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Musicians try out for rock school at Tampa's Patel Conservatory

TAMPA — Tapping his feet, the teacher pointed feverishly around the room.

"D, D, C, D," he hollered to a motley crew of musicians. "Now we're going up to G. Tenth fret!"

It wasn't long until the random plucks and chords became Cream's Sunshine of Your Love. Lee Ahlin's mop of gray hair bounced to the pa-da-da, pa-da-da of the drum as he wailed out the lyrics.

Ahlin, who leads a "rock school" course at Tampa's Patel Conservatory, conducted the Saturday afternoon jam before auditions for the course's next session, which begins in January. About a dozen people, ranging from elementary-school age to adult, showed up.

"I'm in the presence of greatness," Ahlin gushed to the group after a couple of performances.

The rock school, which Ahlin began 20 years ago at Paragon Music Center on Hillsborough Avenue and moved to Patel in 2004, aims to teach musicians cooperation and collaboration through training as a group.

A dozen bands usually participate in each $456 session, which culminates in a final outdoor "Woodstock-style" concert after 12 weeks. Ahlin assembles the bands based on age, ability and style.

There will be a second round of auditions Dec. 28. Anyone from third-grade age to adult is welcome, and accepted instruments include bass, drums, keyboard and guitar.

Ahlin, who has been teaching guitar since age 12, said band-style music lessons are more intense because participants are facing the deadline of the final concert.

"You know, the curtain's going up," he said.

After several rounds of Sunshine of Your Love and Bob Seger's Old Time Rock and Roll, Ahlin began the individual tryouts.

Ten-year-old Michael Giovenco quietly took a seat at the drum set.

"All right give me some time," Ahlin said.

Michael pa-tap-tap-tapped out a simple rhythm. The teacher picked up his electric guitar and strummed along.

"Okay, passed the first test," Ahlin said.

Michael exhaled.

Ahlin played a faster song, swaying on his heels, motioning Michael to join in. Speedier now, the drum thumped an even beat, and Ahlin stopped.

"Do you sing?" Ahlin asked.

Michael's eyes widened, and he shook his head. "Uh, not really."

Was he willing to try?

Slowly, Michael nodded.

"All right, great," Ahlin said. "I'm going to put you in a good band."

Michael stood and picked up his sticks. As he walked to the back of the room, where his dad sat watching, the rocker finally let out a grin.

Kim Wilmath can be reached at or (813) 661-2442.

Musicians try out for rock school at Tampa's Patel Conservatory 12/11/10 [Last modified: Saturday, December 11, 2010 9:20pm]
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