Last weekend, while my wife, Jean, and I were traipsing around Paris, we stopped into a cool children’s clothing store, where a flyer near the door caught my eye: “Park Slope Rock School Paris,” it read: “Throughout the semester our students make music as a band and learn the basics of playing and performing rock music in a collaborative setting; students will learn popular Anglo-American rock hits and write their own songs.”
Uh, Park Slope? In Paris? It turns out that this school of rock is actually the newly opened Paris branch of the four-year-old Brooklyn school, spearheaded by Jason Domnarski, a pianist with the electro-jazz-rock trio JDT. Fascinated by the nascent connections between Paris and hipster Brooklyn, I asked Jason—30 and married, but not yet a father—to talk with me via Skype about exporting the borough’s culture overseas.
Okay, what exactly is Park Slope Rock School?
PSRS is an independent music school for kids aged 8-16. Over the course of the 15 week semester, students are placed into bands and begin to learn the ins and outs of learning, writing and performing rock music. We also place a huge emphasis on writing original music, allowing the students to express themselves creatively, all while working with their peers in a band context.
Are there multiple classes, or just one all-encompassing semester course?
All classes are centered around weekly band instruction. The students meet once a week in their band. We currently have 6 bands.
Do the bands have names?
Well, we just started our fall semester this past weekend, so many of them are not yet named…but yes, each band names themselves. We have been working with one band for many years named FLITE. They’ve won the NYC Battle of the Bands twice now. We’re very proud! Past names have included Revolve, The Messed Up Hobos, Magnetic Feedback. It’s funny, the kids are able to pick up a Rolling Stones tune in one class but getting them to decide on a name takes forever!
So, why open Park Slope Rock School in Paris?
Because my wife lives here and I had to move. But I’ve been very inspired by what has happened with the school in Brooklyn and feel that Paris kids are ready for the program. Most music education here in Paris is based in conservatories or independent schools that focus on classical or jazz studies. There are very few outlets for children to play rock/pop music and have a go at writing their own music. That, and applied English language activities are very popular here, so what better way to practice your English with some Beatles lyrics with a guitar in hand?
Does “very few” mean that you have competition on the “teaching tweens and teens to rock” circuit?
There isn’t really any competition here for what I do. There are a few schools that have begun to teach young children some songs from the rock canon, but most of them focus on younger children with more of a singalong setting. As far as band programs, there isn’t anything here yet. And to have the Brooklyn school already successful brings some cachet to the program. The fact that I’m American and conduct the classes in English is a huge plus and quite unique here.
Do Parisians have the Jack Black movie “School of Rock” as a reference point? Do they mention that to you when they sign kids up?
Ah yes. No interview is complete without the Jack Black reference. I have not heard anyone utter his name over here. A nice change from Brooklyn, where I can’t escape the comparision. I may sound bitter, but I’m not. If not for that movie, rock schools wouldn’t be the force they are today. And it’s one of my top 5.
What kinds of kids/families are signing up in Paris so far?
So far, I have many international families. Most students are bilingual, either American, British, Swiss etc… I have a couple French families and the word is continuning to spread in that community. The parents, much like in Brooklyn, tend to be musicians, writers, photographers … very creative folks.
What does “Park Slope” actually mean to Parisians?
That is the question at the moment. In naming the school Park Slope Rock School PARIS, I really wanted to build on the brand and create a community where the Brooklyn families and Paris families could see what was happening across the ocean … be a part of something big, but at the same time small and boutique like. There are a few families that have mentioned they know of Park Slope, either having been there or from reading about it, but I also think it’s a new neighborhood for a lot of French people. Maybe I’ll introduce them to the borough! Or maybe I’ll have to change the name because it’s too confusing.
But don’t Parisians have some sense of what Brooklyn is/means? When I was there last week, “Brooklyn” seemed big. My wife even bought a sweatshirt with the words “Brooklyn parle français.”
It’s true. Brooklyn is huge here and has huge cachet. But I don’t think the individual boroughs are as well known. I’ve heard the name Williamsburg being dropped here and there, but that’s it. I think the fashion, art and music styles are very Brooklyn in a few arrondisements here. But what I like is there is still the Parisian take on this. One of the things that drove me crazy about living in Williamsburg was that everyone spent so much time looking edgy, but if you took the L train at night, they all looked the same. Here I can see the influences, but it’s a little less obvious.
Where is PSRS Paris located?
PSRS Paris classes are held at SMOM Studios in the 20th Arrondisement. The 20th feels very Brooklyn to me. There are tons of young creative types and young families living here and the area is rapidly gentrifying. Some of the best music clubs are here in the 20th.
Would you call the 20th the Williamsburg of Paris?
Definitely. Walk up Rue Oberkampf at 1am and it’s virtually identical to Bedford. Only the people are better looking … sorry BK! Technically, Oberkampf is in the 11th, but ends in the 20th. Some people like to split hairs about these types of things.
All right then, where’s the Park Slope of Paris?
Hmmm. I think you can find the same type of vibe in the 11th, 9th and 20th Arr. Brownstone Brooklyn will always be it’s own thing, thank god, but these Arr are quite trendy, with tons of great cafes, bars, vintage shops, expensive kid stores. There are almost as many Maclarens here as in PS, unfortunately!
And we call them bobos, btw.
For “bourgeois bohemians,” naturally. How else do Parisian and Brooklyn parenting trends match up?
I’m not sure if I’m the best person to ask about that.
Well, you see and deal with these kids and their families, right?
I have much more experience dealing with Brooklyn families. My Paris program starts next week, so I haven’t yet seen them in action, but my interactions so far have been quite similar. All the parents seem to want to find a positive, fun, and musical outlet for their kids but there doesn’t seem to be a lot out there for that.
In Brooklyn, parents are incredibly supportive of their children and love to see their child involved in creative, slightly unique, activites. That being said, some can go too far and try to live vicariously through their kids, wishing to relive their college band days.
I think the same can be said for the Paris folks.
In Paris, what’s the attitude towards “alterna-dads” with their band T-shirts, cool sneakers, skateboards, kids in rock school, and facial hair? Are they as dismissive of them as we Brooklynites are? (Full disclosure: I am one of them.)
Ha! I love it. I’m sure I’ll be there with you in a couple years. I see the hip Dads everywhere here and I’m proud to now offer them a rock school for their kids to complete the image! However, I don’t feel the same judgement of these types as I did in Brooklyn. It’s funny. Paris is a much smaller town than NYC or even Brooklyn, but I feel the concentration in Park Slope, Prospect Heights, and Williamsburg is astounding. It’s like there’s a magnet.
And the few dads I know like this are surprisingly uninterested in a big social life, getting out there and being seen. They’re kind of “all about the kids” right now.
What kind of differences do you see in how Paris and Brooklyn families function? Are there things that Brooklyn parents or kids do that Parisians would never do? Or vice-versa?
Hmm. Give me a sec.
I think a big difference between the two involves kids’ extra curricular activities. I think this is also indicative of a larger difference between the states and France. I’m astounded by how busy and overworked some of our Brooklyn students are. Music classes, karate, tutors, SAT prep, play dates… There’s so little time in the week for the kid to just hang out. I think there’s a big emphasis here on making sure families spend more time together than just in a car, running from one activity to another. I don’t know every Parisian child’s schedule, so I’m sure there are exceptions, but so far I’ve been dealing with much more relaxed parents in Paris.
When a kid falls down in Paris, the parents give him a second to deal with him/herself, rather than scooping them up, getting out the disinfectant and cooing. I know it’s a weird aside, but I’ve seen it a few times. Less tiger moms, if I can use a now clichéd term.
Back to the school: Are you adjusting the curriculum at all? I know it’s just getting started, but are there English-language songs or bands that are well-known in Paris but not in America? And are you boning up on Johnny Hallyday and Serge Gainsbourg tunes as well?
I’m hoping to introduce many of the same bands as I do in Brooklyn: Rolling Stones, AC/DC, Beatles, Tom Petty, David Bowie. I am a huge Gainsbourg fan, but I’m not sure if I want 10 year old girls to be singing “Je T’Aime Moi Non Plus.” The British and American rock canon has definitely made it over here, so I don’t think I should have a problem. I know a few already want to learn some Phoenix songs, of course! What I’m looking forward to seeing are the original songs with English lyrics. It’s hard enough to write lyrics in your native language, so we’ll see what the French students come up with. It’s going to be awesome.
Until the backlash, of course. When Park Slope and Brooklyn are involved, there’s always a backlash. Right?
I think the two can live happily ever after! I would even love to see some exchange program happening with Paris and Brooklyn bands. Play a show in the other city, hang out for a week. How awesome. But that’s still a pipe dream.
I love Park Slope, despite it’s excess of strollers and fascist state food coop. (I’m going to get in trouble for that.) There are very few communities like it in the country and I’m so happy to be able to interact with the kids and families on a regular basis. I hope Paris will be the same way. I definitely hope the bands will be as good, because the Brooklyn kids rock!