A head start on rocking out

Lisa Poole for the Boston Globe The preteen band Black Diamonds at Kidsfest. Lisa Poole for the Boston Globe
The preteen band Black Diamonds at Kidsfest.
(Lisa Poole for The Boston Globe)
By Karen Sackowitz
Globe Correpsondent / June 10, 2010

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Nine-year-old Henry McIntyre was strumming his guitar in the hallway outside his sister’s dance class in Haverhill when he caught the attention of a woman hanging Christmas lights nearby.

“You should come play with us,’’ she told him. That was a year and a half ago, and he has been on a whirlwind ride ever since.

Henry is the lead guitarist for the Black Diamonds, a band formed at the DeAngelis Studio of Music and Arts in February 2009 as part of its Rock School program, which brings talented music students together to teach them how to play live. Nancy Burger, the woman who noticed him, and her husband, Mike DeAngelis, own the studio.

The band featured Henry; drummer Nick Calnan, age 11; lead singer A.J. Marks, 11; and bass player Wolfgang DeAngelis, Mike and Nancy’s son, who was just 7. After putting in some rehearsal time, the boys hit the stage for their first show at J.P. McBride’s, a downtown pub that shut down its usual operations on a Sunday for the occasion. The show was a hit. Since then, the band has played KidsFest in Haverhill, the Salisbury Sand & Sea Festival, and the Topsfield Fair. Last month they played their biggest gig yet, EarthFest in Boston.

And to top things off, this summer they will go international when they take the stage at the 50th annual German-American Volksfest in Berlin.

“When they played at J.P. McBride’s, I thought, ‘Wow, this is their big moment.’ Then they got KidsFest and I thought ‘This must be the big moment,’’’ said Jen McIntyre, Henry’s mother. “Then the gigs just got better and bigger. The experience has been indescribable.’’

Parents of the Black Diamonds agree that the ride has been fun for the boys, free of pressure and politics.

“It’s pure. It’s not something we tried to make happen,’’ said Dennis Marks, A.J.’s father. “People ask me about talent agents and things like that, but that’s not what we want. My son sings naturally; that’s all he wants to do.’’

Prior to joining the group, A.J. had been taking classical voice lessons. When the Black Diamonds opportunity came along, his dad said, fate stepped in.

“He didn’t find rock music, rock music found him.’’

Like Henry, A.J. has his sister to thank. A guitar student at DeAngelis, Veronica Marks brought her family along to the studio’s 2008 Christmas party. For fun, A.J. jumped on stage and sang Christmas carols. Nancy and Mike immediately offered him a spot, which he gladly accepted.

Nick Calnan was a drum student with only a few months of lessons under his belt when he was invited to join the group. Since then, his mother said, the change has been noticeable.

“Nick loves it, and it’s good for him,’’ she said. “He’s come a long way as a drummer.’’

With a drummer, lead singer, and guitarist on board, the quandary became finding a bass player, since youngsters are seldom drawn to the instrument. However, Mike and Nancy didn’t have to look far; their son Wolfgang was up for the challenge. Once they found a bass guitar small enough for him — no easy feat — he was up and running within four weeks, keeping up with his older bandmates.

“I didn’t even know he hadn’t been playing that long when we first got together,’’ said A.J. “I found out when they announced it on stage at our first show.’’

As a parent of a budding rock star, McIntyre said her life is no busier than a sports mom’s.

“I say this is his baseball,’’ she said. “But I actually do less running around than my friends who are juggling baseball and soccer schedules.’’

Marks agreed that being a backstage supporter is an easy job.

“I was an athlete as a kid, and I still say watching them play is even better than a baseball game,’’ he said. “It’s just pure fun.’’

The Black Diamonds have a growing fan base. At a show put on for a group of Cub Scouts in Hamilton, the young crowd was so enthusiastic they danced through the whole set — then rushed the stage for autographs.

“It was such a spontaneous moment,’’ said Marks. “Kids reacting to kids — it was the perfect audience for them.’’

The boys seem to be taking the whole experience in stride. When asked to name their favorite gig so far, their answers seemed in step with their ages.

“I really liked the Sand and Sea Festival,’’ said Nick. “Because we got to go swimming.’’

Henry was more torn, listing all of them until his eyes popped wide with an answer.

“The Cub Scout show was the best,’’ he said. Turning to his bandmates, he added, “Remember that awesome snowball fight we had outside before the show?’’

At a recent rehearsal, it was clear the boys are enjoying every rock and roll moment. Busting out anthems like “Eye of the Tiger,’’ “Dirty Water,’’ and “I Love Rock and Roll,’’ they were focused but not overly serious, easily breaking into laughter at their mistakes.

“The boys have learned how to work together and really put in the time,’’ said Marks. “Show after show, you can see their style emerge.’’

Next up for the Black Diamonds will be this year’s Salisbury Sand & Sea Festival, on June 27. They head to Germany next month, although for that trip Henry will stay behind, putting the lead guitar duties in the capable hands of 12-year-old Nikki Arsenault.

In talking about their increasingly impressive booking schedule, the boys revealed no sign of nerves and every sign that they’re ready for whatever comes along. When asked what they think about playing for larger and larger audiences, they simply smile and shrug, leaving Henry to sum it up best.

“I just want to play guitar and have fun.’’

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