The Classics & The Classical

Students put zing in strings and rock in rock ‘n’ roll.

There are the classics — and then, there are THE classics. Right now, young Northwest Arkansas musicians have unique opportunities to be exposed to both. Those who think the classics were performed by Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Frank Zappa have an opportunity to follow in their footsteps at the School of Rock. And those who think classic means the classical compositions of Mendelssohn, Dvorak and Tchaikovsky may be able to join the student body at the Park Na Conservatory of Violin & Cello.

Founders Eun Seo Park and Dominic K. Na intended to open the conservatory’s doors later this year — and then, the coronavirus pandemic changed everything.

“It has been nearly a year of planning to bring the Park Na Conservatory into fruition,” says Executive Director Sonja Kinzer. “Up until the realization that the entire world would be impacted by covid-19, we had continued to meet and make our plans for opening in the fall of 2020. We had no idea that right before we would present ourselves to the arts-loving community of Northwest Arkansas, we would be thrown such a profound challenge.

“Thankfully, we are not alone in trying to solve this puzzle,” Kinzer adds. “We’ve been incredibly inspired by the many wonderful organizations in the area. We determined ourselves to forge ahead instead of shrink back, and here we are.”

“Here” means instructing 12 students in a virtual summer session that started in May. But there are no plans for a permanent location this fall, either.

“Since we are a nonprofit and our dollars will go towards overhead, scholarships and events — and especially in our present covid climate — we just can’t justify being a brick-and-mortar establishment,” says Kinzer. “Our goal is to be fluid, flexible but incredibly consistent and visible. We need to meet students where they are, and the community where they are. I guess that makes us somewhat of a roving Northwest Arkansas conservatory!”

Kinzer says when “we can safely teach in person,” families will be able to choose among a handful of locations where they can receive instruction. A virtual component will remain as well. The maximum enrollment for the advanced strings conservatory program will be 10 violins and 10 cellos. There will also be a preparatory program and one or two spots in a “young prodigy” program for ages 3 to 7.

Meanwhile, in Fayetteville, students ages 12 to 18 are invited to an eight-week online songwriting program hosted by the School of Rock.

“Our summer season begins July 1, including not only the songwriting program, but programs covering the music of Nirvana, The Doors and one we call Staff Faves — a selection of songs by bands such as The Beatles, Queen and David Bowie,” says Beatriz Escobar, who is the owner of the local School of Rock. Summer sessions will all take place online, but “we’re very proud that we never closed! We shifted to online only almost overnight,” Escobar adds.

Although School of Rock is a business, Escobar says “we strive to create opportunities for underprivileged and special needs students.”

“Our methodology, called SongFirst, focuses students on learning popular or self-produced songs,” Escobar says. “Students then either perform these on-stage with other students or record those songs professionally as the end goal. The emphasis on remote learning has made the creativity of songwriting even more pronounced. We’ve found the challenges of covid-19 have brought out more thoughtfulness and introspection from our students — perfect for songwriting.”

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