by Jackson Sveen

HUNTERSVILLE – Streetwise Music’s newest school in Huntersville will give north Mecklenburg residents a chance to rock on the big stage.

Founded in Charlotte in 2001 by Karl Mokal, Streetwise Music teaches all musical styles including classical, rock, blues and jazz, but with a bit of a twist.

Mokal started teaching music in 1993 at a time when instrumental techniques were more important than the performance as a whole.

“When I was doing it back in the ’90s,” Mokal said, “no one was really thinking about a rock school. It was all recitals.”

That’s when Mokal got the idea to form a music school that went beyond learning chords and reading music.

In addition to one-on-one instruction, Streetwise Music offers a program called Rock Shop in which the instructors take five or six students and put them together to form a band.

Instead of just putting on recitals, which they also do, they get to play many of the larger Charlotte music venues like Amos’ Southend, Tremont Music Hall and McGlohon Theater.

“(These venues) always look at us first, because our shows are really professional,” Mokal said. “We have crews that check on lighting, sound and the students. Our audience paid to get a real show, so we want them to walk out of the venue and say, ‘Wow, we want to come back and see another.’”

To prepare for playing these real-life venues, students learn everything that goes into a live performance.

Streetwise brings in acting coaches and dancers to focus on stage presence while they are playing their instruments.

“We teach them how to act on stage,” Mokal said. “It’s all the aspects of performing live, from acting to interacting with the crowd. We have thought through the entire process of what to do and what not to do with a band. Our students learn how to entertain an audience as well as playing an instrument.”

They even put actors in the audience, so when a song is over, they begin cheering to get the crowd into the performance.

While some might say this isn’t your grandma’s music class, they’d be mistaken. Streetwise Music has students ranging in age from 6 to 84.

In 2008, Mokal decided to form a senior band after his grandmother passed away from Alzheimer’s disease.

“She might not know my name,” Mokal said, “but she could play the piano. I thought, what a great thing to offer seniors, whether they are sick or not, to come in and learn with other people. Play together and have some fun.”

The senior class, taught by instructor Madison Stegall in the Ballantyne location, is free.

The seniors put on shows for their peers at places like the Levine Senior Center and Hickory Grove Baptist Church.

Streetwise Music’s newest location opened in Huntersville on Dec. 12, 2012, to celebrate the company’s 12th year.

Mokal said he hopes to bridge the musical gap between north and south Mecklenburg musicians with the Huntersville location, which has about 50 students.

“It’s not even that the music is that important, but it’s taking the younger minds and giving them a bit of a charge to help them out,” Mokal said. “It gives them good energy, that they won’t get from a video game. We want to give them an experience they can remember and use that as a tool to talk in front of classroom without feeling insecure.”

Catch local students perform at one of these upcoming shows:

• Rock Shop Band Performance at Amos’ Southend from 4-7 p.m. April 21. Four student bands, ages 10-17, will be performing songs from the 1970s to today. Part of ticket sales are donated to the Rock School Scholarship Fund, which provides rock school tuition to students who cannot afford it.

• Winter Student Recital from 1-3 p.m. Feb. 2 in the Black Box Theater at the Ballantyne Arts Center studio.

• Musician’s Clinic: Songwriting 101 offered weekly from 4:30-6 p.m. Thursdays at the Ballantyne Arts Center studio.

• Streetwise Music will offer week-long Rock Shop Prep Camps in June and July, as well as songwriting, home studio recording, and guitar improvisation classes. Classes will be listed beginning in March on the website at

Register for Streetwise open-mic event

Streetwise Music will host an open-mic competition called the “S” Factor on Feb. 22, when musicians ages 12-18 can see what it’s like to audition for popular TV shows like the X-Factor, American Idol or The Voice.

The competition, held at the Streetwise Ballantyne location, will be judged by Julia Bullock, who made it to boot camp week on the X-Factor; Josh Sanders, who was a top-40 contestant on season 11 of American Idol; and Tommy DeCarlo, who now performs as the lead singer of the band Boston.

Email your name and your information to to register.

Want to know more?

For more information about Streetwise Music, visit or call 704-821-7625. The newest Streetwise Music is located at 13024 Eastfield Road, Huntersville.