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Composing Confidence

There’s no denying that the teen years can be angst-ridden. A mainstay in literature, movies and, of course, music—every generation has an endless supply of “coming of age” tunes about being misunderstood.


Music can be a great equalizer and a way to express bottled emotion. Maria Sarro, founder of the Roslyn-based Beyond Rock, recalls her own childhood as being riddled with fears and insecurities. As an adult she explored outlets that challenged her to step out of her comfort zone. She thought, “If I’d had experiences like this as a kid, it would have changed everything.”


Her lightbulb moment occurred in 2003 when visiting friend and Garden City Middle School music teacher Mike Russo. She watched as his class participated in their annual concert. The kids lit up the stage with electric guitars, keyboards, drum sets, bass guitars, and vocals. What set this concert apart was the pure joy and empowerment she saw in the students’ faces.


Sarro thought what could be more thrilling for a kid than playing in a rock band in front of a live audience; so she set out to make that happen. She joined forces with Russo and founded Beyond Rock, a summer camp for children ages 10 to 17 years old. The camp’s mission is to develop musical skills as well as life skills such as teamwork, risk taking and self-expression. It is located at Shelter Rock Jewish Center, 272 Shelter Rock Rd. 


Celebrating their 10th summer, the camp has grown from 17 students to hundreds of kids over the last nine years. According to Sarro, many students relate that the overall experience has changed their life. 


While music training is the final goal, Sarro and her team of professional musicians work to help students expand their abilities and discover what’s possible for them. For Sarro the main objective has never been about music. 


“The kids feel more accepted here than anywhere else,” added Sarro. “Music serves as a vehicle to help kids build community, have fun, gain confidence, and for each student to be his or her best self.”


For student Emily Sauchelli, Beyond Rock did provide the confidence boosting she was looking for. She shared: “I really broke out of my shell at this camp and gained a huge amount of confidence. I made lots of new friends and learned so much.”


Aware of the competitive landscape for camps on Long Island, Sarro and Russo believe what sets them apart are the quality of the program, staff and commitment. She hires certified teachers, experienced musicians and industry professionals who support the camp’s philosophy. Staff to student ratio is typically one staff member to four students or less. 


Bayville resident Ilene Weinstein sent her 12-year-old daughter Danielle and 13-year-old son Joshua to the camp last year and said it was one of the most phenomenal experiences for her children. As a working mom, her children are veteran campgoers, and she was pleasantly surprised at the camp’s difference. Her son, who has a touch of autism, particularly found the camp helpful. Weinstein said she experienced pure joy when visiting Beyond Rock and finding her son sitting on a bench deep in conversation with two other campers.


Beyond Rock offers one and two week sessions held at the Shelter Rock Jewish Center. Students’ days are varied and can include everything from band rehearsal, voice lessons, recording, theatre improv, songwriting, performance workshops, music theory, instrumental skills, music technology and more. Each day has nine periods with time slotted for games and hanging out. Sarro describes a typical day as freedom within structure. Workshops are offered to develop stage presence and to promote powerful breakthroughs in tone, creativity and self-expression. They encourage musical freedom and movement as well as technique to help students build confidence and grow as performers and people.


The camp’s finale is an “Afternoon Rock Concert” where students share a performance for family and friends at a major rock venue replete with professional sound and lighting system along with fog on a large stage.


Of the camp’s finale, Weinstein said it wasn’t the music that blew her away but it was watching the kids in the audience cheer for each other.


“The majority of these kids are the outcasts, they may not fit into the ‘mold’ at high school where sports reign supreme,” explained Weinstein. “My son found kids just like him and it has helped him tremendously. It’s the magic of music.”


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