Forget classical tunes and marching bands. Telluride's Rock and Roll Academy teaches children to play—and fall in love—with music as if they were rock stars themselves.
Next up is Renny—rhymes with penny—Engbring. She twists behind the electric keyboard and starts marching her fingers up and down the keys, instantly lost in her own private world. Her overgrown brown bangs drape her face, giving her the kind of edgy, super-hip look that can intimidate cheerleaders. But then she smiles, and the sweet, quietly confident girl who likes soccer and believes that Dance Dance Revolution was the reason she was born, emerges.
Renny is followed on stage by Marina Marlens, who's beautiful and blond and worries about the electricity used to power the amplifiers and whether or not she's contributing to global warming when she ratchets up the volume. She picks up her Gibson SG electric guitar and immediately starts turning the knobs to adjust the sound. Marina's been home-schooled—or unschooled, as her parents prefer to call it—and she's the taskmaster who makes everyone else play when they'd rather be goofing off. The way Renny puts it, "Sometimes Marina is like really hyper."
Last up is Jacqueline Child. Jacqueline is a public school student who likes soccer, acting, and red high-top Converse sneakers. And talk about smiles. The band's lead singer, Jacqueline has the kind of smile that would make you donate all your money to animals or orphans or a foundation dedicated to the Rolling Stones, which is her mother's favorite band of all time. Jacqueline says she'd love to be in a real rock 'n' roll band someday because she's not like a genius in math or anything.
Separately, the members of Juxtapoze are kids, like all kids, with their own dreams, goals, and favorite TV shows. But put them together and you get one of the best teen bands Galbo has worked with. Even their friends think they are the best band ever. But they'd rather you not say that because there's this other girl band at the Academy and they've gotten better this year, and Juxtapoze doesn't want them to feel bad.
Without Galbo giving any sort of prompt, the girls launch into their set of four songs. First up? "Bad Reputation" by Joan Jett. The verdict? Not good.
"Oh my god, that was like so fast."
"My guitar kept dropping out."
"I can't hear Jacqueline."
"I know. I'm trying."
Galbo might make a suggestion or two, something like, "don't be afraid to make a bold mistake," or "musicians, use your eyes, watch the singers." But mostly the girls decide for themselves when something sounds wrong and how to fix it.
After the first song, Frances agrees to slow down. Jacqueline starts singing into two microphones. Marina adjusts her amp. And Renny continues to watch her fingers stroll on the keyboard. They move on to "Get Off of My Cloud" by the Rolling Stones; "Young Folks" by Peter Bjorn and John; and finally the especially vexing "City of Blinding Lights" by U2, which is driving Marina crazy because she's playing lead guitar and has to switch between her fingers and her pick, and she doesn't know where to put the pick when she's not using it and doesn't want it to get all germy when she puts it into her mouth.
Along the way, they switch instruments. Jacqueline picks up the bass. Marina sings. Renny comes out from behind the keyboard. But they don't let Frances leave the drum set, not ever, because they all agree her rhythm is the reason Juxtapoze rocks.
After the third run-through, Galbo asks the girls how they feel about ending their set with "Bad Reputation." "There's something cool," he says, "about ending a set saying you don't give a damn about your reputation, slamming down the guitars, and marching off stage."
Renny stops playing and looks up from the keyboard at him. "But we do care."
Spend some time with Galbo, watch him interact with the band, watch him tease Marina about her germ obsession and encourage the girls to play through their mistakes, and you'll learn he's got an entirely different way of thinking about music and education. But to understand how different Galbo's approach really is, you have to understand the typical music education in America, which goes something like this: Kid signs up for piano or trumpet or recorder lessons. Kid meets alone with teacher in a soundproof room, learns the notes, goes home, tries to practice, returns to teacher, and does it all over again. Galbo says this approach is like learning to play baseball by taking baseball lessons before ever setting cleats on a field. If the kid is lucky, he might be learning music at a school with a band, and that makes it a lot more fun. But because of the No Child Left Behind Act, fewer kids than ever before have access to quality music programs.
In fact, the Center on Education Policy reports a whopping 44 percent of school districts nationwide have cut time for subjects that aren't tested under No Child Left Behind, including art and music. But even before NCLB, fewer than half of American kids received a credible music education, says Mike Blakeslee, senior deputy executive director for the National Association of Music Education in Reston, Virginia. "Music education has had its ups and downs," Blakeslee says, "but in general it hasn't been good." (The city of Denver itself is a bit of an anomaly, for in 2003 voters passed a mill levy to fund more arts instruction in the public elementary schools. When compared to the national average, the city's primary schools seem to be doing quite well, with elementary and middle-school students receiving anywhere from one to 2.5 hours of music instruction per week.) Not only are school music programs in general lacking, but the ones that remain tend to emphasize traditional music, which is something that makes Galbo positively insane.