Tudor school gets hard rock demon

19th November 2004 at 00:00
KISS star Gene Simmons is to teach the art of making loud music to yellow stockinged pupils at Christ's Hospital, reports Adi Bloom

He is a rock star whose records have sold millions, and is renowned for his devil-like face paint, his six-inch tongue and his claim to have slept with 4,600 women.

He is not, therefore, the obvious recruitment choice for a school steeped in 450 years of tradition, where Tudor uniforms are worn and choral concerts are the preferred evening's entertainment.

But Gene Simmons, singer with 1970s rock band KISS, is the newest recruit to the staff of Christ's Hospital, a pound;17,900-a-year independent school in West Sussex.

Pupils at Christ's Hospital still wear the yellow stockings and sweeping black coats of the 17th century. Musical traditions are paramount, with choirs, classical concerts and regular chapel services.

But this term, 10 Year 9 pupils are being tutored in the art of hard rock by Mr Simmons, who graduated with a degree in education, and taught in New York before running off to join the rock circus.

Over four weeks, they will be taught to write, record and perform their own songs. The results will be screened next year as Rock School, a Channel 4 series.

Mr Simmons is unfazed by the sudden career change. "It doesn't scare me," he said. "The notion of fear is baseless. Being a rock star, may mean being delusionally and arrogantly self-confident."

Bruce Grindlay, school music director, believes that his grade-seven violinists and flautists have much to learn from the 55-year-old demon-man of rock.

"Often, classical musicians are well-trained but can't perform on stage," he said. "Exercises in confidence, in being outrageous and less English-reserved, will help them."

So far, Mr Simmons has led the pupils in free-movement classes, to teach them to dance without worrying what they look like, as well as lessons in rock history. And record producers have come into school to lecture them on the industry.

To their surprise, Christ's Hospital staff have discovered that playing thrash guitar to an arena of 10,000 death-rock fans requires skills that are remarkably transferable to the classroom.

"He's very big on eye contact," said Mr Grindlay. "He freaks people out in concerts with the amount of staring. That's a good thing in the classroom.

You feel involved in what he's saying."

Mary Ireland, assistant head, agrees. "His rock-god persona is exactly that," she said. "It's an act. And teaching is also part performance. You need stamina and tenacity. He can go on tour for 12 months. We don't ask even teachers to work for 12 months without a break."

But few teachers have - or admit to having - a sexual history that reads like a telephone directory. Mr Grindlay insists that the school is unconcerned about the example this presents to adolescent pupils.

"Rock stars have to have one selling-point," he said. "This is his. But it seems very much an image. He has been with the same partner for 22 years."

No parents have complained. And few eyebrows have been raised among pupils.

"The children are deeply unimpressed," said Mr Grindlay. "They think it's risible, really. I don't think anyone can be seriously taken in by that."

Rodney Serunjogi, 13, agreed. "His music is all right. But I don't think it's made us want to become rock stars. His face-painted image grosses us out."

Make-up removed for classroom respectability, there is little that distinguishes Mr Simmons from the rest of the staff. "We have lots of charismatic teachers," said Ms Ireland. "Though few of them wear sunglasses indoors."

"His music is I nice," said Mr Grindlay. "But it's not my cup of tea, really. I was an organ scholar at Cambridge."

Teacher magazine 23

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