Bach to Rock sits at a unique crossroads: it’s a school that emphasizes fun; its classes range from mixing tracks to learning how to play the ukulele; and it's owned by not a musician, but Judy Shoulak, whom, in her own words, only “plays the radio.” Shoulak and her eldest son Jake, a lifelong guitarist, opened Bach to Rock in 2018. Bach to Rock is a music school and full recording studio that boasts an impressive array of lessons from staples like piano, voice, and guitar to DJ lessons, a glee club, and music camps. “Just like the name would imply,” says Shoulak, “at Bach to Rock, we teach the genre of music that people like to learn.” And there lies the core belief of Bach to Rock: if a student is having fun, they will come back to learn more. “We really try as hard as we can to find songs that the students really enjoy,” says Shoulak, and it appears to be working. Students from across the metro come to Bach to Rock for its specialized style.
Bach to Rock has a broad view of teaching music. Rather than prescribe songs for students to learn, Bach to Rock deconstructs hundreds of popular songs and recreates them on many technical levels so that students at all different skills can play the music they love together.
“Through the songs that they really enjoy, we can focus on reading music, musical theory, and building their repertoire. We can do all of those things, but they enjoy it more because it is music that they really love,” says Shoulak.
“Those things will come.” Bach to Rock also teaches the increasingly important production side of the music industry. Whenever a student graduates from one class to the next, they use the recording studio to record themself playing. This way students can learn how to put down tracks, critique their own playing, and walk away with a keepsake of the event.
Shoulak has never been a musician. Instead, she built a career in operations. “I know business,” she says. “My son is the musician.” So when Shoulak started Minnesota’s first Bach to Rock, she brought 16 years of experience running national operations for Buffalo Wild Wings with her. She was the President of BWW North America for her final three years with the franchise. That business knowledge can be seen in how Bach to Rock meticulously follows copyright laws for every song they perform, as well as how Shoulak approaches the creation of teams and culture. “That’s probably the most critical thing I have transferred from the business world: the hiring of great people, and building a great culture and team.” Shoulak personally screens every new teacher and even plans to enroll in the Adult Piano 1 class at Bach to Rock with the hope that one day she will be teaching classes herself. A culture where students can have fun and learn was always at the heart of Bach to Rock. “We’ve had people come to us from other music schools and say, ‘you know, our piano teacher told us to come to you,’ like they know they need something different,” says Shoulak, and Bach to Rock offers nothing if not that.
Another unique aspect of Bach to Rock is the creation of bands from its students. “Which is really where we see a lot of progress made: when kids get together in bands,” says Shoulak. “They always want to get together to practice so they don’t let their teammates down.” Bach to Rock currently has 7 bands composed of more than 30 students ranging in age from 7 to 18. If it wasn't for COVID, these bands would normally be competing in a ‘Battle of the Bands’ in front of live audiences to pick a winner. “We try to have our students do things that they might be afraid of if they didn’t have to do them right away,” says Shoulak, continuing, “we don’t wait until they are perfect.” However, in the world of online classes and social distancing, Shoulak isn’t worried. “Actually it's been amazing. Before COVID we didn’t do any virtual lessons, nor did the company have any desire to do any virtual lessons, but we learned very quickly.” With the new outreach of online classes, Bach to Rock has not only been able to extend its reach to students across the state but, instead, provide impromptu lessons on a much more flexible schedule.
For Shoulak, though, Bach to Rock means something more. “This is a chance for me to work with my son.” In fact, Shoulak is in business with all three of her children, running a mathematics academy with her younger son, and a professional skill development agency with her daughter. Shoulak calls this a “special chapter” in her life, to be able to build businesses with her children, and business is booming. Currently, Bach to Rock is looking to expand to more locations throughout the state. “Because we have those great people, we are going to look to continue to grow.” When talking of expansion, Shoulak gave one last bit of guiding wisdom: “One of the things that brings you long-term success is to be genuine and care about your people.” That ethos can be seen, and more importantly, heard in every class at Bach to Rock