The Power of Pop

Monster Jam 1
submitted by Director of Programs and Curriculum Su D’Ambrosio

When I was eight years old my music teacher offered me the chance to play an instrument. My choices were the violin or the clarinet. I didn’t know much about the clarinet, but I did know that violins played “yucky classical music” so I chose the clarinet, hoping to be able to play songs from the radio. Little did I know it would take a long time to be able to play anything that resembled a song and, ultimately, the joke was on me, that I would become a classically-trained clarinetist who loves classical music.

By middle school I had learned enough about rhythm and notes to be able to play the familiar pop music I was hearing on the radio. Unfortunately the clarinet was not always a good match for these tunes and they sounded a bit weird when I played them on my own. This was a little discouraging, as pop music was the music my friends loved and was fun to listen to. It was also frowned upon by my teachers who thought pop music had little integrity. I didn’t think much of it at the time, and I was fortunate that my etudes and classical pieces motivated me to practice, but I know that many students stopped playing because they didn’t think the music in their lesson books was “fun.”

My experience was over 40 years ago and it’s interesting to see that things have not changed. Students in school instrumental music programs still learn from basic lesson books that help them to understand music and develop strong technique, and students still wish they could play rock and pop music. While it is true that this music is not the best vehicle for establishing music fundamental, it can be a strong motivator in the right dose.

With this in mind, South Shore Conservatory (SSC) started Middle School Monster Jam. These jam session bring students together to learn and perform a pop or rock song in one night. All instruments and voices are welcome, even clarinets! In past years they’ve played Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing, Wilson Pickett’s Mustang Sally, Jason Mraz’s I’m Yours, Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe and Phillip Phillips’ Home. The piece they play is chosen and arranged for the group by an SSC faculty member, and coaches for each instrument family help students learn their part. When it all comes together, the full arrangement sounds a lot like the song they know, and students feel a great sense of pride and accomplishment, while having tons of fun playing a song they like. Parents are amazed when they hear the final performance and appreciate the sense of joy they see on their children’s faces as they make music that they love.

South Shore Conservatory’s next Middle School Monster Jam is December 4 at One Conservatory Drive in Hingham. The group will be playing Renegades by X Ambassadors. For more information, contact Jazz/Rock/Pop Department Co-Chair Ed Sorrentino, at 781-749-7565, ext. 21, visit, or follow South Shore Conservatory on Facebook at

Su D’Ambrosio  lives in Plymouth with her daughters Maria and Rosa and her dog Bernie, who is too busy playing fetch with his drumsticks to join Monster Jam.

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