Ben Zoleski says he was in the right place at the right time, and he knew a guy that knew a guy. His friends and colleagues, however, will tell you he's the perfect man for the job.
Currently a Schenectady resident and a native of Milton in the lower Hudson Valley, Zoleski has been serving as a musical director -- one of three -- with the national touring production of "School of Rock-The Musical." The show comes to Proctors in Schenectady for six days beginning Tuesday, and Zoleski's responsibility is to make sure all the young actors in the cast are ready to perform.
"We usually travel with 16 kids, and right now we have 19 because we have a few more that are getting ready to move into roles," said Zoleski, who joined the tour 16 months ago. "I'm responsible for teaching the show to these kids, who all have to play instruments onstage. We've got guitars, bass and some drums, and I have to make sure they all know their parts."
Zoleski's other title in the playbill is "pit tech."
"I'm responsible for breaking down all the equipment after the show, as well as getting the pit ready," he said. "I have to make sure everything is wired up just right and make sure the sound is OK."
After graduating from Marlboro High School in Ulster County, Zoleski headed to Boston and the Berklee College of Music. Soon after graduating in 2012, he showed up in the Capital Region looking to play music and to teach. He never thought of doing anything else since he was in middle school.
"I really got passionate about music when I was around 13," he said. "I put together my first rock band and kept on playing. I grew up loving Led Zeppelin and Meat Loaf, but I did have some phases. I had a heavy metal phase, a punk phase, then pop music. I told my parents I wanted to play music professionally and they asked me, 'Are you sure?' I told them yes, and they were always very supportive after that."
Zoleski didn't just listen to music. He examined it, poring over songs such as Meat Loaf's "Bat Out of Hell," Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" and "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin.
"The older I got, the more I appreciated how great that music actually was," he said. "At Berklee, I was heavy into performance, but I also took production and business classes. I wanted to learn all about working as a musician."
Zoleski has played guitar for his own band, Under the Den, and has also worked with Capital Region groups fronted by Margo Macero and Mia Scirocco. And before he took off on the national tour with "School of Rock," he was playing lead guitar with The Refrigerators, another top local band, and was also working as an instructor at Modern Day Music in Clifton Park.
"Ben was great with the kids and all of his students loved him," said Modern Day Music manager Cailin Burke. "He would coordinate different age-group bands, and then every couple of months they would put on a performance. He sings, he plays the guitar, the piano. He was a really talented guy and the kids loved him. We all loved him. He was doing with us, on a smaller scale, what he's doing now on tour. He's a great fit for that job."
Scirocco, a music teacher who typically sings with a trio, said Zoleski was always a welcome addition to her performances.
"Ben's a great musician and just an all-around great person," said Scirocco, who will be performing at Martel's Grill on Consaul Road in Colonie on Friday night. "He's very professional and reliable as well. He was an asset to my trio during the months he played for me."
The producers at "School of Rock" evidently also liked what they saw when they checked out Zoleski.
"I really happened to be at the right place at the right time," said Zoleski. "I met a guy with the Refrigerators who got me in touch with someone at the company who said they were looking for a children's music director. They told me to send some audition material to them, so I taped myself playing some instruments, sent it to them, and two weeks later I got a phone call offering me the job."
"School of Rock" is one of those rare shows that was actually a film before it was adapted into a Broadway musical. The 2003 comedy, starring Jack Black, Joan Cusack and Sarah Silverman, tells the story of struggling rock guitarist Dewey Finn, who becomes a substitute teacher at a prestigious prep school. The Broadway musical features an original score by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Glenn Slater, and debuted on Broadway in 2015, earning four Tony nominations.
"I can remember back in fifth or sixth grade going to watch the movie at a friend's house, and we all loved it," said Zoleski. "I hadn't seen or heard the musical version, but we had a rock band program at Modern Day Music. I took kids and put them into bands, so I guess I'm a pretty good fit for this show."
Zoleski, who married his wife, Courtney, in October, is booked with "School of Rock" until the tour ends in June.
"I'll be busy until June 9, and then I'm going to have to find something else," he said. "My wife has been joining me on tour about once a month, so I'm looking forward to our week in Schenectady. I've lived there for two years now, but I really haven't been there that much."
"School of Rock-The Musical" stars Merritt David Janes as Dewey, Lexie Dorsett Sharp as Rosalie and Madison Micucci as Patty.
'School of Rock-The Musical'
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: Opens Tuesday and runs through Sunday; performances at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 1:30 and 8 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $100-$30
MORE INFO: www.proctors.org, or call (518) 346-6204