By EMILY RAMSEY
A GROWING REPUTATION: Students from Riverfield Rocks, Riverfield Country Day School’s rock music program, perform in January at the BOK Center at the press conference announcing Billy Joel’s November concert. Riverfield Rocks began in 2005 and has grown from one band with 18 students to currently 120 elementary, middle, and high school students and 12 rock bands.
EMILY RAMSEY for GTR Newspapers
Something one-of-a-kind has been happening at Riverfield Country Day School for the past 10 years.
The school’s Riverfield Rocks music program is one of the largest in-school rock programs in the country, says Paul Knight, the director of Riverfield Rocks who started the program at Riverfield in 2005.
“The idea is that we’re teaching them how to be musicians and doing it with music that they connect with,” he says. “Music that they connect with” being current music that kids are listening to today: “we do a lot of indie songs,” he says.
“By taking music that they listen to, it helps them learn so much more because they’re engaged.”
Before coming to Riverfield, Knight had created a similar program at local music school Brook Fine Arts.
When Toby Clark, head of Riverfield’s middle and upper school, heard about Knight’s program, Clark asked Knight to bring the program to Riverfield.
The program has since grown from one band with 18 students to currently 120 elementary, middle, and high school students and 12 rock bands.
“The more kids we have, the more bands we create,” says Knight.
Students can enter the program starting in fourth grade.
Beginning students spend their first two years focused mostly on music concepts and learning about instruments with only one public performance per year.
However, as students age and progress in their skills, their performances increase. Middle school students play about four shows a year with high schoolers performing around 10 shows per year.
Students are grouped together in bands according to various factors, including age level and ability, says Knight, with at least one advanced student placed in each band.
“I have some groups that have more advanced students than others, and some bands with mainly beginners. No particular combination works better than another, it just depends on how open their receptors are to learning the music and working as part of the team. If they ‘buy in,’ they’ll all be awesome.”
In January, 10 Riverfield bands performed at Cain’s Ballroom. The annual event doubles as a fundraiser for the music program and for the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma, which receives a portion of the proceeds.
Recently, when the Center held a press conference to announce Billy Joel in concert in November, Riverfield students performed Uptown Girl. “We had nine days to prepare that,” says Knight.
High school students will perform at the Independent School Association Southwest () festival in April in San Antonio. Riverfield bands have also performed at local events, such as the Tulsa Roots concert series and the Route 66 Marathon, and regularly field other requests. “We’ve had individual bands play at the Vanguard and at the Brady Theater’s Halloween event,” says Knight.
Some students in the program have also created offshoot bands from Riverfield Rocks.
On April 30, Riverfield Country Day School will hold its 10th-annual Llamapalooza, which is its annual outdoor spring show where all Riverfield Rocks bands will perform. The event costs $5 and will also feature food trucks.
The event draws around 1,000 people each year, says Knight.
All of these various performances, in addition to raising money and providing performance experience to students, have done much to spread the word about Riverfield’s unique music program and earned the program some far-reaching accolades.
“The reception we have received from people in the music industry is exciting,” Knight says.
Knight and his students have received visits from the Mowgli’s, David Cook, Kris Kristofferson and visited AC/DC and Eric Clapton’s and Paul McCartney’s touring bands when they were preparing to perform at the Center.
When the band “twenty one pilots” was in town, before Knight had an opportunity to reach out to the band, twenty one pilots contacted Knight, asking what the band could do to show its appreciation for Riverfield’s music program and its students.
“All of these musicians are interested in what we are doing,” says Knight.
While some of Riverfield Rocks’ students have gone off to some pretty major music schools, i.e. Berklee College of Music and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, that isn’t necessarily Knight’s goal for the program.
“We want students to be 40 or 50 years old and still playing music,” he says. “We want music to be a natural extension of themselves so that they can sit and play with friends and family.”