Sounds Local: Matt Kims Academy of Rock hosts student concert Saturday
The Academy of Rock, 219 Main St., Greenfield, will host a free a student show on Saturday, March 1, at 2 p.m. Pictured, Kate Broady of Shelburne on vocals and Maddy Cady of Greenfield on bass.
Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh
Matt Kim and and student Tristan McLaurin of Colrain on guitar.
Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh
In addition to Broady and Cady, this photo shows Trace McLaurin from Colrain on drums. At front right is Matt Kim and in the back is his wife, Kristy.
Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh
If anyone had told Matt Kim, back when he was a teenager, that there would some day be a business with his name on the door and that he would teach music to kids, he never would have believed them.
“I would have said that’s not gonna happen,” said Kim, who lives in Greenfield. “ I was a troubled kid who was a write off to a lot of people. I was more likely to end up with my own jail cell than my own business.”
But Kim is no longer a tortured teen who loves rock ’n’ roll, he’s a grown-up dad with two kids who still loves rock ’n’ roll.
And he does indeed have his own business on Main Street in Greenfield and it says Matt Kims Academy of Rock on the door. His tongue-in-cheek credo of “Harsh Criticism and Yelling/Disapproving Looks and Awkward Silences” is painted on the window.
While those words draw laughs from passerbys and reflect the sense of humor Kim brings to the school, they don’t reflect what actually goes on inside.
At the Academy of Rock, the students are provided with a safe and supportive environment on which to build their love of music, says Kim.
“Whatever music means to you, the answer is ‘yes, it’s just about expressing yourself and we’ll give you the tools to make that happen,’” said Kim, whose own love of music came at an early age, inspired in part by an older brother who had a room full of guitars and KISS and Blue Oyster Cult music blasting from his speakers.
The Academy of Rock will present a student show on Saturday, March 1, at 2 p.m., at its 219 Main St. location. In addition to showcasing their individual talents, the students (including a couple of the school’s adult students) will play together in bands they formed specifically for the event. The show is free.
Kim obviously never planned to open a music school or even to be a guitar teacher. He was simply a guitarist whose sole interest was in playing rock music. In the late 1990s, Kim was happy playing loud, hard rock in the band Truck while also working as a clerk at the now defunct About Music in Greenfield. After a customer asked him to teach her son guitar, he reluctantly agreed even though he felt he wasn’t the guy for a teaching job.
But he was the right guy and more teaching gigs followed in the ensuing years. By 2008, Kim had more students than he had space to teach them. He also was renting space at the local teen center to conduct Rock Shop, his intensive summer program that brings kids together to learn all aspects of being in a rock band. (Rock Shop went on hiatus in 2013)
So, when Kim was walking down Main Street and spotted the “For Rent” sign in the window of 219 Main St., he said it was “a no brainer.” Matt Kims Academy of Rock was born.
In the early days of the academy, it was just Kim teaching guitar/bass but now his wife, Kristy, who he calls his partner in parenting, teaching and music, is also on staff teaching vocals.
Musician Michael Bartlett, formerly of the band All That Remains, teaches drums. All three members also work together in the band Milton Gabor, a Rush cover band.
If you have ever seen Kim on stage, you know he rocks hard. He has the same energy and enthusiasm offstage He talks passionately about his students and the powerful role that music can play in one’s life.
He knows this from his own experiences.
One of eight children who grew up as an “Army brat,” the Kim family frequently moved all around the globe.
Kim recalled that constantly being the new kid in school meant that you had to learn to sink or swim socially and he learned early on that the best way to make new cool friends and hot chicks was to play guitar.
“The first band I was in we didn’t even play, we just called ourselves a band so that everyone in school would think we were cooler than we were,” he said.
The family eventually settled in Turners Falls and Kim started playing in real bands and has continued to work with various local bands over the years.
“Music never let me down,” he said. “Even when the lyrics are downers, it’s still a shared experience and, for me personally, that’s the power of music. When someone comes in here, my only job is to find that little piece that is vibrating inside of them and keep stoking that and get it to burn brighter.”
He is determined to see that no student ever walks out of the Academy of Rock because they feel they can’t play music.
“ I never let anyone say ‘can’t’ in here,” he said. “When people come here, it is about instilling a sense of ‘I can.’ Even if someone is here for just a few lessons, I want them to know it’s going to be the most positive experience they are going to have.”
And while the school is called The Academy of Rock and Kim is the kind of guy that has Black Sabbath running through his veins, they teach what the students want to play. That means all styles of music. The academy also welcomes all ages; Kim said his youngest student is 6 and the oldest he has taught was 72. Many students have the goal of forming their own bands, but not all do.
“We had one guy come in and all he wanted was to learn how to play Johnny Cash for his grandfather and I was like ‘that is awesome.’ It’s always about finding what resonates with a person and talking to that.”
The Academy is centrally located in the middle of Main Street but there is a good chance you have driven by it and not noticed it as there is no sign and Kim doesn’t advertise.
“People tell me, I should advertise but that’s not me, I figure if they find me, it’s meant to be,”
And people do find him.
“We are very fortunate to have the support of the local music scene and the folks within it like Ron Buzzel of Rondog Stage Technicians, who surprised us with a small grant.”
Inside, the academy looks like a hip kid’s basement with comfy retro furniture scattered about, while guitars and student art work line the walls.
He showed me the stage where the students will perform on Saturday and mentioned that his band Milton Gabor might even play a few tunes and show the students what their teachers are all about. He knows the kids are nervous, but has confidence that they will be great.
“I’m just trying to create an easy, open atmosphere so I can get these kids to relax as much as possible because everyone gets nervous walking on stage,” he said.“But then once they are done and that kid gives you that look that says “I did it,” it’s great to know you had a part in holding someone up like that.”
Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national magazines. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org