THE ROCK BOX MUSIC SCHOOL AND STAGE:
By: Russell Ray
I remember when I first got into music. I remember how it felt, and how I knew that playing an instrument and being in a band is what I wanted to do with my life. After getting my first drum set at the age of 10 I began to spend all of my time listening to my favorite bands and dissecting their parts so that I could learn to play their songs. I also began to take lessons learning rudiments, reading, and technique. Now this was before the internet where so much more information is available quicker today other than my once a week lessons at the time. As a kid I got bored with my teachers and focused more time playing along to cd’s as it was fun and I felt like I was in the band. It wasn’t until years later where I learned how to make friends with other musicians and eventually start to collaborate, write, eventually perform live (growing in the process), and how to make learning on every level fun. I didn’t have a school to go to and learn all of this and what comes with playing an instrument in a band… The emotions, dedication, fear, triumph, teamwork, vision, and so, so much more.
Recently I was introduced to The Rock Box Music School and Stage. This is the dream school for anyone at any age that wants to learn an instrument(s), how to learn their favorite songs, how to work with other students/musicians in creating music together, how to prepare for the stage, perform in a true connected live experience, as well as record their own music, get radio air play, and work with their communities. Most importantly all while having fun and being mentored by seasoned music professionals who’ve experienced everything from starting out in the beginning, learning an instrument(s), writing music, growing through time to the stage, the studio, and to the world. With all of this being said, we had a conversation with Rock Box’s creator and visionary Angel Bartolotta, and his wife Sally Bartolotta. Both professional music veterans who share a passion for teaching these experiences.
RR: Angel give us your background as a musician and professional experience: Angel: I started playing drums when I was 11 or 12 years old and joined my first band at 13. At 19, I did my first world tour as the drummer for Genitorturers, one of my favorite bands. I’m most known for my time with the band Dope, having toured with them for 7 consecutive years and recording the drum tracks on their album No Regrets (which debuted at #88 on the Billboard 200). I’ve also played drums for PIG, Crossbreed, Switched, The Undead, and a bunch of other bands. Sally and I are also in a band together called Team Cybergeist. This is a
collaborative music project I started back in 2006 and features members of Shinedown, Stone Sour, Static-X, Coal Chamber, Morbid Angel, Kittie, KMFDM and a ton of others. Over 100 musicians are involved with this project.
RR: Sally, you are also a professional musician. Can you give us your background as well?
Sally: I took up guitar at age 13, and later evolved to bass at 17 when good friend and mentor at the time, Shavo Odadjian of System of a Down gifted me my first bass. I was in an all-girl band in Washington, DC called Cherry Debauchery, and in 2008 joined PsyKill (Tampa, FL). When Team Cybergeist decided to transition to the stage in 2009, I was the live bassist until 2014 when I switched to vocalist and front-woman.
RR: What inspired you both to start The Rock Box?
Angel: I’ve been teaching drums to students of all ages for almost 20 years now. It’s something I did between tours and studio sessions. I always worked for other people at local area music stores. My students were getting really good at the drums, but they never played with other people. They never had the opportunity to experience being on stage. They never had the chance to create. That’s why I opened The Rock Box Music School & Stage. We give our students the tools to not only learn how to play an instrument, but to take those skills and apply them in the real world of music. We build bands, have them perform live on stage and track original music in our recording studio.
Sally: This was definitely Angel’s brainchild. And he’s been talking about wanting to do this for as long as I’ve known him. Reflecting upon my own struggles and obstacles as a young musician, I felt it was imperative that we give our students the full experience. Most music schools or lesson shops offer traditional music lessons, and then leave you to figure out the rest. This is something that hindered my own experience in my early days and cost me a lot of valuable time (not to mention all the stress). I had no idea how to perform on stage or write and record my own music. I was scared, self-conscious, and it wasn’t until I met the right people who took the time to help me learn and get through it, that the rest fell into place. So that’s what I love about The Rock Box. Not only do we provide students with a top-notch quality music education, but we offer the full multi-dimensional experience to help all students achieve exactly what they want to, in a comfortable, encouraging environment. It’s the place I wish I’d had growing up.
RR: It’s a very cool concept. Give us a walkthrough of what services you offer? Angel: We offer private lessons for voice, piano, guitar, bass, drums, ukulele, mandolin, violin, viola, cello, banjo, percussion, trumpet, French horn, trombone, tuba, flute, clarinet, saxophone, and other instruments in 10 lesson studios. We have a full venue and stage for our students to perform. We also have a recording studio where they can write and record their own music. We also broadcast Rock Box Radio from here.
RR: Nice! You have a radio show there as well that students can air their songs on?
Angel: Rock Box Radio! It’s a weekly show on WKDW 97.5 FM where we interview students, play original music, and have live on-air acoustic performances. It’s also streamed on our website as a podcast. www.rockboxmusicschool.com/radio/
RR: I think it’s real cool that you get your students to work together as well as learning individually. That is so important for musicians to learn how to collaborate and inspire each other. Give us some examples of how this works?
Angel: One question I get asked all the time is “How did you get so good at playing the drums?” Hahaha! The answer is simple; Playing with other people. Sure, you can learn all the rudiments and exercises and practice perfect technique, but none of that is going to get you anywhere until you apply those skills by using them with other people, usually in a band setting. When students are at the level where they feel comfortable coming to our Jam Night or performing in our student concerts, their playability skyrockets! They relax, they feel the music, they live in the moment, and they just go for it! Every time! It’s amazing to witness. Also, watching (and helping) them write their own original songs is like seeing magic happen before our eyes. Some of the songs these students come up with are really good! A few I wish I wrote myself! Haha! Every holiday season, we release a compilation CD of all original music written and performed by our students. It’s available at The Rock Box and on our website at www.rockboxmusicschool.com.
RR: How do you help your students prepare to perform live?
Angel: The best way for them to prepare to perform live is to just get up there and do it! This is why we have a stage right here at The Rock Box. It gives them a chance to get on-stage experience in the same place they take their lessons at every week. It’s not at some random venue they’ve never been to. It’s at The Rock Box, a place they’re familiar with. It’s home. On the last Friday of every month, we host a Jam Night. It’s the perfect time for students to get on stage, show off what they’ve been learning, and for most of them, this is their first experience playing with other musicians.
RR: You also hold concerts and recitals?
Angel: Every few months or so, we host concerts right here at The Rock Box.
We’ve done a 90’s tribute show, a “Legends Never Die” show where students payed tribute to our fallen icons, and most recently we did a tribute to The Beatles. In 2020, we will be doing student concerts honoring David Bowie, Queen, and Nirvana to name a few.
Sally: We also encourage our students during private lessons as well, if they are learning a particular song for an upcoming recital or show, by either bringing them onto the stage during their lesson, or helping to mentor or coach them with tips and tricks for over-coming stage fright, or just bringing their live performance to the next level.
RR: Explain to us what you do in your workshops?
Sally: We are very fortunate to be able to bring in some wonderful guest musicians from around the world who have led workshops or clinics at The Rock Box. Whether it’s David Ellefson from Megadeth, or one of our many resident teachers, each person brings so much knowledge, experience, and wisdom to our students, it’s insane! Workshops could be about a particular subject, like writing and recording your own music, or honing and improving your skills on a particular instrument. Or they might be a little more relaxed, as is the case with most of our guest teachers. It’s a great way to help our students reach the next level, get answers to any questions they might have, and to meet new people.
RR: I saw that you also do field trips. Where do you take your students?
Angel: We do a few field trips every year. We’ve taken our students to the Armadillo Enterprises (home of Dean Guitars, Luna Guitars, and DDrum) factory in Tampa where they can see firsthand how the instruments are made. We’ve also taken students to the Cavanaugh Company in Sarasota where they see how Black Diamond, Super Sensitive, and Red Label strings are made. When they see how things are actually made, they gain a little more respect for the instrument(s).
RR: How has the community accepted your concept?
Angel: At first, I wasn’t really sure how our little town of North Port would react to my idea of The Rock Box. Heavily tattooed/pierced guy. Played in a bunch of not-so-family-friendly bands. Blah blah blah. But really, the community has been SUPER supportive! We’ve enrolled over 600 students, we’ve been voted among the Best of North Port every year since we opened, and we won the Business of the Year Award twice! Our students have been invited to perform at multiple city events, and we work closely with the Parks & Recreation Department, the Chamber of Commerce, and the North Port Police Department (we do a Rock With A Cop event every November). North Port loves The Rock Box, and The Rock Box loves North Port!
RR: What are some of the goals that you have to expand and grow over the next few years?
Sally: When we started out, we had 3 lesson studios, and only a handful of students. Then a little over a year later, we expanded into the unit next door and now have 10 fully functioning lesson studios, and hundreds of students. As we begin to fill up slots, we hope to continue to grow organically, and have the means to offer more, even cooler experiences.
Angel: Exactly what Sally said. With over 600 students, we hope to continue to grow and give our students the experiences that everyone dreams about. From learning an instrument, to playing in a band, rocking on stage, recording in a studio, and one day touring and doing it all on their own. We’ll continue to be North Port’s original music destination and mentor anyone and everyone looking to take that next step. Experience the music at The Rock Box!