BUCKHANNON – Imagine signing up for classes for high school, and among the choices of science, math, English and social studies, you spy a course called ‘rock band.’ Wouldn’t that be terrific?
Well, Buckhannon-Upshur High School now offers that class and students say they are taking full advantage of this unique opportunity to fill their days with music they love to play.
Garrett Friend, who initiated the rock band course before leaving B-UHS to take another job, said the idea started floating around a few years ago.
“I was teaching a couple of sessions of guitar class, and it was too much,” Friend said in a phone interview. “We had some students who could really play, and our class was geared to be a beginner class. I brought up to then B-UHS Principal Eddie Vincent that we should explore having a rock band in addition to, or in place of, a beginner guitar class the next semester.”
Then covid hit and the class was put on hold.
“We ended up starting it this year as another place for student electives,” Friend said. “I designed it so if students could play any rock instrument – guitar, bass, drums or piano – we would take whoever wanted to be in it and make a place for them. When I left, we had kids who were playing other instruments [as well]. The idea was to give them another outlet to express themselves, especially those who are playing cover songs in their bedrooms every evening. It is a lot more fun to play with others.”
Friend said he still has great memories of being in garage bands in his younger years.
“It is small right now, but the plan is to grow the program to give more kids the opportunity to express themselves with music,” Friend said. “I thought it was a good place for kids who are not necessarily in band or choir to learn what it is like to play in an ensemble without the pressures of going to band festivals or choir competitions. It is a good place for them to explore. Maybe in 15 or 20 years after graduating, they will pick up a guitar or bass at a yard sale and buy it and pass it on. That was my long-term basic hope.”
B-UHS rock band member Trevur ‘THE WURST’ Randolph, a B-UHS senior, plays the electric guitar and sings vocals. Trevur said he has been a part of several bands over the last few years, but none of them have worked out.
“School usually gets in the way of practicing,” he said. “This created an opportunity for us to practice during school.”
The band has ideas of where they may be able to play outside of school in the future, and Trevur said he never imagined the opportunity would ever be presented for there to be a rock band during school hours.
B-UHS senior John Hayes plays bass but is also going to try some vocals and drums. He joined because it sounded like a fun way to complete his school schedule.
“It was something unexpected,” John said. “I have been playing bass for a good while, so I might as well continue to play.”
Although he does not plan to pursue music as a career, John does have several musical honors performances coming up soon.
“Thursday through Saturday, I will be performing in the West Virginia Honor Band, and I am a member of the West Virginia All-State Band and will be performing in March with them,” he said. “I play trombone in the B-UHS Marching Band.”
Elijah Carr is a junior at B-UHS and sings vocals and plays guitar. He joined the rock band because his parents listened to rock music when he was younger.
“I basically grew up on that type of music and I found a love for it,” Elijah said. “I really wanted to join so I could experience that rock band feeling.”
Some of his favorite bands include Pink Floyd and Cat Stevens.
Kayla Currence is a B-UHS senior who plays electric guitar in the rock band. She joined the class because she wanted a new experience.
“I stopped marching band during my freshman year at B-UHS and had two years without any music at all,” Kayla said, adding that she took up playing the electric guitar a few years ago. “I saw the opportunity and thought, why not?”
Learning she could take a class in rock band was a total surprise.
“It is a unique experience and I think it is really interesting,” Kayla said. “This class not only teaches music but teaches us to work together. Teamwork is critical, and we learn to listen to one another very well. I think it has been a cool experience.”
Dylan Fox plays drums.
“Led Zeppelin is my favorite rock band,” Dylan shared.
Eliza Taylor, who took over as the B-UHS music teacher after Friend left, said the program is unique. As far as the curriculum and content standards, she follows those of a small ensemble, such as a small jazz group or steel drums.
“I am trying to give these students experiences similar to performing in an ensemble, either professionally or as a hobby as they get older,” Taylor said during a recent interview with My Buckhannon at Buckhannon-Upshur High School. “I want them to learn skills so they can market themselves, and today we talked about ways to get the word out to people that the rock band exists so they get in the public eye.”
Taylor said the band is working toward coming up with a website or YouTube channel so they can learn more about marketing their band.
“I have been trying to reach out to places where the rock band can go out and perform in different venues in town,” Taylor said. “I hope with the Colonial Theatre opening up soon we can work with the theatre and Upshur County Schools to play – and the Strawberry Festival. I hope to get this band in the public eye while teaching publicity skills.”
Taylor said the rock band at B-UHS will be offered again next year.
“To be a member, students need to have some experience in music and need to acquire a check-off from someone in the music department at B-UHS or Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School,” Taylor said. “This is a high school performing ensemble, so students need to have skills to read and play music.”
Taylor said that currently, B-UHS does not have equipment for students to use.
“There is no equipment here at the school; the musicians truck in their own amps and equipment,” Taylor said. “As a school, we really do not have any sound equipment, specifically guitar amps. We are always looking for support and donations of sound equipment. This is a new thing and we are looking for the means for students to be able to play on school equipment to make it open for anybody.”
Taylor said she never imagined she would be teaching rock band at B-UHS.
“But I am really glad that I am teaching this class,” she said. “I did a lot of graduate course work in music theory and actually ended up working with Ciro Scotto, one of the big music theorists on this type of music, so working with him and being able to teach it to the students is a great opportunity.”