam band class again next year. They simultaneously groan and laugh when they think back to their first week as a band, when they didn’t listen to each other and played more like a sound check than a team.

Romero said he teaches the students as they want to be taught: he lets them play.

Meanwhile, he spends the class wandering around the room with orange ear plugs and listening to their chord progressions, pitch and rhythm. He stops them when he wants to point out something that can help them sound better.

“This class is about learning on your own, by experiencing it,” he said. “I’d rather hear them improvise a solo than copy a song note for note. It’s more important for them to expose themselves to the music in their own way, which probably isn’t the view of most music teachers.

“But this is a different class.”

The Kehillah High School Jam Band will perform on Monday, May 7, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Addison-Penzak JCC in Los Gatos. The school’s chamber music, guitar and dance class will also perform. The event is free and open to the public.

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.