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School of Rock Teaches Life Lessons
Team work and dedication pay off for this teacher and his students.
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Anthony Sia has been a professional musician. Today he teaches those skill to high school students who belong the the School of Rock club.
- Name: Anthony Sia, 49, teaches graphic design and computer networking at Montville Township High School. He is also the creator of the “School of Rock,” an afterschool club that meets every Sunday of the year, “except for the holidays,” noted Sia. “Easter, Christmas, Chinese New Year, and the plays, we can’t meet.” The forty person club is designed to teach students how to work together as a band and tech crew of “roadies.” The goal is to play music together which sounds like the hits on the radio.
- A Musical Background: Sia’s parents wanted him to be a doctor, so they sent him to medical school in Italy. From the start, Sia discovered that he was more interested in playing the trumpet in a Salsa band, than studying medical texts in Italian. “I broke my parents’ hearts,” Sia confessed. But, he noted that it was a great experience. “I got to tour all around the country playing music. I worked as a musician the whole time I was there.” Sia stayed in Italy six years. All the while he wrote music, arranged, sang, and performed “Whatever paid the bills. That is what I wanted to be.”
- Marriage: Eventually Sia realized he wanted to settle down, and being a musician doesn’t always pay the bills.
- Career: When Sia returned to the United States from Italy he went back to school. At Montclair State University he earned a degree in international business. He then attended Chubb Institute and received a programming certificate. Finally he earned a masters degree in technology from Ramapo College. Nine years ago he was hired to teach at Montville High. It was then that Sia and his wife moved to Montville. Their two children attend Valley View and Montville High.
- A Club is Born: “School of Rock” all started with a mini-course. “We were instructed to teach something that we loved that was out of the realm of what we normally taught,” said Sia. A few months earlier, a student had excitedly told Sia about the Beatles. The student knew every song, every album, and the order of songs on the albums. Sia, who had loved being a professional musician, was intrigued and asked the student to bring in his guitar. Together they played a few songs. Then the mini-course directive came down from the administration. “I put together the ‘School of Rock,’ Sia said. “And we had a ball. We didn’t want it to end. We were having a great time.” The following year, the librarian put together a performance initiative, hosting talent shows in the library. Sia reunited the “School of Rock” kids, and a club was born. “That was ‘School of Rock’s’ first performance,” Sia said. “That was five years ago.” Today, the four-week mini-course has become a weekly Sunday practice of 4 to 6 hours. In addition, there are 3 hours of set-up and clean-up with the tech crew. Extra rehearsals are sometimes required. Membership in the “School of Rock” has grown from 5 to 40 students. Twenty-three perform, and the remainder are roadies. Currently, there are 8 soloists, 5 backup singers, 3 keyboardists, many guitarists and bass players, several drummers, and a lot of roadies.
- The Meeting of Music and Technology: “It’s been a crazy life ‘cause I still have the music left in me that I want to do, and I know a lot about music and technology. So, I put that together, and it’s a really nice match for ‘School of Rock,’” said Sia. “I mean the kids benefit from having state of the art equipment, and having somebody who knows how to use it, and having somebody who is willing to train kids to do the audio work and the mixer work.” The club’s equipment has been provided by the Montville Education Foundation, the high school’s Parent Teacher Organization, and Sia himself. “My dad built some of this equipment almost 40 years ago, when I was in a lot of battle of the bands, and it still works perfectly.” Now in his 70's, Sia’s dad still helps Sia with his band.
- Time: “It is a tremendous amount of time,” Sia added. Each week his Sundays begin at 8:30 a.m. with tech training and set-up for the roadies. By 10:00 the musicians arrive. Sia provides them with musical arrangements. Practice runs until at least 2:00, and then the roadies work with Sia to break down the equipment. During the week, “In addition to my lesson plans,” said Sia. “I’m also setting up the arrangements for Sunday. And that’s the way it is every week of the year.” Additionally, Sia is “very, very proud” of the fact that musicians of all levels play together in the “School of Rock.” This is accomplished because those with less experience put in more time practicing. “We do have players who are beginners… and I will spend extra hours with them making sure they are ready for our practices.”
- Goals: “’School of Rock’ is not for everyone,” Sia explained. “Great musicians might not make it because they’re not mature enough. Beginning musicians might not make it because they’re not dedicated enough.” But, for those with maturity and talent, “School of Rock” provides young musicians, and those interested in sound mixing, an opportunity to learn to work together as a team. “It’s hard,” explained Sia. “It’s hard because we try to get as much of the record into our performance as possible.” The students get professional quality training at “School of Rock.” And, according to Sia, “The music is really good…We get together for the sake of playing music. We are a club. We’re like a family.”
- Favorite Thing about Montville: “The school,” said Sia who had an opportunity to substitute at Montville High School before he was hired full time. “I fell in love with the school,” he added. “At this school they really care about the students and so I said to myself I would love to have my kids go here.”
- Hobbies: Sia used to play chess and fly kites, but “School of Rock” doesn’t leave him with a lot of extra time. Still, the teacher finds at least two hours each day to practice his own musical skills. Also, in preparation for his classes, he spends a lot of time designing on his computer. “I’m never really gonna grow up and have a real job, you know? Like a real job that I hate,” said Sia. “I’m very lucky ‘cause I do what I love.” Sia enjoys preparing for each day in the classroom.
- Philosophy: “Just try to do things that you love. Enjoy life. Invest in relationships, ‘cause they’re the most important thing of all. Don’t believe everything that you hear, believe what you believe. I believe in doing what you love.”