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.
Sitting at his desk inside the Academy, Galbo uses his laptop to project photos of his students on the wall. The pictures include seven-year olds with red electric guitars taller than they are, 10-year-olds beating the bejeezus out of drums, and 15-year-olds with closed eyes standing behind microphones and giving it their soulful all. Looking at the photos, Galbo shakes his head. "Don't ask a kid who's grown up with his iPod listening to the Jonas Brothers to care about classical or marching band music," he says. "They don't care. It's not part of their culture. And they are not interested in a lecture about why this music is important to them."
Galbo stops and thinks about what he's just said, then backs up and says the traditional music approach does work well for a lot of kids, particularly those who have some kind of classical or marching band tradition in their families or communities. But schools aren't igniting the passion in kids, he insists. "Think about it, how many people do you know who took music lessons as kids who are still playing now?"
Reflecting on his own experience, Galbo says professional musicians learn the music they love, and they learn it playing together by ear—which is exactly how he teaches his kids. "They do not sit down with some authority figure who tells them to be quiet," he says. "It's nonsense—nonsense—and completely takes the joy out of music."
To show you how easy it is to sit down and start playing without all that fussy instruction, Galbo will place you behind a drum set. He won't care if you're the kind of person who freaks out when you have to sing "Happy Birthday" at a party. He'll shove a drumstick in your left hand, a drumstick in your right, he'll get both your legs moving, and within two minutes you'll be pounding out the rhythm for some cool song you know you've heard but can't quite place. Then he'll ask a spare 11-year-old to join you on the keyboards, and together you'll be playing something that sounds pretty darn good, if you do say so yourself. And as the sticks hit the skins in quarter and eighth and sixteenth notes, you'll find yourself thinking that not only is rock school a good idea for kids, but it'd be dandy if there were something similar for grown-ups.
It's now two days before the concert, and Galbo says if the girls from Juxtapoze have any hope of becoming real rock stars, they've got to get used to the media. That's why he's arranged for them to appear live on KOTO, Telluride's local public radio station, a station that—in true don't-mess-with-us mountain town fashion—doesn't accept any commercial advertising or corporate underwriting. Its slogan: "A rare medium, well done."
While waiting for the girls to arrive, Galbo sits inside a small room lined with plywood shelves packed with compact discs and record albums. Today, like almost every other day, he's wearing jeans and an untucked but well-pressed button-down shirt, a look that, like Galbo himself, flouts convention while also respecting it. He says he arranges interviews like this because he wants his bands to have the full-on rock star experience—not because they're planning to actually become famous, but because it's fun and builds confidence and is a cool thing to do. In addition to press interviews, he photographs the bands for marquee posters. He gives them laminated backstage passes. Once, he even arranged for an Academy band to open at a Telluride concert for Shawn Colvin, and he has paid the band members 20 bucks in cash after gigs.
But if he's being totally honest about the reason for the interview, Galbo does have another agenda: He wants to fill those seats Saturday night, and now that the Jeep King of the Mountain Ski Tour has descended on Telluride, the likelihood of a sellout crowd is diminishing rapidly. And Galbo's annoyed. Especially since Jeep called him and offered him a thousand bucks to give up his space at the Sheridan Opera House. Jeep had already taken over the other venues in Telluride: the Bubble Lounge, the New Sheridan Bar, the Last Dollar Saloon—even Main Street will be closed for three hours Saturday night for a Jeep street party. But that's how it goes in this business, Galbo says. The big corporate entities muscle their way in and push out the independents.
Galbo's trying to be Aquarian about it. He's trying to be tolerant and remember that the music business is fraught with complications, that few gigs come off without a hitch. "But, man, this Saturday's concert is for the kids," he says. Sure, the Rock and Roll Academy had to pay for the space at the Opera House, and if ticket sales don't cover the rent, Galbo's out some cash. But that's not what matters here, he insists. Not in the long run. Not in the lives of these young people.
Galbo looks up as the girls from Juxtapose stomp up the stairs into the studio. "You ladies ready?" he asks.
Taking their cue from a young, cool-dude disc jockey, the girls position themselves behind four microphones. Together, they look like any other who-gives-a-flip band of musicians getting ready for the media spotlight. Frances is wearing a fur-lined bomber hat; Marina, an oversized white T-shirt; Renny, a huge gray sweatshirt frayed at the edges. And the girls are all giggling, as if they can't believe the eye-rolling silliness associated with yet another interview. But when the red light clicks on and the host asks the girls to introduce themselves, their facade of cool crumbles.
"Uh, I'm Renny, and I'm in seventh grade."