Rock Stars: SoHi students to perform guitar concert

One Soldotna teacher is striking a chord with his students.

This Tuesday, students from Kent Peterson’s Soldotna High School guitar classes will hold a “History of Rock and Roll” concert.

The student musicians will perform a variety of influential rock songs spanning more than five decades. Peterson said he wanted to get his students hooked on guitar, so he changed how he has taught his classes in recent years.

Now, classes are more performance-based than traditional high school music classes.

“It’s really more than just guitar class,” said Wade VonHeeder, a senior in the class. “It’s kind of like performance class.”

Not only did Peterson want his students to perform, he wanted to make the guitar classes relevant to his student.

His original plan was to have his students take modern bands and trace their influences back to the roots of rock and roll. That proved difficult, so Peterson tried another approach.

“A few years ago I picked out all the songs, and I was really excited and came back to school and showed the kids and a couple of them thought it was cool,” he said.

However, not all of his students were happy with the song choices, so he let the students have more control.

“This time I had the kids pick out the songs,” he said. “That way they’re buying into it, and they got into it a lot.”

Together, the more than three-dozen guitar students chose an eclectic variety of songs to perform from artists ranging from The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd, to Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

“It’s just all of our favorites,” said VonHeeder. “[The songs] go through the history of rock and roll from the 50s all the way to more modern, recent stuff.”

James Gallagher, another senior in the class, was also pleased with the songs chosen.

“They are influential and changed rock as a genre,” Gallagher said.

Peterson gave credit to his class for being reasonable when selecting rock songs suitable for a school environment.

“They totally understood selecting music that was appropriate,” he said. “They’re a really mature group, so that’s nice.”

Having a guitar concert with 37 students hasn’t always been easy.

“It’s really challenging to get [all of the] acoustic guitars to sound good and all strung together,” Peterson said.

The group also contains musicians of all skill levels. Peterson said some of the beginner students are a little intimidated by the music, but the more advanced students have been willing to help the less experienced. Overall, he said having mixed skills hasn’t been an issue.

“Once they learn four chords, they can play a lot of songs,” Peterson said.

The class not only helps students with their musical ability. By practicing in front of their peers, Peterson said students gain the self-belief required in other facets of life.

“If they’re performing in front of the guitar class — that transfers a lot to other classes,” Peterson said. “If they have to get up and present something, well they’ve been presenting in here, and that gives them confidence.”

Peterson’s method has been paying off.

“It’s pretty cool that we’re doing this,” Gallagher said.

The concert begins at 7 p.m. at the Soldotna High School auditorium.

Reach Ian Foley at Ian.foley@peninsulaclarion.com

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