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Apr 25, 2011

Inc. 5000 Applicant of the Week: Bach to Rock

This is not your typical music school. This is the real-life version of School of Rock.

By Eric Markowitz | @EricMarkowitz | Apr 25, 2011

Young Punk: The goal of Bach to Rock is to “transform the drudgery of conventional music instruction into a dynamic social experience.”

As applications for the 2011 Inc. 500|5000 arrive, we thought it would be worthwhile to shine a spotlight on some of the companies that are vying to appear on our ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. (For more information and to apply, go to One that caught our eye was Bethesda, Maryland-based Bach to Rock, a chain of music schools that has a unique approach to music education.

The 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. is known for its consistent lineup of alternative rock groups like Iron and Wine, Cake, and My Chemical Romance. So when The Black Sparks took the stage in June of 2010 for their punk rock set, there were at least a few raised eyebrows in the crowd. After all, all five members of The Black Sparks are under the age of 13.

“Literally these kids are no taller than my desk,” says Brian Gross, the president of Bach to Rock, the music school the band members attend. “But they’re punk. They’re 110 percent punk—totally original, and they’ve even cut their own CD.”

Ryan Little, a music critic for the Washington City Paper, would agree. In August of 2010, Little wrote up his opinion of the band, which praised them for their “cleverness” and originality. “There’s no punk-rock pops behind the scenes calling the shots—10-year-old Andrew Salfi sings about watermelon and things catching on fire because he wants to,” he wrote. “Every song is original, and it’s all written by the band. Their…quirky on-stage banter, instrument change-ups, and genuine charisma—won over the crowd as well as any legitimate new punk band I’ve seen. The kids are alright? No, the kids kick ass.”

If the notion of ax-wielding middle-schoolers bring to mind a certain 2003 Jack Black film, it’s actually fairly apropos. At Bach to Rock, students are not only given the opportunity to perform onstage, but the opportunity to perform the music they want to play. This is no stuffy piano recital—this is really rock and roll.

“The way that music is traditionally taught is a very isolating experience,” says Gross. “Someone comes to your home and there’s very little social interaction. The music tends to be less engaging, too.” To that end, the Bach to Rock philosophy is to offer music education from a variety of musical genres, hence the name, Bach to Rock. “The kids learn everything from Taylor Swift to Radiohead to Limp Bitzkit to Mozart and Bach,” says Gross. “It’s the full spectrum.”

The school’s founder was a middle school teacher in Maryland’s public school system when he first conceived of the Bach to Rock idea. “His concept was to bring the team’s sports concept to music instruction,” says Gross. “We go under the philosophy that [the kids] learn best when they’re playing with other kids and playing music they like.”

Indeed they do. It’s been well documented that students that study music tend to perform better in other areas of study. As noted in a recent issues of Psychology of Music, children trained in music “display superior cognitive performance in reading skills compared with their non-musically trained peers.”

The school now has grown to six storefront locations throughout Maryland and Virginia, with over 2,400 active students, some as young as three. Bach to Rock (also abbreviated as “B2R”) employs over 100 music instructors whose backgrounds range from classically trained musicians to actively touring rock musicians. For example, the school’s director of piano and keyboard programs attended Princeton and the prestigious Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins; other instructors, such as the bass guitarist for The Kicks and a backup singer for Gloria Gainer, demonstrate how versatile—and diverse—the music education at Bach to Rock strives to be.

In 2010, revenue at Bach to Rock surpassed $3 million, and Gross expects the company’s revenue to surge in 2011. Gross says the company’s goal is to eventually franchise both nationally and internationally. In fact, the company has already filed for a franchise licenses at the state level, and plans to be be offering the franchise by the end of the summer.

In June, Bach to Rock will once again host the year’s Battle of the Bands concert at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. Perhaps this goes without saying, but yes, it is an ‘all-ages’ show.