music in the park san jose

.Kids Learn Power Chords and More at Be Natural Music

School offers instruction in Cupertino and Santa Cruz

music in the park san jose

By John Koenig

For budding musicians, Santa Clara County offers many learning opportunities, with strong music departments at Stanford University, San Jose State University and De Anza College. And for younger students, there are private tutors—and also School of Rock, a music school for children with franchises around the world.

But Matt Pinck didn’t let that deter him from opening up his own music school in Cupertino almost two years ago—an outgrowth of Be Natural Music, founded in Santa Cruz in 1998. In addition to teaching students how to play rock, jazz, ska and classical, Be Natural focuses on live performances.

After keeping Be Natural in Santa Cruz busy and successful for years, Pinck was ready for an aggressive plan: to open a couple of schools and spread the word. He knew that north of San Jose was where he wanted to open a new school. 

He invested half a million dollars in the Cupertino building, repainting and recarpeting the space, which opened up to students in February of 2022.

The nine-room Cupertino location is three times the size of the Santa Cruz school, and it has an enrollment of 78 students with 10 teachers. It’s now home to four bands, with plans to have 25.


Be Natural is the story of a rock ’n’ roll kid who, in middle age, still runs with the kids, masterfully maintaining a school with dozens of teachers and hundreds of students. In hindsight, his mission to instill kids with the joys and benefits of music seems like destiny. Perhaps like all dreams realized, it’s a mix of fate and serendipity.

Ozzy Osbourne changed little Matt Pinck’s life forever way back when. The grinding metal of Black Sabbath proved unforgettable to the 7-year-old, when his brother invited him to listen to the band’s new record.

“‘Iron Man’ is obviously clichéd, right? But the power chords—I couldn’t believe it,” he says, tracing his way back from his present vocation teaching a new generation the joys of music.

Later, in seventh grade, his brother handed him a CD. Ride the Lightning, by Metallica.

“He shaped me a couple times, without realizing it.”

Now the founder and driving force behind Be Natural Music, “Yoga Matt,” began his long journey here as a 5-year-old getting airplane stickers on his sheet music as a reward for practicing piano. As a kid he wrote a lot of music, and even tried playing tuba and saxophone.

Performing was in his blood early, he remembers. “I did pretend radio shows with a cassette tape recording—just goofy stuff.”

Picking up the guitar was inevitable, and his first teacher taught the fundamentals—something he appreciates and makes a part of his method as a teacher.

“My first guitar was called a Hondo,” Matt laughs. “It was so fake. I was like, what’s a Hondo guitar?”

By junior high he was finally into metal—Metallica and Megadeth.

“My room had a second-floor window where I would rock out with the window open. The neighbors hated it!”

His advanced education in music continued, including studies at UC Santa Cruz, Berkeley and Cabrillo. He earned his music degree in jazz guitar, but his love of rock music remains.

CLASS IN SESSION The Cupertino location of Be Natural Music currently has 78 students, 10 teachers and four bands. Photo courtesy Be Natural Music

Matt came to the Central Coast from Southern California, following a girl to Santa Cruz—who broke up with him on his birthday in 1997.

His love for the city proved to be long-lasting. After making a living teaching music “door to door,” a new girlfriend at the time got him to work at a Montessori school in Felton, teaching piano to 4-year-olds.

“The first thing I learned was I was too intense. Which I still am, I’m still pretty intense. I remember the first kid I made cry. I actually used to make a lot of kids cry. I even made some parents cry. I don’t do that anymore.”

Matt jokingly credits his early education with his penchant for excellence.

“I went to Catholic school,” he laughs, “they’re too strict! I got hit on the knuckles by nuns in the 50s and 60s!”

A later influence on his teaching career came from studying martial arts for four years, when he placed third in the nation for ages 12 to 15. The philosophy of the Be Natural schools reflects his time in the dojo, a blend of structure and playful coaxing to excel.

“I’m known for being a hard-ass for teaching,” he says. “You need to have discipline, and you need to have fun. As a teacher it’s a balancing act.”

Matt’s wife and music partner, Sarah, teaches voice, saxophone, harp and piano at Be Natural.

They met in 2011 and married in 2022, honeymooning through Amsterdam, Paris, London and Dublin, busking the whole way—Sarah with her alto sax and Matt on guitar—having a blast.


PJ Corbal, the lead singer of Faceplant, came to Be Natural like many of the students, wanting to sharpen her skills for a school project. Dressed for the day’s rehearsal in cut-off jeans, Doc Martens–style boots and an oversized flannel shirt, she is the playful spark at the center of her seriously focused bandmates, Kai on bass, Dylan and Max on guitars, and Frank behind the drums.

PJ explains between songs why the kids still appreciate the music that was written before they were born, with rock from the ’90s most often at the top of the list. 

“The older rock music is just more real and less produced and artificial,” she says. “It’s music that a live band can learn and perform.”

She’s a big fan of Damon Albarn, the singer from Blur and Gorillaz. Kai says Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers is his favorite bass player, and Frank names drummer Daniel Carey of Tool as an inspiration.

The setlist for today’s practice includes a long-rehearsed challenge, the song “Limelight” by the Canadian prog-rock band Rush. The young musicians handle the complex arrangement and rhythm changes with confidence, and their pride in accomplishment shows as they nail the last note.

SHOEGAZING Faceplant takes the stage. Photo courtesy of Be Natural Music

But it’s not all classic rock for the kids of Be Natural.

Some of the new musicians are “metalheads,” as Matt calls them, but many of the youngest kids, especially the girls between 7 and 9, love the chance to practice pop tunes, songs from Disney musicals such as Frozen, and Broadway shows such as Hamilton.

The enthusiasm the students have for their favorites is the opportunity Matt takes to inspire well-rounded musicians. “I really appreciate the kids who are studious,” he says, “and I think it comes from their parents.”

“Kids will come in to work on something they’re doing in school, like Hamilton, but we have them do their warm-ups, some scales, and then land on what they’re working on.”

When kids come to Be Natural with songs to practice that they don’t love, Matt makes sure they’re given something extra.

“We get kids that say, ‘I’ve got to practice a song I’m doing for school,’ but some are terrrrible, like the worst songs ever. So we’ll teach them how to play the song, but we tell them, ‘You should also learn a song that you like that you listen to on your phone.’”

Matt notes the difference in music culture as it’s changed from the ’80s and ’90s.

“Kids have so much media at the tips of their fingers now. With the music, it’s overstimulated, there’s too much to check out. And everything’s mix, so kids hear classics through a remix. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, but it’s nice for them to know that song was written in 1970.”


Matt shows an obvious pride in his students who have made music a career or a big part of their lives, but he’s cautious about encouraging aspirations of stardom.

“There is no ‘from here to here’ to fame, unless you’ve written the right song at the right time with the right sound and the right person hears it at the right time—and I tell kids that fame kills you, it gets really harsh.”

He explains how the internet has changed the nature of fame and success.

“I keep finding a bunch of our kids in big bands that are really popular on Instagram. Will they become rich and famous? No, but there are so many levels of fame now, like pockets of fame.”

Matt wants the kids to be heard and appreciated. They ask how it’s done, and he explains how they need a distributor. Be Natural maintains a library of music from the bands on Soundcloud and uses Distrokid to distribute to other platforms.


The students are as young as 4, having fun and learning to keep time with percussion instruments. And the school’s oldest student was in his 80s. In Cupertino, a band of seniors calling themselves Young @ Heart is re-forming, and Matt is considering a similar band for Santa Cruz.

The widely known School of Rock in San Jose is the Cupertino school’s main competitor. “We love them,” Matt says, “They’re cool, they’re great, they’re way big, but they’re really business.”

As a feisty alternative to School of Rock, Be Natural combines its founder’s philosophy of combining musical proficiency with holistic health to offer a program that benefits kids for life, whether or not they become professional musicians.

When asked about what kids get from learning music as a performing art, his passion for teaching comes through.

CONCENTRATION The preteens of American Nightmare rehearse. Photo courtesy Be Natural Music

“They get so many things—it helps kids’ cognitive skills, it helps you focus, it helps you in math and science. Besides that, what about your nervousness and your self-doubt, and how you feel about yourself? You’re here and you feel good. Besides that, you can’t underestimate friendships. It’s sweet. Insecurity is such a common thing.”

He remembers a surprise birthday party at the school for a longtime student.

“I looked around and I thought, ‘All these people met through us’ It’s a trip. The psychological, emotional part.

“Every time I see someone from the way past—the last time I saw them at 10 or 12—you can really see how much they’ve grown. I saw some kids a couple weeks ago, and you could tell they’re so stoked for what I taught ’em.”

Matt is often asked about the school’s name, a play on the natural half-step on the musical scale.

“It also has to do with a healthy lifestyle,” he says. “Musicians are known to be pretty unhealthy unless they get rich enough to have really good caterers. Or blood transfusions.”


When summer arrives, it’s time for Be Natural’s music camps. In the five-day camp, musicians hone their craft, learn basic music composition, and prepare for a multi-track, professional-quality recording session. Students participate in the full production of an original song and music video.

The kids brainstorm as they imagine how to tell the story or create the mood of their original song in a visual way, storyboarding and then filming the video, which is uploaded to Be Natural’s YouTube channel.

Bands often begin in summer camp because there are many new kids. The teachers have basic songs to start with, and the kids begin adding songs that all can agree on.

The Be Natural bands are constantly morphing, as students come and go, and occasionally changing their name, many of which reflect the personalities of the members. Every band also has their own logo and T-shirt.

A band called The Uninvited became Lies and Lullabies and the dad of one of the bandmembers, a tattoo artist, drew their logo. Bananaman, a band of 12-year-olds, created a yellow T-shirt featuring a “banana man” slipping on a peel.

“We had a band called Not My Fault, a perfect teenage sentiment,” Matt says.

“And we used to have a band called MEH. They hated it, but they wouldn’t come up with anything else!”


The wild energy of youth is pouring from the practice rooms of the Santa Cruz location of Be Natural on a mid-April day. In the hours after school, the kids have traded textbooks for guitars, drums, saxophones and microphones.

Days before a series of annual fundraising concerts, the band members of Le Son are laying down their playful blend of ska and traditional jazz. Yoga Matt, in the role of teacher and lead guitar player, calls out the tempo changes before launching into a crazy, overdriven solo, backed by the sax, bass, drums and keyboard of the teenage boys.

By the end of the hour-long rehearsal, the combo has run through a creative mix of jumpin’ genres, from the ska classic “One Step Beyond” (“because it’s fun”), to the hard bop “Song for My Father,” creatively reimagined, a piece by the late American jazz pianist Horace Silver.

The quiet between songs is filled with the riffs of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” coming from the band rehearsing next door in Studio B.

Le Son doesn’t seem to notice. They’re hesitant to start the next song—Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”—because “the timing is scary.”

At the top of the hour, the kids gather up their instruments to head home, as a new band arrives to rehearse: the pre-teens of American Nightmare. They don’t know what the turnout will be or how the show will go, but the kids appear cool and ready for the challenge.

CHEERING SECTION The crowd was almost as loud as the bands at a gig at Woodstock’s Pizza in Santa Cruz. Photo courtesy Be Natural Music


The next day, the students are performing for an audience at Pono Hawaiian Grill in downtown Santa Cruz, at the first of Be Natural’s spring fundraisers. No one knows what the turnout will be or how the show will go, but the kids appear cool and ready for the challenge.

Be Natural has a nonprofit partner, enabling the school to take donations and give out scholarships. The scholarship allows Matt to visit schools and talk to the kids.

“We give out $1,400 a month, and we’ve been giving out money for 12 years,” he says. “because we don’t want to turn anyone away. At the height of Covid we gave out $2,300.”

By January of next year, Matt hopes to start the Be Natural Foundation. 

“I’m working my way up to doing presentations in front of donors and people who love what we’re doing, trying to make people fall in love with me as best I can.”

When the kids of Be Natural gathered at Pono to perform, they were focused on sound checks and psyching each other up. Yoga Matt took the mic and revved up the audience, clearly in his element, while the first band took the stage.

The tables filled quickly, and soon the room was SRO, filled with music and excitement. New arrivals waited outside, hoping to get in. The crowd was almost as loud as the bands.

Matt was on fire and Sarah was beaming as the kids played their sets. At the show’s end, Matt, pleased and proud, says it was the biggest crowd they ever had there.

Matt’s verdict on the show: “Epic!”


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