For Kids About to Rock

The Excelsior Rock Club helps kids master the fundamentals of rock and roll.
From left, students Jackie Uhas, 15, Jacob Iudowise, 15, Josh Palmer, 15, and William Sawalich, 10; and instructors Chris Gant and Cooper Alt.

Youngsters who dream of wowing crowds with their musical prowess are in luck—Minnetonka Music is here to teach them how to rock. The Deephaven store is home to the Excelsior Rock Club, which is specifically geared toward kids ages 8 to18. With weekly group rehearsals, private lessons and a public performance to show off their new skills, the program gives kids the chance to learn the fundamentals of rock and roll in a collaborative, encouraging—and, ahem, loud—environment.

The Excelsior Rock Club is a relatively new endeavor. Spearheaded by two Minneapolis-based musicians, Cooper Alt and Chris Gant, it has a simple concept. “It’s primarily an outlet for kids to come and rock out,” Alt says. “They come in, we provide a program of about seven or so songs. We rehearse for eight weeks, and then we perform the songs that we’ve worked on.”

Although prior experience with and exposure to an instrument—guitar, bass, keyboard, drums or voice—certainly help, Alt and Gant say that aspiring rock stars of any skill level are welcome. They’ll provide the drums and amps, and students bring their own instruments and energy.

Gant says that he and Alt work primarily in a “coach capacity” within the club. Together, they teach the basics of each instrument and help the group come up with a set list that will be both fun and challenging. Registration includes eight half-hour private lessons in addition to the weekly group rehearsals, so participants get individualized attention and constructive feedback to help them continually improve as musicians.

A love of music is clearly at the heart of the Excelsior Rock Club, but Alt and Gant want the experience to be enriching as well as fun. “The Rock Club is about being a workshop, getting all of these different influences together and seeing what emerges from that,” says Alt. “We want to provide the kids with an outlet to grow as well as to jam.”

Past sessions have covered everything from classics by the likes of Blondie, Led Zeppelin and the Police to songs by more modern groups, such as the Arctic Monkeys, Catfish and the Bottlemen, and Green Day. With a genre as expansive as rock, there are countless songs to choose from, and the set list looks different for each group. Alt says that’s intentional. “We try not to even repeat bands between sessions. We try to keep it as colorful and as mixed as possible.”

Both musicians themselves, Alt and Gant are eager to share their passion for rock and roll with others, and leading the Excelsior Rock Club gives them the chance to do precisely that.

“The students come in with crazy energy from the end of the day at school,” Gant says. “My favorite thing is just seeing it click. You can tell that they’re really excited when they’re making progress, and you can see when it connects with them.” He says that, often, participants will end up rehearsing with each other outside of sessions, which he and Alt love to see.

“Another cool thing is when they come up with ideas to shake up the song a little bit, do it a little bit differently than what we’ve heard on the studio recordings,” says Alt. “That’s really cool, because we’re ultimately trying to foster skills that they’ll be able to take into bands of their own, so to see those emerge is probably one of the most rewarding things in this program for us.”

And the opportunity to step in and jam with the group always makes for a highlight. “I love playing with them,” Alt says. “One of the highs of being a musician is performing with others, and it’s so cool to see that translate to younger people, too.”

The next Excelsior Rock Club starts this fall. Rehearsals are held on Thursdays, 4–6 p.m. or 6–8 p.m. For more information or to register, call Minnetonka Music at 952.474.3277.