School of Rock coming to Zionsville this fall

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Given its position at the crossroads of live performance and intimate teaching, School of Rock should be struggling during the pandemic. Instead, the school is preparing to open in Zionsville next month.

Steve McFarland, the Carmel-based owner of the Carmel and Fishers School of Rock franchises, is already offering lessons and has started transforming a 2,600-square-foot office at 675 S. Main St. into a suite of soundproof instruction rooms.

McFarland started giving lessons at the Zionsville Boys and Girls Club in September in hopes he’ll have 20 students ready to perform for the grand opening of the school in early October.

Both the 9-year-0ld Carmel School of Rock and the nearly 5-year-old Fishers school are around 2,800 square feet. Each site has seven individual lesson rooms, two drum rooms and two large rehearsal rooms.

Though it will have one less individual lesson room, McFarland hopes Zionsville’s total enrollment will rival the existing Indy-area schools. Fishers has around 150 students and Carmel has close to 200.

“As we grow, we’ll add instructors along the way,” McFarland said.

The Carmel and Fishers schools have 30 teachers between them. Most are part-time. McFarland said Zionsville will start with a general manager and four instructors. He’s well aware of how valuable his school’s teacher-to-student ratio is since lessons went remote in March.

“We actually went to remote lessons before the stay-at-home orders. We take it for granted now, but back in March, nobody knew how to use Zoom,” McFarland said.

Not everything has been smooth sailing. McFarland said the same audio and video delays that sometimes plague Zoom meetings have prevented the school from hosting group sessions.

“School of Rock has been trying to crack that, but we haven’t solved it yet,” McFarland said.

In the meantime, the school focused on individual instruction and created masterclasses where musicians would answer questions. The Carmel and Fishers schools resumed in-person lessons and rehearsals in June, but there are limitations around every corner. In addition to requiring guests to wash their hands, McFarland said the school has implemented social distancing both in small group and one-on-one instruction settings with all parties wearing masks.

McFarland has installed plastic barriers to separate students from teachers. He’s hung clear shower curtains around vocal performers to create a makeshift sound booth that help keep the virus contained. Nobody is allowed to share microphones and the only live performances students have had since the pandemic started have been for limited audiences at outdoor venues.

“It’s crazy, but it both has to feel safe and be safe. They love the fact that we’re going over the top,” McFarland said. “I’ve been to a hospital for a doctor’s visit and I haven’t had to go through the protocols we have.”

Los Angeles, California-based School of Rock has more than 250 locations worldwide, and McFarland is always on the lookout for new opportunities here. He’s considered adding schools in Meridian-Kessler, Avon, Greenwood and Center Grove areas, but there’s plenty to focus on before the school considers another expansion.

“We’ve taken something that shouldn’t be a good environment and said, ‘how do we lift this and create an opportunity for growth?’ We’re doing it. We’re growing. We’re opening a school during a pandemic,” McFarland said. “That’s why I keep preaching to our teachers, that we have to adhere to our safety protocols.”

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