After five weeks of dedicated practice, Michelle Marie Nestor’s music pupils from her MM Rock Camp will be putting on their winter performance.
On Sunday, March 31, 15 of the Bayside jazz musician’s students will take the stage at the Landrum School of Performing Arts in Whitestone to showcase 18 rock, pop and disco hits.
According to Nestor, the diverse set list includes favorites like “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, “Last Dance” by Donna Summer, AC/DC’s “Back to Black” and a medley of Rihanna songs that Nestor arranged.
“I like to keep it genreless,” said Nestor. “If it sounds good, then I say, ‘Let’s do it.'”
Nestor said that her students, who range in age from 9 to 18, will be playing guitar, bass, drums, percussion and piano. She added that the group’s arrangement of Toto’s “Africa” — a choice inspired by her student Jared LaRoque — will feature the ukulele.
The jazz musician was exposed to music at a young age, falling in love with the guitar and eventually going on tour with her mother, recording artist Carmen Saverino. The self-taught musician recalls how much she learned about music while on the road and uses those lessons when teaching her students.
“I arranged music, made the set list, arranged bass charts [and] piano charts — I learned hands-on and very quickly. I can teach the circle of fifths, the circle of fourths quicker than if you would learn it at a semester of college,” she said.
She added that her extensive “real-world” music education helped her to do well when she pursued a master’s degree in music at Queens College. Nestor started a music education program at her alma mater in 2007 and eventually created the independent MM Rock Camp music program in 2013.
“It’s a place for kids to just experiment and to discover their inner rock star,” said Nestor, who added that she wanted to maintain an encouraging learning environment.
The regular winter session of the MM Rock Camp is eight weeks long but had to be cut to five weeks due to scheduling conflicts. She meets with her students once a week and then instructs them to take their music home and “come back with it ready” for the next week.
During the summer session, she meets with her students five days a week for seven hours each day at the All Saints Episcopal Church in Bayside. Nestor said that the summer lessons are focused on new material, technique and scales, while the winter session is more of a refresher of old material.
Her favorite parts of teaching the kids in the rock camp are seeing their development and giving them the support she lacked from her own instructors. She remembers one of her music teachers telling her to take vocal lessons because “girls don’t play guitar.”
“I grew up wanting to give back based on what happened with me,” she said. “I want the kids to feel comfortable and not say, ‘No, you can’t do this.'”
Her advice for emerging musicians, especially young girls and women is to “be your own support system.”
“Women have to work four times harder than men to prove themselves. Have faith in yourself and don’t let anyone tell you any less. Never give up on your dreams,” Nestor said.
The MM Rock Camp show is on Sunday, March 31, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Landrum School of Performing Arts (11-02 Clintonville St.). Suggested donation for tickets is $5. For information on MM Rock Camp or to find out how to sign up for private lessons, contact Nestor at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit the MM Rock Camp page on Facebook.