“Rock and roll isn’t a career or a hobby — it’s a life force. It’s something essential,” said the Edge, the guitarist for the band U2.
For thousands of kids in the Germantown area, the essential life force has been emanating from a very unlikely place for the last 10 years — there middle school, specifically from a music teacher, Randi Levy who is a life force all her own.
The Rock Band class and curriculum at Roberto Clemente Middle School, which allows students study the history and culture of popular music, master drums, guitar, bass, and keys and perform the hits of each decade in rock bands at no extra charge, celebrated its 10 year anniversary in grand style on Thursday night. Hundreds of parents, school administrators, students, and former students gathered for a night of music and memories at the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Club in Bethesda.
The concert was a celebration and fundraiser and saw former students travel hundreds of miles to be a part of the essential life force that made those awkward and ofttimes difficult middle school years less awkward and difficult.
In 2008, Levy created the Rock Band class at Roberto Clemente Middle School with the blessing of then principal Shawn Joseph and Montgomery County Public Schools, General, and Choral Music Coordinator, Katherine Murphy. In those ten years, the program Clemente Middle School has changed. The school has seen Dr. Joseph leave, and his replacement come and go, and a new principal, Jeffery Brown is at the helm. Dr. Joseph’s responsibilities have also dramatically changed; he is now the superintendent of the Metro Nashville Public Schools in Tennessee.
But one thing that has remained constant is Levy’s contagious spirit and enthusiasm for teaching students, and her desire to be a force for positive change in our world.
Levy, using the life force that is Rock and Roll, has altered the lives of thousands of students in Germantown over the decade of teaching kids what songwriter Harlan Howard called, “three-chords and the truth.”
Rock Band Class has grown from one class to five full classes a day churning out hundreds of rockers over the last decade, many whom continue to create, produce, and perform beyond their middle school years. Without this free opportunity in school, so many children would never have the access “pay to play” rock camps, and private music lessons provide. Clemente Music Rocks! keeps music education equitable by making it freely available to all students so that every child can succeed on every type of instrument.
On Thursday, alumni of the program flew home to Montgomery County from as far away as Nashville and South Carolina to celebrate the Rock Band program and its impact on their lives. The came back to perform, to celebrate, to share their memories, and to help make the world a little better. The concert was a benefit for the Roberto Clemente Middle School’s sister school in Nairobi, Kenya, — the Hope & Bright Future School in the Soweto slums.
“They didn’t come back me,” Levy told the crowd last night. “They came back for we, and what we all have together. In addition to being artists, one of the values that I try to instill is the desire to give back. You don’t need to be famous to give back. Our students know that they can use their talents to give back right now. That is why three years ago we started our relationship with the Hope & Bright Future School. It is not a slum; it is a neighbor on the other side of the world that we have this relationship with.”
Clemente’s active partnership has provided music instruments, a music teacher, and a free breakfast program for the students at the Hope & Bright Future School. Last year Clemente’s Rock Band program and the Chuck Levin Foundation partnered with WaterMission to dig a well that provides clean drinking water to 3,000 residents of Hope & Bright Future’s neighborhood area.
“Because of the support of the Clemente community, 3,000 people are now drinking clean water because of the water well that we were able to provide,” said Levy. “We have been able to change their lives in a significant way. The kids at Hope and Bright Future School are now eating a breakfast every day because of the support from Roberto Clemente.”
Levy also praised the Washington Music Center in Wheaton and its owner the Levin family there unwavering support of the Rock Band program and the Levin Foundation’s significant work to partner with WaterMission to dig a 100-foot well in Nairobi.
Dr. Joseph, Principal Brown, and the Levin Foundation’s Adam Levin served as co-hosts for the evening, which started with Joseph and Brown walking on stage dressed as rock stars. Joseph was wearing a thick gold chain and Adidas gear in a hat tip to RUN-DMC and Brown in a long wig looking like Steven Tyler.
“Nashville calls itself The Music City, but they have no idea what is happening in Germantown, Maryland,” said Dr. Joseph as he introduced the first performers of the night.
The evening proceeded with performances by current and former Rock Band students coming back together to perform, including alumni who have gone on to record music which is available on Apple Music and Spotify.
Returning from the class of 2008 were Joel Bernstein and Haley Fahey and her band. Bernstein wowed the crowd with a one-man performing using live phase looping, creating multiple layers of music using just a single guitar, and his voice. His album "Faces are For Friends" is available on Spotify.
The Haley Fahey Band provided a three-song set which displayed Fahey’s vocal and alternative folk songwriting talents. Her album, “Out There” is available on iTunes and Spotify.
The evening also included a set from current Rock Band students in the Class of 2019, including Lindsay Chia, Akiwen Ewimbi, Zoe Jerva, Uma Manikoth, Muhammed Nyan, Shiham Siddique, Saatvik Soma, Joseph Martell, Chava Brown, and Rodney Xu.
Recent alumni, members of the Class of 2018, rocked out with a set which included a blistering version of Eric Clapton’s “Layla.” They included Erick Baez, Nico Carillo, Taiki Nishida, Preston Steimel, Visesh Uppoor, and Victor Wararu.
The evening ended with a finale where members from different classes came out to sing a finale. After an intro video of the children at the Hope and Bright Future School singing Bob Marley’s “One Love,” the video ended and the refrain was picked up by the Rock Band alumni and students who soon had the chorus of “let’s get together and feel alright” reverberating through the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Club.
As AC/DC said, “Rock and Roll ain’t noise pollution, to me, it makes good, good sense.”
Top: It was a marquee night as the Roberto Clemente Middle School Rock Band program celebrated 10 years of teaching students have to find their inner rockstar at the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Club on Thursday night.
Next: Current Rock Band students Lindsay Chia, Akiwen Ewimbi, Shiham Siddique, and Uma Manikoth, and Zoe Jerva and Akiwen Ewimbi perform during Thursday night’s celebration.
Next: Randi Levy, the founder and driving force behind Clemente Rocks! Rock Band program.
Next: Class of 2008 alum Joel Bernstein.
Next: Former and current Roberto Clemente Middle School principals, Dr. Shawn "Supa" Joseph and Jeffery “Slash” Brown.
Next: Class of 2015 alumni Avi Ali and Abo Ewimbi.
Next: Class of 2018 member Preston Steimel shredding on Eric Clapton’s “Layla.”
Next: Class of 2008 alum Haley Fahey.
Video: Students at the Hope and Bright Future School singing “One Love.”
Next: The finale, with Derrick Truby on vocals, joined by Renae Agben, Haley Fahey, Jibreel Rhae, John Trupp, Sebastian Evans Cuervo, and Oscar Quintanilla.
Photos by Germantown Pulse
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