MARK MUNSON'S SCHOOL OF ROCK
Mention SCHOOL OF ROCK to the average person and images of the delightful 2003 film starring Jack Black come to mind. But to Mark Munson of Brainerd, Minnesota, School of Rock has become a significant passion in his life. That passion is to provide a place where kids from age 10 to 17 can make their rock and roll dreams come true.
After retiring as a chiropractor in 2000, Mark Munson finally had the time to indulge himself in the activities that are most important to him; family, woodworking, fishing, and music. Mark started his musical journey as a kid in the early 60s, playing drums in rock and roll and jazz bands. He enlisted in the army in 1972 and was accepted to play trumpet for the “General’s Band” in Worms, Germany, but was discharged before that went through. “I was supposed to, but never did.” Mark then went on to major in music at Bemidji State University in Minnesota with a goal of teaching music. After an eye-opening tenure as a student teacher, he decided teaching wasn’t for him. Instead he went on to pursue a career as chiropractor. He continued playing trumpet and drums in various bands, but mainly concentrated on providing for his growing family and nurturing a successful practice. After visiting the town of Port Aransas on the South Texas Gulf Coast 2007, he chose to leave the frozen Minnesota months behind and became the textbook definition of what is known in the area as a “Winter Texan.” Besides being a fishing Mecca, Port Aransas also has a reputation for being rich in arts and music. In 2009, Mark ran an ad in a local newspaper seeking out fellow Winter Texans interested in starting a rock and roll band that would cater to the tastes of other northerners spending their winters in the sun. Mark had no problem finding like-minded musicians and the PA Rockers (PA for Port Aransas) have been filling the dance floor at Bernie’s Beach House every Wednesday from January through March ever since, playing hits from the golden age of rock and roll. Mark was playing drums and singing to the music he loved, spent a lot of time reeling in trout and redfish from the Gulf of Mexico, and winning acclaim with his woodworking artistry back home in Brainerd. He also served on the board of directors with The Crossing Arts Alliance there for over eight years. Life was good!
Then came 2013 and a devastating diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. This was followed by the expected surgeries and chemotherapy. The treatments were working and eventually, Mark was able to resume his active daily lifestyle. “I was hopeful that the cancer was cured, but in December of 2015, it returned.” He now continues with regular chemotherapy that has, so far, prolonged the inevitable.
The Crossing Arts Alliance is a 501C(3) non-profit organization that supports the arts by providing platforms for various vital arts programs in the Brainerd Lakes area. Founded in 2000 with help from grants provided by the generosity of local businesses and benefactors, they present arts and crafts exhibitions, workshops and programs for school age children. Their work has brought creativity to the area and educated the young and not-so-young with the splendor that the arts bring with it.
After becoming aware of Mark’s disease, the current board wanted to do something to honor his valuable service to the Alliance. A music scholarship fund was considered until someone suggested a School of Rock in his name. “Having sent my grandson Wyatt to a School of Rock two years previously and seen the results and the affects the school had on him, I got excited about the idea.”
Indeed, Mark’s face lights up with an ear to ear smile just talking about it. “Here was this 14 year-old kid…no friends…came home from school, go up in his room and play video games until he goes to bed. He was real good at Guitar Hero, but he didn’t have any direction.” After getting Wyatt a guitar and showing him a few chords, he started practicing. At the suggestion of Mark’s wife, Barb, they got Wyatt enrolled in a School of Rock in Little Falls, about 25 miles south of Brainerd. “After his first day, he came out with a smile on his face. It just really turned him around. He’s got a purpose.”
The concept is simply to take approximately 60 students from the classroom to the performing stage in front of a live audience. The Mark Munson Memorial School of Rock camp will take place four hours a day, three days a week over a two week period. The students are budding guitar players, bass players, keyboardists, drummers and vocalists. The bands are formed by how advanced they are, age, and the type of music they play. On day one, they pick a name and two classic rock tunes to play at the final concert. The kids are mentored by way of an in depth education from 10 well seasoned instructors on how to form and perform in a rock band, as well as helping with selecting music. Local working musicians have also volunteered their time and experience to the project. In addition, many instruments have been donated, and a local music store has pledged sound gear for each band. Mark says that everything is falling into place just fine. “It’s going really good. We have a director, a committee…everyone wants to volunteer to help.” It all leads up to a public concert featuring all 10 bands. Additionally, each student receives a t-shirt, DVD of their concert, and a poster of all the rock bands involved. The cost is approximately $200, with a scholarship available for those unable to fund it. The only requirement is that the students have at least one year of experience on their chosen instrument. The first summer camp is slated to begin in August 2017.
A fundraising event in Mark’s honor took place in June 2016 to kick off the project. The “Celebration of Life” party was attended by a large turnout of friends and family. So far, they have raised over $28,000 for the school and has been administered by a dedicated committee of volunteers. Mark’s band in Brainerd, The Rockin’ Hill Band, has recorded a CD covering blues, jazz and rock, with proceeds going towards the scholarship fund. They also have a new one in the works.
Mark seems to have boundless energy when it comes to his passions. He continues fishing as much as he can and working in his home woodshop. He’ll also pick up his guitar and belt out a tune or five with very little prodding. “My cancer is not going away, but presently I am still here and hopefully I can stay around for awhile. This School of Rock has given me lots to do and as most of you know, music heals the soul and sure makes me feel better.”
To make a contribution to the Mark Munson Memorial School of Rock, contact The Crossing Arts Alliance; crossingarts.org, phone (218) 833-0416 or email them at info@crossing arts.org. You can also order the Rockin’ Hill Band’s CD “You Make Me Smile” from them.