Tylyn Sersland, 15, of Columbia, works on her vocals inside a practice room at Let There Be Rock School in Columbia. The recently opened school is geared toward teaching young musicians the ins and outs of playing in a band. (Staff photo by Brian Krista, Patuxent Publishing / August 10, 2011)

The innocuous, quiet front to the Let There Be Rock School in Columbia, tucked away among offices on Red Branch Road, hides a bold, loud interior.

Through the bright red hallways — painted like a Van Halen album and stenciled with images of Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison — come the strains of electric guitars and the voice of Olivia Miller, 15, singing AC/DC's "T.N.T."

As the band reaches the chorus, Tylyn Serland, 15, rushes out from the rehearsal space where she had been watching.


Submit a Letter to the Editor for the Laurel Leader, Columbia Flier and Howard County Times

"They're so good!" she said.

"You'll get there," assured Tim France-Kelly, owner and director of the Let There Be Rock School in Columbia. "It's not a competition."

Tylyn and Olivia are two of 35 students at the school, which opened in May and specializes in performance-based musicianship. It's the only school in Howard County like it, France-Kelly said, and that's just what the students like about it.

"I like to sing rock music," said Tylyn, a rising sophomore at Atholton High School who lists Flyleaf and Soundgarden among her favorite bands. "And this is a rock school — there are none around here. There's piano schools, lots of piano schools, but they'll make you sing to classical music."

As Tylyn made a face at the mention of Bach, France-Kelly said that at most music schools, kids don't always get to the learn the music they want to learn. But that's not the only thing that sets Let There Be Rock School apart.

"They don't ever get to play on stage with each other," he said. "If they do, it's a stuffy recital that two of their grandparents and one of the parents get to go to."

Not so at the Let There Be Rock School, where students are practicing with fervor; their first live gig is Oct. 15, at Nottingham's Tavern in Columbia. Each will play a small set of AC/DC songs. But none of the bands are cover bands, France-Kelly said; rather, they're tribute bands.

For Tylyn, singing AC/DC songs can be a challenge, she said, but she remedies that by singing in a different octave, avoiding the tenor of Bon Scott or the high baritone of Brian Johnson.

"Apparently, it sounds fine," she said.

Individual instruction, bands

Once a week, students meet individually with their instructors, where they learn guitar, vocals, bass or drums. Additionally, students are grouped together in bands with others on their skill level, and the bands practice once a week.

Currently, there are four bands practicing in the Let There Be Rock School in Columbia; not every student is placed in a band, France-Kelly said. The school provides the amps, microphones and drums, but each student provides their own instruments.

Olivia said she started teaching herself guitar on her 13th birthday. Two years later, to the day, she stood on the practice stage at Let There Be Rock, surrounded by bandmates playing AC/DC.

Olivia, a rising sophomore at Centennial High School, is a member of the band M.R.I. ("Mad, Rockin' Idiots") with Coston Nolan, 12, and a rising seventh-grader at Bonnie Branch Middle School, Miles Allen, 13, a rising eighth-grader at Murray Hill Middle School and Eric Sann, 11, a rising sixth-grader at Bonnie Branch.

The bandmates tease one another in a brief break in between practice sessions; while Olivia calls herself an "extreme tomboy," Coston points out that her boyish ways just might have the opposite effect.

"I don't know," Coston said. "Hanging out with dudes is kind of girly-like."