It may be a 50 Cent, hip-hop world at most American high schools today, but Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull still rule at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County. At least they do when the school’s wildly popular Classic Rock Appreciation Club convenes its weekly meetings.
The club’s second year began with a bang and a wheeze yesterday when, speak of the devil, a very special musical guest came calling: Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson, 58, the flutist, singer and guitarist who has led the band through 21 studio albums and countless tours over 37 years. Tull is playing at Constitution Hall tonight, and Mr. Anderson accepted an invitation to pay his respects to the club, impressed that another generation of fans is growing up with an appreciation for music recorded long before they were even born.
Thomas Jefferson High is often cited as the most academically advanced public high school in the nation, with virtually 100 percent of its students going to college. Mr. Anderson discussed his music and answered questions for students and faculty members who gathered in one of the school’s lecture halls a few hours after students completed the PSAT college-entrance exam.
He was accompanied by Lucia Micarelli, a 22-year-old violinist who is a guest musician on the current tour. Miss Micarelli, who trained at Julliard and under Pinchas Zukerman, was concertmaster and soloist on Josh Groban’s last tour, and before that played with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Her debut CD, “Music From a Farther Room,” a classical-new age fusion, was recently released.
The classic rock club was formed last year when Bryce Basques of Great Falls, who turns 17 on Sunday, and David Zeke, 17, of Vienna, two aspiring musicians who are seniors this year, decided it might be a good way for students with similar tastes to further explore music they find vastly more inspiring than today’s popular music.
“The level of musicianship was just so superior in that golden age of rock music, around 1965 to 1975,” David said. “As musicians, we’re especially into the solos, and no one today plays their instruments like they did in the classic rock era.”
Mr. Anderson won’t argue with that. “These days it doesn’t seem to be politically correct to demonstrate dexterity on your musical instrument — it just isn’t considered cool,” he said in a brief interview before his arrival at the school. “But with the growing popularity of musically proficient — if not flashy — bands such as Coldplay, that may be changing,” he noted, while stressing that instrumental prowess alone does not make for great rock music.
At the school yesterday, Mr. Anderson urged the 150 or so students, many of whom indicated they are aspiring musicians, not to emulate musicians who play a million notes a minute. “Think more about the space between notes — see blue sky between them,” he said.
“I’m not very good at writing conventional love songs,” Mr. Anderson confessed to the students. “I’m more of a repressed Englishman who writes observational songs, translating line, tone, form and color into song.”
Bryce and David didn’t know whether any other students would show up for the club’s first meeting, at which they watched a Led Zeppelin DVD. But they hit a nerve. “It just exploded right from that first meeting, which drew a capacity crowd of about 50,” Bryce says.
The club meets Wednesday afternoons in the film-study classroom, which boasts a large-screen TV and an excellent sound system. The usual agenda involves airing a classic rock DVD or CD, followed by a critique and discussion.
Although David and Bryce appreciate some of today’s rock — citing Velvet Revolver and Wilco as examples — their main interest is classic rock. “Having knowledge of classic rock makes me hold modern music up to a much higher standard,” David said. And not much of it withstands the comparison.
So does the Beyonce/Eminem crowd give club members a hard time about liking music from their parents’ generation?
Not really, said 15-year-old Emily Wetzel. “I get a lot of confused comments when they hear what I’m listening to,” says the aspiring flute and guitar player who last year won a trip from the Washington area’s classic rock radio station WARW 94.7-FM to see The Who in California. “One I hear a lot is: ‘Oh, my dad listens to that.’ I usually reply: ‘Yeah, but it’s still a great song.’”
Rock is dead? Long live rock!