School of Rock

Marc Solomon's students are too young to drive but old enough to shred

In fact, Burden Brothers guitarist Corey Rozzoni was in the audience at the last "Rock Show." And it's not rare to find other local fixtures in those fold-out chairs, either--the Deathray Davies' John Dufilho and Salim Nourallah have attended, and former End Over End's David Mabry often fills in on drums. That's because Solomon isn't just an old hat in the Dallas scene; he's still active. He recently started another band, Solly, which released an album of infectious Replacements-era pop-rock called Get It Wrong It's Alright.

"Kids see the real-life version of what it means to be a musician today," says Jana Littlejohn, whose two sons have taken lessons with Solomon for more than two years. The Littlejohn brothers are prominent at every rock concert--11-year-old Ben switching between bass and guitar and 13-year-old Chris behind the drum set on practically every song. These kids aren't just good child musicians; they're good musicians, period. They get it. At one concert, Chris' manic arm-flailing performance of The Who's "My Generation" had one audience member exclaiming, "Oh, my God. It's a little Keith Moon!"

"They would do this every day if they could," says Jana Littlejohn, whose Episcopal Church of the Ascension now donates space for the rock shows. "Marc inspires my children. They just soak him up." Earlier this year, as he does with many students, he took both boys to Aerosmith and Elvis Costello concerts. When Solly played the tsunami benefit at the Granada Theater in January, the Littlejohns were in the front of the audience, along with a cluster of Solomon's other students, looking on adoringly.

Got it goin' on: 9-year-old Alex Kanaan (left) once sang a crowd-pleasing version of Fountains of Wayne's "Stacy's Mom."
Lindsay Graham
Got it goin' on: 9-year-old Alex Kanaan (left) once sang a crowd-pleasing version of Fountains of Wayne's "Stacy's Mom."

When I ask how playing music has changed her sons, Jana Littlejohn's eyes go wide and she searches for the words. "You know, you read things about how kids who study music do better in school. Well, nothing like that happened," she says with a laugh. "But I don't know, they just have so much more confidence."

Around 4:30 p.m., minivans start pulling up outside Marc Solomon's home. Mothers perch their sunglasses in their hair and help unload amps and guitar cases from the back seat. Kids with baby fat still in the cheeks, with oily foreheads and braces lug guitars to the garage, where Solomon holds his lessons. Today, the group is rehearsing for the April 25 Rock Show. They are playing Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child o' Mine," with freshman Brian Jones mastering Slash's searing opening notes. One of the problems with rock school concerts is that despite so many musicians, few of the students actually sing, which means Solomon handles most vocals.

"I don't really know this one," he says, looking around for a lyric sheet. "OK, I'm not sure how I'm gonna sound. Do you guys know Ethel Merman?"

The kids stare at him blankly.

Solomon is a competent singer, sometimes even a great one. (At one concert, his vocals on Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" were absolutely killer.) But his voice struggles to reach Axl Rose's warbly falsetto. Solomon doesn't mind at all, just soldiers on, motioning for kids to come in, keep tempo, giving the occasional thumbs-up when they nail it. And this is when I recognize another strength Marc Solomon has as a teacher. He's absolutely without self-consciousness. He doesn't consider it embarrassing not to hit these notes. It's no big deal. For all the joys that music brings, one of the most excruciating parts is the humiliation of making mistakes, of not being good enough. But Solomon doesn't feel embarrassed about his limitations, so neither should you. That's a gift he gives to every student: Get it wrong, it's all right.

The song ends, and as Solomon goes over the chords again with a guitar player, a mother steps inside the dim garage. She looks like she's just come from a tennis match, with tanned, trim legs and white shorts. As the band launches into the third (or fourth, or fifth) rehearsal of "Sweet Child o' Mine," she smiles proudly and taps her foot along to the beat. It's funny to see her slumming here; she looks too manicured for such grungy guitar-band digs. Even with SUVs and country club manners, this new generation of parents just seems cooler than before. Or maybe, in the end, just more tolerant. After a while, she shoots me a look. "It's kind of loud in here, isn't it?" she asks. Before the song ends, she sneaks out, saying, as she leaves, "Well, maybe I'll just listen from outside, you know?"

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