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Smells Like Teen Spirit

Rocking the school day away with Pin Oak Middle School's Stage Band class

The Gloryhounds are onstage right now at a Surfside bar and, truth be told, they're not great. Matter of fact, they fall firmly into the "middling bar band" category and play mostly covers you'd expect of such a group: Cheap Trick's "Surrender," Cowboy Mouth's "Jenny Says," "Hazy Shade of Winter" more like the Bangles than like Simon & Garfunkel. But they happen to be quite entertaining.

Jason Rossiter is a long, thin fellow whose arms and legs manage to dangle even when he's sitting still. He plays bass and drums in the Gloryhounds, but at the moment he's playing neither. He's just sitting in the crowd, quiet and unremarkable, in a pink T-shirt two sizes too small. In about 20 minutes he'll take his place behind the drum kit and become an entirely different person. When he's playing, he's the Gloryhounds' leader, their showman, and he'll say as much after the show.

Hasanthi Seth won't say anything after the show. She's the Gloryhounds' other drummer, a little more Abbott than Costello, and talented. She'll play whatever her bandmates ask her to, but that's it; no stick-twirling, no resounding fills, no mid-solo swig of vodka, nothing. Stoicism is her birthright; if Epictetus were a drummer, he'd aspire to be like her.

"No, it's 'You! Shook me all night long'": Al Hayes (right) instructs Pin Oak's stage banders in the finer points of rock and roll.
Daniel Kramer
"No, it's 'You! Shook me all night long'": Al Hayes (right) instructs Pin Oak's stage banders in the finer points of rock and roll.
Matt Foster (left) shows Joaquin Buitrago how to wail like Eddie Van Halen.
Daniel Kramer
Matt Foster (left) shows Joaquin Buitrago how to wail like Eddie Van Halen.

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Pin Oak Middle School

4601 Glenmont St.
Bellaire, TX 77401

Category: Schools

Region: Inner Loop - SW

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The most capable (and paradoxical) of the trio, Drew McMillon strums through lick after lick, song after song, with nonchalance. His eyes shine bright with confidence, but despite his obvious ability, Drew plays with a cautious awkwardness. (He may well be too tall for his own body.) Save those eyes, no other part of his body even seems aware of what his hands are producing; his frame hardly moves from the wrists up.

The Gloryhounds will play past midnight tonight, but the crowd won't dissipate. They'll stay to the end of the show and make sure they give high fives and hugs to the band. They'll also give the Gloryhounds rides home, because Jason, Hasanthi and Drew are all ninth-graders, alumni of Pin Oak Middle School's pilot Stage Band class — a true-life School of Rock where the curriculum is designed, figuratively speaking, to teach kids how to rock their faces off.

Matt Foster and Al Hayes co-teach Pin Oak's Stage Band class because they love music, which is about where the similarities between the pair end.

Foster looks just like you'd assume someone who teaches 14-year-olds about music looks. He's tallish, 29, with facial hair. His dirty blond hair toes the line between hip and professional, hanging forward over his forehead but stopping before it gets to his eyes. The top buttons of his shirts, complemented by well-worn blue jeans, are never fastened. The only things that seem to change about Matt from Sunday to Monday are his shoes, from flip-flops to weathered brown Steve Maddens, and his first name from Matt to Mr.

Foster has been at Pin Oak for four years, and Stage Band is his baby. He was hired by Principal Michael McDonough in part because of his artsy background (UT film degree, brief Hollywood stopover, occasionally wears a hemp necklace), but he originally taught math.

Stage Band was solely an after-school club in its formative years. It grew organically in popularity for two years until McDonough, sensing a would-be problem, elected to upgrade it to an Actual Class.

"One of the focuses of our school has been saturating the kids with opportunity," says McDonough. "If you're going to do that, you have to be committed to it, so when we had kids potentially having to choose between Stage Band and another after-school program, we decided to make it a class."

Enter Hayes, an immediately likable, ponytailed man who resembles Steve Carell. Besides Stage Band, Hayes also teaches a percussion class on his own.

He's what some would call a jack-of-all-trades, most of which have something to do with music. Besides teaching at Pin Oak, Hayes gives private lessons, runs a small recording studio, plays in a band and creates soundtracks for various Web sites and independent films. However, one nonmusical trade is kicking serious ass — Hayes is also a full-time professional wrestler, putting on between 160 and 180 shows a year across the South.

Hayes can power-bomb a 200-pound man with ease, so discipline isn't really an issue in his classes.

Stage Band operates a lot like an actual band practice. The kids have to audition to get in, so there isn't much time spent actually teaching them how to play instruments. They come in, set up and, after a 15-­minute or so lecture on the history of a specific aspect of music, begin to play.

Today's lecture, delivered by Hayes, revolves around the (surprisingly) storied history of "Louie Louie," one of the two songs the kids were assigned to learn as homework.

Hayes's interpretation of the Kingsmen classic's history includes references to the FBI, communism and the "two fundamental topics of every rock and roll song: girls and cars." Foster and Hayes aren't just trying to teach kids to rock, they're trying to teach them about rock. It's not enough for the kids to play the songs, they need to understand them.

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