Nearly a decade ago, when Michael Napolitano’s first daughter was just a baby, he wanted to expose her to live music. He took her to a traditional music class for little ones, where the soundtrack was soft and tender, with acoustic guitars, gentle flutes and calm keyboards.
“It was a little tame,” he said. “I was looking for something a little more vivacious, and I couldn’t find it, so I made it.”
Napolitano founded Preschool of Rock, a slightly louder, looser way to introduce kids to music. It offers interactive music courses for kids ages 0-5, as well as an outreach program for preschools. There are drum sets and electric guitars (which aren’t turned all the way up to 11). And it’s been a hit — Preschool of Rock now offers classes at 15 locations in New Jersey and New York City, and in 35 schools.
On days when Napolitano isn’t organizing Preschool of Rock courses, he’s touring with his kids rock band, Michael and the Rockness Monsters (they’re performing at WTMD in Towson on Saturday Oct. 14).
“The band is just fantastic – really upbeat, super interactive,” he said. “I like to play as much as possible.”
It’s also a way for Napolitano to stay musically connected with his daughters, now 8 and 10. They weren’t officially Preschool of Rock students (“I don’t want to be my child’s music teacher,” Napolitano said with a laugh), but they were surrounded by Preschool of Rock songs and videos for several years. When they got a little older, they started helping Napolitano write songs for the Rockness Monsters.
“I developed Preschool of Rock when my kids were babies, and now Michael and the Rockness Monsters is how I can talk to my kids through music a little bit – about feeling special, peer pressure, stuff like that,” he said. “It’s really beautiful to be able to share music that way with them,” he said.
Napolitano had a similar relationship with his father, Tony, who played drums for the ‘50s doo-wop group The Ideals and toured with Joe Pesci and others. Napolitano can still picture his father’s drum set in the house, and remembers tagging along to his dad’s rehearsals.
In his classes, Napolitano tells the parents that if they can’t play instruments, they should try – or at least put music on in the house every day. And if they can pick out a few songs on piano or guitar, they should do it at least once a day, in front of the kids. Music can be learned like a language, he said.
“It’s so easy to learn an instrument when you’re young,” he said. “Way easier. If you put instruments in a child’s hands, they’re going to learn.”
Like his father, Napolitano turned his love of drumming into a career, becoming a member of the Blue Man Group’s creative team. There, he helped manage and develop new percussive instruments, props and special effects, before leaving to found Preschool of Rock.
Napolitano is a prolific songwriter; the Rockness Monsters have released two albums since Feburary 2016. Their latest, “Funny Faces,” has lush harmonies on songs like “Mr. Z” and playful subjects (“Octopus”). The Rockness Monsters’ live shows, much like Preschool of Rock, are meant to be fun and freewheeling.
“We change it as it goes,” he said. “It’s an organic experience. It’s not ‘all right this is what happens next no matter what.’ … We let the kids go.”
Tickets for Michael and the Rockness Monsters at WTMD’s Saturday Morning Tunes Oct. 14 are available here. The opener, Seth Kibel, goes on at 9:30 AM and Michael and the Rockness Monsters will be on from 10 AM – 11 AM. Don’t miss the next concert in WTMD’s Saturday Morning Tunes series! All Around This World With Jay Sand is Nov. 4. Concerts are held in WTMD’s kid-friendly space, at 1 Olympic Place in Towson. Doors open at 9 a.m. and the music runs from 9:30 a.m.-11 a.m. Each performance has an opening act as well as a headliner. Snacks (organic fig bars and fruit strips) as well as drinks (Horizon milk and Honest juice) are included for all kids. The series is sponsored by The Walters Art Museum, Garrison Forest School, Eddie’s of Roland Park, Race Pace Bicycles and (cool) progeny. Kids under 2 are free!
Editor’s Note: (cool) progeny is thrilled to be a media partner for WTMD’s Saturday Morning Tunes. We believe in quality kids arts programming — and are excited about this new series for the Greater Baltimore community!