Matt Kim’s school of rock

  • Matt Kim demonstrates drumming to Gavin Johnson at Matt Kim’s Academy of Rock on Man Street in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Pearson Franz plays bass, Maya Williams-Russell sings and Jessica Beck plays guitar at Rock Shop as they rehearse for an upcoming performance. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Members of Rock Shop, a week long intensive rock session at Matt Kim’s Academy of Rock. Front row, holding Iggy Passiglia, are Morgan McIntosh, Gavin Johnson, Maya Williams-Russell, Nina Forman and Pearson Franz. Back row are Jessica Beck, Emily Dobosz and Sam Hoynoski.

  • Nina Forman belts out rock ’n’ roll at Matt Kim’s Academy of Rock on Main Street in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Drum instructor Mike Bartlett prepares Rock Shop students for an upcoming performance at Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Iggy Passiglia plays his guitar at the Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Jessica Beck on guitar and Pearson Franz on bass during a performance at Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Nina Forman belts out a song at Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Rock Shop students perform at Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Matt Kim praises his students, who attended the week-long intensive Rock Shop, at the end of their performance at the Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Rock Shop students get ready for an upcoming performance — from left are Gavin Johnson on drums, Iggy Passiglia on guitar and Morgan McIntosh on bass. STAFF PHOTO /PAUL FRANZ

  • Rock Shop students perform at Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Matt Kim of Matt Kim’€™s Academy of Rock on Main Street in Greenfield. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 9/2/2019 2:57:35 PM

Matt Kim has a “can-do” attitude, and it rubs off on everyone around him. Walk through the door of Matt Kim’s Academy of Rock on Main Street in Greenfield, and you soon learn he doesn’t slow down until the work day is over and something — anything — has been accomplished.

“If each person who comes through this door learns just one thing that day, I’m happy,” Kim says.

One recent warm summer morning, he sat listening, watching intently as five young musicians rehearsed for an upcoming performance. Four others practiced in the back room, waiting their turn — and for Kim’s guidance — on the small stage at the front of the music school.

His dark, piercing eyes seemed focused on the drummer and guitarist, who both appeared to be having a little trouble with the piece.

“OK,” Kim said as he picked up his guitar and stood between the two. As the music resumed, Kim rocked his way to both with what appeared to be advice, because soon after, they both shook their heads and went about playing. Kim didn’t have to repeat himself, at least that time.

The self-taught musician has been running an intensive workshop called Rock Shop for middle- and high-schoolers for the past dozen summers.

Kim can seem to come down hard at times, even using an expletive when he deems it necessary, but his sometimes stern, always encouraging, attitude has earned him the respect and admiration of his students.

“In my opinion,” Rock Shop is super fun and really helpful in learning my instrument and voice,” 14-year-old Maya Williams-Russell said. “It’s one of the highlights of my summer.”

Williams-Russell, who sings and plays bass, said she “really had fun” this year, because “we got to play songs by my favorite band and it was a challenge to have to sing and play bass” at the same time. She said it’s not a skill she’s comfortable with, but Kim made her just a little more comfortable.

“Matt is really good at pushing me and his other students to do the things we didn’t thing we could do musically,” she said. “He is a very good teacher and is really good at breaking down the scary, complicated things and making them into something more simple to understand.”

The 51-year-old rocker with dark shoulder-length hair says he has been in love with metal music for as long as he can remember. Kim, whose father is Korean and mother is “pure New England,” started listening to metal when his older brothers played it behind a closed bedroom door, while “funky” odors wafted from the gap between the door and floor.

His father was in the military, so the family — he has four brothers and four sisters — moved around a lot, and when Kim was a teen and they had moved to Hawaii — where he thought they’d stay — he got a surprise and disappointment, learning they were moving to Michigan. After his parents divorced while they were living there, he moved to Franklin County with his mother, who wanted to be closer to her family.

“I was in trouble all the time, and it got way worse when we moved here,” he says. “I went to Turners Falls High School and had to leave there, because I just couldn’t take authority.”

But during those tumultuous times, Kim turned to his music and guitar, he says.

After meeting his wife and getting a job at the former About Music — he worked there for about a decade — he took music and other courses at local colleges and went to work at the former Got Chops in Greenfield, but when that closed, he walked out the door, strolled down Main Street in Greenfield and told himself he was going to take the first storefront that was for rent. That’s when he found 219 Main St.

“I saw it and said, ‘I’m taking it!’”

He has also taught music in different schools, like Greenfield Community College, Four Rivers Charter Public School, The Academy at Charlemont and Mohawk Trail Regional School over the years.

Kim says even though he’s been playing for audiences for many years, he knows he “wasn’t supposed to be a rock star.” Instead, he says, “I’m really a teacher. I’m supposed to be right where I am. I love, love, love it.”

Ask his students, and they’ll tell you they think he’s a rock star in his own right. But, they also say they’re glad he decided to stay right where he is.

“He’s super funny,” Williams-Russell said. “That makes it a lot more fun to learn with him.”

Williams-Russell said she “highly recommends” Kim as a music teacher.

Kim won’t take all the credit, saying his academy employs the three best teachers within the 1,500-square-foot space he leases — himself, his wife Kristy Kim, who teaches voice, and drum instructor Mike Bartlett. Then, he smiles.

The school is now more than a decade old, but Kim says he sees no end in sight, at least for himself.

“If I can do this until the day I die, that will be super cool, because I’ve landed right where I want to be,” Kim says.

When you listen to Kim speak, you hear the sincerity in his voice. And, he not only loves teaching, he loves learning.

“I’m always watching documentaries and shows or reading to learn about something new,” he says. “I just watched one about black holes, and it made me think of music in much the same way astrophysicists think of black holes — they’re there. No one put them there. No one gets to take credit. No one is better than the other. We just get to study and understand them.

“I just have to know stuff like that,” he laughs.

Kim just finished his most recent Rock Shop summer session with nine participants who learned several songs that they performed at the end of the week for an audience of friends, family and relatives at Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center, just down the street from the academy.

“It was amazing,” Kim said. “We started the week with a bunch of kids who sounded like they were beating on pots and pans in the kitchen. As we moved through the week, they bonded and the music started to come together. By the performance on Friday, they were amazing.”

That afternoon at Hawks and Reed, the young musicians took the stage — none of them seemed nervous — and rocked the room with everything they had learned from Kim. He picked up his guitar a couple times and joined them on stage for a couple numbers. Kim’s pride shone through at the end of it all.

“I will take any student where they want to go, and they all know it as soon as they get here,” he says. “What I won’t do is coddle anyone. My wife is there for the hugs. I’m there to tell them to get to work. But, I don’t force anything, because everyone is responsible for themselves and how much they learn. If you want to leave, it’s your choice. But then, don’t cry about it.”

Kim says because he’s been doing Rock Shop — and the academy, which he opened a little more than 10 years ago — for so long, he’s starting to see kids of the kids he taught in the beginning.

“I guess I didn’t scare anyone away too badly, because now they’re sending their kids to me,” he says. “That’s pretty trippy, but I’ve always said the metal community is very familial, so that just drives it home.”

Kim says the metal genre has many sub-genres that are all popular worldwide. He says while there are metal festivals all over the world that draw millions of people each year, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of programs that teach the genre to kids in this area.

He says there’s a perception that metal is bad, but it has had a lot of staying power, just like the blues, and has helped a lot of people, like himself, through rough times.

“I mean, there is truth to sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, but that doesn’t mean it happens to everyone,” he says.

Kim says one of the things he likes about metal is how welcoming it is to people no matter their background, financial situation, age, whatever.

Kim says he has no expectations when a student walks through the door. If it’s a new student, he talks with them about what they want and need from him. If it’s a student who has been with him for any length of time, he doesn’t reprimand them. If they tell him they didn’t practice all week, he just explains what they won’t be able to expect from their performance until they start listening to him.

“I just tell them, ‘No problem, don’t practice, but you won’t get better,’” he says. “I mean what else can I do? I can’t practice for them. They have to take responsibility and accept consequences.”

Kim plays the guitar. He played the autoharp when he was a very young child — something that was forced upon him in school. Then, he got a drum kit when he got a little older.

“I’m addicted to rhythm,” he says. “I love the guitar and bass and drums. I tried piano as a kid, but that didn’t go well. My mom was involved in practice time and I had a miserable experience.”

Since then, Kim has taught himself how to play a little piano.

“I certainly can teach a very beginner,” he says.

He calls himself a “talk show host,” because he says as a teacher he has to know when to talk, when to listen, when to start and when to stop. He says that seems to work for him.

Kim says his motto is, “The answer is always ‘yes,’” which means he will try anything, and if a student wants to learn something he’s not sure about, they learn it together until they’ve got it.

“There’s not a lot that can’t be figured out,” he says.

He also likes to end every class, session or performance on a “high note,” saying it’s just good for the psyche.

“Playing music is hard to do,” he says. “I know what every student is going through when they’re trying to learn.”

Kim says he loves seeing a student who walked through the doors shy, scared and unsure of himself or herself, walk out feeling increased confidence and self-esteem, feeling better about themselves and what they are capable of.

He says one of his first students is now playing with Lich King, an American thrash metal band formed in 2004 in Amherst. He said he is now traveling the world, touring in Europe and beyond, making videos.

“I love that he became so successful,” he says. “All these guys need is the desire to learn and then do it. I tell them they are all going to make mistakes, but that’s how they’ll learn.”

Kim says what people would be most surprised to learn about him is that he is all about rock and metal — though he’ll teach just about anything a student wants to learn — when he’s at the Academy of Rock, but when he gets home, he rarely even listens to music.

“I just want to relax and have family time (he and Kristy have an 11-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter),” he says. “I don’t even want them to become involved in music. I’d rather see my son become an engineer who builds spaceships and my daughter be one of the first astronauts to travel to Mars.”

Kristy Kim says her husband is a very good teacher who doesn’t like to take credit for anything, but should, at least every once in a while.

“He builds so much camaraderie and support with these kids,” she says. “He makes such a difference.”

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-0261, ext. 269, or afritz@gmail.com.




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