Folks can earn a degree in classical forms of music, so why not rock?
That's the question Bill Eckstrom, director of the Jamestown Community College Rock Ensemble, had in mind when he, Randy Deppas and Joe Ralph approached their music instructor Gene Nichols with the idea of starting a rock program back in 1983.
Yet, the result of the proposition didn't exactly turn out ideal it began as a pop ensemble but Eckstrom said he is quite satisfied with what has been accomplished by the program over its 30-year history.
Director of the Jamestown Community College Rock Ensemble Bill Eckstrom.
Members of Atica, from left, Matt Clark, Ryan Ecklund, Ryan Melquist and Colin Shaffer.
Members of Ruckus, including: Randy Deppas, Jen Robinson, Karl Lindboom, Darren Cederquist and Jim Torrey. Torrey has since left the band, and has been replaced by Mike Cusimano.
"There wasn't a college in the nation that had a rock program, so they called it a pop ensemble and we were the backup band," Eckstrom said. "After three successful semesters they started calling it Rock Ensemble and listing it as its own class. We became less of a backup band, and instead started forming bands. It's grown to the point where now I usually have 25-40 students enrolled in the course per-semester - it's quite the program."
To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the rock ensemble, a Rock Fest featuring two nights of performances will be held at the Scharmann Theatre. On Thursday at 7 p.m. the eight student bands enrolled in the spring semester class will perform several songs each. On Friday at 7 p.m. one of the eight student bands will open for two alumni bands: Atica and Ruckus.
General admission tickets are $4, $3 for seniors and students and $2 for Faculty Student Association members. Jamestown Community College is located at 525 Falconer St. in Jamestown. For more information, call 338-1187 or visit sunyjcc.edu.
Atica, a band that grew out of the JCC Rock Ensemble, met with local success in the early 2000s. The founding members of the band included: Ryan Melquist, Colin Shaffer, Ryan Ecklund and Jeremy Kinnear. Three of the four founding band members will perform at the Rock Fest, and Matt Clark will sit in on drums for Kinnear.
Melquist, whose first successful band was Atica, is excited to reunite the band for the Rock Fest.
"It'll be great to play with the fellas again," Melquist said.
Although Ruckus didn't originate with the JCC Rock Ensemble, Deppas, a Celoron native who serves as the group's guitar and vocals, played an integral role in the development of the program.
"I remember it being a lot of fun, I met some people I didn't know along with some who I did know and made some good music," Deppas said. "It certainly was a very informative period on trying to learn what it takes to be a performing musician in a live setting where you have to control all the variables."
Deppas' current band, Ruckus, features Jen Robinson, Karl Lindboom, Darren Cederquist and Mike Cusimano.
"Bill thought of me because I was in it in the very beginning - that was really great of him," Deppas said. "We're all really looking forward to the show."
Over the course of its 30-year run, the Rock Ensemble program has impacted hundreds of Jamestown Community College students.
The course is a part of a well-rounded music curriculum, and is held each semester. At its peak, the class had 46 students in 14 bands. This semester there are 30 students in eight bands.
Students in the class not only learn about performing rock music itself, but also the technical, behind the scenes production side of shows as well as various aspects of music business.
"I divide the students into bands, and make them choose their own material," Eckstrom said. "Ultimately I try to teach them to have too many songs prepared and choose the best ones for performance. I also teach them how to run rehearsals. So, they learn how to make a set list, run a rehearsal, how to learn songs, stage presence, trusting the sound person, healthy playing and how to be in a band where everyone has equal say and compensation. I've heard of maybe one or two universities offering programs such as ours -it's a unique offering. It's one of the performing ensembles, so you can't get a degree in rock - yet."
A recent example of success to come from the program is a student named Melanie Luciano. While performing in the 2011 Rock Fest, Luciano was noticed by Steve Gustafson, the bassist for 10,000 Maniacs and the technical director of the Rock Fest for the past 10 years. Gutafson gave Luciano a chance to audition for a vocals and guitar part in 10KM, which she passed with flying colors. Luciano then joined 10KM on the tour to promote the band's first original studio album in more than 10 years, "Music from the Motion Picture."
According to Gustafson, the Rock Fest gives students the opportunity to perform onstage with high-level production value. He's seen a lot of talented musicians come through the program, and he enjoys giving them the thrill of being onstage.
"Sometimes there are students who its their first time on stage with a monitor in front of them, and they scared to death. But, then they've got this stage manager who has sold records plugging in the guitars for them - they are quite thrilled about that," Gustafson said. "In the theater we do as much as we can for the students as far as production. It's loud, it's flashy, and for some of the students its the first, and maybe last time that's going to happen for them - so we want it to be special for them. The fact that JCC offers this is really quite unique and special."
In addition to serving as the director of the Rock Ensemble program, Eckstrom, a 1982 graduate of Southwestern High School and 1985 graduate of Jamestown Community College, is the owner of Germaine and Pappalardo Music Shoppe in Jamestown.
For more information, call 483-0671 or search for "Germaine and Pappalardo Music" on Facebook.