Given the Tools to ROCK 'N' ROLL!

Nov 11, 2005 | Posted in News & Updates

Tommy Thayer

Tommy with the new WL Henry Elementary School band members

From The Oregonian/Portland, OR - November 11, 2005

HILLSBORO -- For one afternoon, W.L. Henry Elementary School was the School of Rock. Hillsboro High School's jazz band grooved. Teachers rolled out the red carpet. And Tommy Thayer, lead guitarist for the glam rock band KISS, presented 12 new musical instruments to boost the school's band program from three members who provide their own instruments -- two clarinets and a flute -- to a full-force 15-piece ensemble. "It's near and dear to my heart because it's where I started," Thayer said Thursday of school band programs. "It worked for me." Thayer, who grew up in Cedar Hills, where his parents Jim and Pat Thayer still live, played the saxophone at Sunset High School. He also learned the guitar and eventually took over for original KISS member Ace "The Spaceman" Frehley. For the past few months, Thayer has been rediscovering his Oregon roots: He was recently elected to Pacific University's board of trustees, is building a house at the Oregon Coast and has donated money to Sunset High.

Thayer met W.L. Henry Principal Enedelia Schofield at a recent administrative retreat for Pacific University in Forest Grove. She mentioned to him that the school has never had a full band. The 620-student elementary school has the second-highest poverty rate in the district: 90 percent of its students receive free or reduced-price lunches. "A lot of our students have a lack of role models (for music education)," Schofield said. "They don't have the exposure to music. Music could be the key to their success."

Thayer used his professional connections with Samick Music Corp. to win the donation of $5,000 worth of band instruments: a flute, clarinet, alto sax, trumpet, trombone and snare drum. The school matched the donation with six instruments purchased with fundraising money. "I've been waiting seven years to be able to have a band," said sixth-grader Mykael Moore, the school's lone flutist. At Thursday's assembly in the school's gymnasium, Schofield and Thayer announced winners of coveted spots in the band. Of the school's 80 sixth-graders, 24 requested a chance to be in the band. Twelve were selected to use the instruments. The new musicians begin rehearsing next week.

After the presentation, the students sang "Happy Birthday" in English and Spanish to Thayer, who turned 45 Monday. On the road, Thayer dons elaborate makeup, jeweled spandex and platform boots to "rock and roll all night and party every day" with tongue-waggling frontman Gene Simmons. On Thursday, he was just Tommy as he shook hands with a few students while touring the school with his fiancee, Amber Peek, and his father. "I left the makeup and platform boots at home," he said.The low-key look didn't seem to matter to students. "They've been going crazy," said fourth-grade teacher Veronica Dolby. "They didn't want to wash their hands." Students had their reasons for forgoing the soap and water. "Because he's a rock star," said Miguel Meza, 9. "Because he's famous," said Daniel Magana, 10. "Because girls dig him," said Anthony Farris, 9.