Sacramento musician Alex Dorame teaches elementary-school children on how to channel their inner rock stars
At first glance, it’s just another typical elementary-school classroom with an alphabet-lined whiteboard and boxes of Legos stacked next to a bin of tangled Mr. Potato Head parts.
There’s definitely something unusual going on here, however. This classroom has a merch table, for example, stocked with guitar picks and flutes for sale. Then there’s the electric-drum set, presently unoccupied near the back, and the single guitar that stands in a far right corner—all indications of a decidedly different curriculum.
On this quiet Tuesday morning, the smell of stale Elmer’s glue and recycled air linger as students arrive. “Hi, Mr. Alex,” a freckled young boy says, tossing his lunch pail into a cubby before finding a spot on the carpet next to his classmates.
Mr. Alex, a tall 32-year-old man with a strong build and buzzed haircut, stands near the front of the classroom, wearing a black compression sleeve under his T-shirt to cover the tattoos that run down one arm. It’s an appropriate solution, it seems, given the spongelike minds of children.
This is Alex Dorame’s domain, a summer program that kicked off in early June and now sends him, daily, more than 70-miles roundtrip to his first class in Lincoln. Today, Dorame starts his second session at Maidu Elementary School in Roseville, where he’ll school a small group of kids—first through seventh graders—on the history of rock ’n’ roll, as well as the challenges of channeling their inner rock star, via their own band, the Flaming Nachos. The goal: to perform a song in front of the school and their parents.
When he’s not teaching, Dorame keeps busy with his own music, splitting free time between three projects, all with a sound that verges on punk. Whether performing with a full band in Killdevil or Support the Rabid, or alone accompanied only by his acoustic guitar, music remains a central theme in Dorame’s world. He remembers saving his allowance to buy his first guitar at a pawn shop one summer while visiting his father in Los Angeles. At 14, he started his first band and has never stopped writing new material.
These days, given that his current occupation isn’t, perhaps, typical for a longtime punk musician, Dorame says he wanted a new challenge, something he wasn’t finding managing a Roseville sandwich shop.
So, up late on Facebook one night, Dorame says he read a friend’s post about the open teaching position and applied on a whim, thinking, “Why not?”
“This is different,” he explains. “This is changing my life in my heart, and I feel pretty accomplished.”
At band practice, Dorame teaches four girls and one boy the beginning notes to Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’ “I Love Rock ’N Roll”. In the program, which is taught by various instructors within the Eureka Unified School District, the kids pick a band name, make fliers to promote their first show around campus, and today, the Flaming Nachos are eager to practice.
In room B-1 where all the instruments are present, it’s easy to spot—and hear—the band’s vocalist. Arianna Binon, a friendly, outgoing girl, immediately grabs the microphone, turns on a mini Orange amplifier and starts telling jokes, singing and dancing.
“What do you call a witch in the sand? A sandwich.”
A ruckus erupts from behind the drum kit—courtesy of Austin, the freckled child from earlier. The remaining three girls take their cue and hop on bass, guitar and keys.
“Mr. Alex, did you know I’m magical?” says Austin, tapping the high hat with his tiny foot, his hands in the air, hiding the fact his foot is making all the noise.
A petite girl sits with the bass on her lap—its fret board towering above her. The weight of the instrument seems unimaginable in relation to her small frame.
Throughout the class, Dorame lets each child explore their instruments. All five jump at the opportunity to make a noise not unlike the banging of pots and pans, sprinkled with bits of comedy provided by Arianna, whose father arrives early to take her to a dentist appointment.
“She’s got a little performer in her,” says Arianna’s father, Greg Binon. “We want to bring that out of her, because it is her.”
The room is filled with high decibels of laughter and noise, but Dorame finds time for each musician. Once the first three chords on bass and guitar are taught, he moves on to show a quiet blond girl the correct notes on keys. He later relieves the petite bassist, showing her the ways of the tambourine, a much lighter instrument. After the band finally conquers the song’s beginning, the students’ faces light up.
“Yeah, I did it!” screams Austin from behind the guitar before high fiving with Dorame.
“You have to let them create,” Dorame says. “I also have to take into consideration that their hands are tiny, and some of them have never touched a guitar before.”
After the band runs through the tune a couple more times, it’s time for lunch, followed by a lecture on rhythm and blues. Everything about the genre is discussed, including racism and what role it played in R&B, as well as watching video clips of Fats Domino, Chuck Berry and Little Richard.
Dorame remembers his own early introduction to music and his instrument of choice—the piccolo.
“I remember one of my first music teachers, Mr. Tulga; he was so patient,” Dorame says. “I want to be like him. It’d be cool to influence at least one of these kids into playing music. I picked up the piccolo and never played [again], but later down the line, I discovered how much I love music.”
Dorame wishes more schools offered more creative outlets for students but, given the state’s current budget crisis, he worries what children will actually be left with.
“I don’t know what they’re doing to express themselves. Not everybody plays football or basketball,” says Dorame. “All I hear in the news is [about] cutting out arts, cutting out music, cutting out all those types of education. [The kids] get to choose soccer, football, cheer, science—and good for all of them—but its music that brought these kids here.”
It’s the day before the Fourth of July, and many members of the Flaming Nachos have already been picked up early by their parents. Dorame sits on the bass as his remaining student, a dark-haired girl with glasses, hops on the drums. He teaches her a simple beat and asks her to continue as they begin to play the outline of Megadeth’s “Dawn Patrol,” a song with heavy bass and percussion. A couple of days ago, Dorame says with a smile, the girl had no sense of rhythm, but now she’s skilled in drums, bass and guitar.
In the fall, Dorame plans to continue along his new career path, teaching various music classes in the Eureka Unified School District. For now, however, he’s focused on helping the Flaming Nachos prep for their July 20, school performance.
“I want to see how surprised they’re going to be,” he says. “That even [if] it doesn’t sound perfectly like the song … [they] worked hard and performed a whole song together. No matter what they sound like, I’m proud of them that they had the courage enough to get up there.”