Schenectady County

Iroquois becomes school of rock for a day

The Velmas skipped over the standard rock band greeting Friday morning and avoided asking the Iroquo
Iroquois Middle School sixth-grader Jean Deaton, 12, left, gets the special privilege of playing the drums for her birthday along with Michael Bruce of The Velmas on Friday.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Iroquois Middle School sixth-grader Jean Deaton, 12, left, gets the special privilege of playing the drums for her birthday along with Michael Bruce of The Velmas on Friday.

The Velmas skipped over the standard rock band greeting Friday morning and avoided asking the Iroquois Middle School sixth-graders if they were ready to rock.

But the Albany-based band still knew how to work their audience.

“What’s happening, Mrs. Callagan’s class?” drummer Mike Bruce asked with emphasis. “I heard this is the coolest class in school, true or false?”

With their applause, the students signaled the drummer’s assumption was true.

This was the sixth year the band gave a concert at the school. English teacher Heather Callagan is a fan of the band and worked them into her unit on critical review.

Students have worked in recent weeks, studying the band, its albums and lyrics and then giving their opinion — good or bad.

Getting to see the band itself makes the students more invested, Callagan said.

“The thought of the band coming to school and giving a concert really excites them and gets them into it,” she said.

The band, known for playful lyrics, performed in the school’s auditorium/cafeteria. During part of the performance, school employees set up the other half of the room for lunch.

Students came with questions ready. Bruce noted they could ask the band members anything, including their favorite color. (Bruce’s favorite is blue, any shade.)

The band also got more involved questions, like one from student Eric Shekerjian. He wanted to know why base player Todd “Figaro” Minnick played a five-string bass, rather than a four-string.

The five-string model gives a lower note that fills the songs more, Minnick said.

“I was impressed that the kids even recognized that,” Minnick said later. “These kids are paying attention.”

Shekerjian, wearing a Blink 182 shirt, said he was interested because he plays electric guitar himself.

And, this being a critique lesson, Shekerjian said he wasn’t a big fan of The Velmas.

“But I thought they were good at writing music,” he said. “It sounds decent.”

The Velmas formed in 1999 and has since released three CDs.

The band played at the school the morning after playing at West Point.

The Niskayuna gig had a completely different dynamic, guitar player Mike “Harvey” Grosshandler noted.

“This is a blast,” he said. “We come here and we’re rock stars.”

At one point in the set, the band invited student Jean Deaton to help on drums. The band sang its cover of Happy Birthday in honor of Deaton’s 12th.

“It was really embarrassing,” she said afterward. “Everyone was looking at me.”

Her review of the performance?

“It was good,” she said. “They have a really good sound.”

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