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Eastside School of Rock

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Daniel Hernandez publishes another rockin' story, "The Punk Rock Kids in the Hall," in the Los Angeles Times about Ramona Hall in Highland Park, which offers kids after-school music education classes and encourages them to perform in their own rock bands.
Raul Martinez can't help but smile. Since 2000, when he started teaching guitar at Ramona Hall on North Figueroa Street, he has built a veritable farm for budding roqueros in northeast Los Angeles. He starts with 9- and 10-year-olds who are pushed to Ramona Hall by parents eager to get their children's hands on something useful when they are not in school.

Once they master enough chords and demonstrate even a mild enthusiasm for the rock 'n' roll dream, Martinez fours them up, lets them pick up some classic rock sheet music from his library and, three power chords later, you've got yourself another rock band.

"They come up with weird names, it's funny," Martinez said. "They have another one called the Tigers."

And, he adds -- pretty often in reference to several bands -- "Actually, they're pretty good." The teacher insists on good grades and some degree of dedication ("I just lay it on them," Martinez said, "the rules.... The parents like that.").

Some students become so devoted to Martinez's firm yet easygoing teaching style that they stay on through the end of high school. They bounce among bands with ever-changing names and ever-shifting lineups, and live the rock star dream in backyards, garages, community fairs and, for some, hip L.A. clubs and private parties.

"I teach them everything ... a bit of every style ... classical, jazz, country. But once they get older, they start playing what they like -- mostly punk and rock," Martinez said.

He said he can't tell exactly how many bands have come and gone or currently rock at Ramona Hall. But the center has been so productive in band- making that it has its own interior lore, full of big successes and big Foreign Policy,...crumbled after its members depleted the cash from their first paying gig ($25 a head) on such luxuries as 1-gallon tubs of ice cream. That's rock 'n' roll, he explained.