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12 April 2024

When mum and dad go back to school… of rock!

By Agencies

It is every teenager's worst nightmare - or so you would have thought. Mum and dad up on stage belting out rock anthems in front of your friends. The horror!

A few days before they face the toughest audience imaginable - their children - the graduates of what is touted as the world's first rock class for parents are joking about what's the more nerve-wracking, this or childbirth.

"Can't you see me shaking?" said Philippe Chabert-Marcon, whose 11 and 12-year-olds are already veterans of Paris' Park Slope School of Rock.

But it is too late. The tickets have been sold for their first gig at a hip venue in the French capital.

To pile on the pressure, British pop star Jarvis Cocker is in the audience, one of several musicians to have enrolled their children in the school.

Yet when the moment comes, their kids are on their feet with everyone else as the parents tear into "Born to be Wild".

"Wow! They were really great," shouts nine-year-old Matthew Langlois who had performed earlier on the bill, awe-struck by his mother Michelle, who said she hasn't sung with such abandon since she stood in front of the mirror as a teenager.

Struggling to be heard above the cheers, Langlois, 48, said, "It's a real high. I still can't believe how far we've come."

When the group was put together less than four months before, only two band members could really play their instruments. And as Chabert-Marcon, also 48, admits, his "electric guitar has been gathering dust in the basement for nearly 30 years".

Can't believe their ears

But all had seen how their children started playing from the very first day at Park Slope School of Rock, founded in Brooklyn by American musician Jason Domnarski in 2008 before he opened a branch in the French capital three years later.

At first Langlois could not believe her eyes, nor her ears.

"The kids came home playing straight away ," she said. "It is not at all how music teaching used to be. So I thought, 'Why should they have all the fun?'"

Laura Malone, on flute and lead guitar, had the same reaction. "After I saw my daughter play in her band and saw the way Jason worked with the kids, the first thing I thought was 'Why didn't this exist when I was young?'"

And so five parents on the wrong side of 40 came knocking on Domnarski's door asking if he could do for them what he had done for their kids.

"I thought why not," Domnarski said, though he admits that he doubted if they would adapt to his mould-breaking approach as well as their children.

"I thought they might be more worried about making mistakes, but they have been amazing from the get-go and so supportive of each other."

Malone - a computer programmer who had never played guitar before - said the "dynamics of being in the band helps get you over hurdles" that you might baulk at alone. "The band has built this amazing bond just from practising together for an hour and a half a week. I would never had believed it had I not seen it myself."
'It's cool, Dad'

It also helps that many rock standards have only three chords, though as Domnarski said, "it is all about how you play them".

The experience has also turned the usual parent-child relationships on their head.

"I admit I'm scared," said Chabert-Marcon, an Internet company boss. "But my kids who have done it all before keep telling me, 'Dad, it's fine, you'll see.'"

Bass player Luc Heinrich, a complete musical novice, knew he was hitting the groove when his son winked at him as he passed the bedroom door as he practised. "That was priceless," he said.

The same basic rules apply for children and adults, Domnarski insists. "It is about working as a team and sharing ideas and learning how to power through the nerves to get on stage and perform in front of hundreds of people. It's an amazing experience."

For Langlois and the others, playing in a band has been a revelation. "I have tried to be a runner three or four times, but I never got the runner's high.

"But doing this gets the adrenaline pumping and that emotional connection back to your teenage years, to goofing with the cassette recorder with your friends," he said.

"You put that all away when you become an adult. When you get to be 40, you say 'OK, I am never going to be Madonna, I'm never going to the Olympics, and it's all kids and school and downhill from here.' But it doesn't need to be like that..."