“This performance is at the intersection of education and fun,” Swallow Hill Music Instructor Trent Nelson says with a laugh.
“It’s basically a full on rock show at the school, and the kids just love it.”
Trent is talking about Swallow Hill Music’s Interactive Performance for elementary-aged school kids called We Will Rock You: History of Rock-and-Roll. Trent performs and helped develop the assembly with Swallow Hill’s Outreach Coordinator Michael John McKee, and fellow Instructor Jeff Rady.
If you know Trent, you know he’s a big kid at heart; so if it takes one to know one, would he have enjoyed this assembly as a kid?
“If I had this assembly as a kid in school, I’d think it was awesome,” Trent affirms.
“We go through the history and the different eras of rock ‘n’ roll,” he explains. The trio plays the music live with Trent primarily on guitar, Jeff on bass, and Michael plays drums. Trent and Jeff share the vocals.
“The beauty of rock ‘n’ roll, and what we’re trying to teach, is that one of the things that makes America very special is that we’re a combination of many different backgrounds and cultures,” Trent says. “Rock ‘n’ roll is one of those things that took that melting pot of all our different backgrounds and created a different form of music.”
We Will Rock You: History of Rock-and-Roll is the latest addition to Swallow Hill’s stable of Interactive Performances. These engaging musical experiences take place in assembly-style settings meant for 25 to 300 audience members at a time. These 45-minute programs meet grade level curriculum standards related to music, culture, and history.*
“We have a great roster of performances we currently offer to schools, libraries and community centers but wanted to do something new,” Swallow Hill Music’s Outreach Director Tiffany Grady said when asked about how the program got its start.
“The roster of assembly performances Swallow Hill offers covers many musical topics – jazz, blues, bluegrass, rhythm based drumming,” Michael, who brings his experience as as Outreach Coordinator, music instructor, and gigging rock musician to the table, adds. “I felt like a hole that we could easily fill was rock ‘n’ roll.”
After identifying the genre, Michael quickly enlisted Trent and Jeff to develop the class. The three are longtime friends and musical collaborators.
“Trent and Jeff co-teach a classic rock ensemble here at Swallow Hill for adults, so their knowledge of the repertoire and history of rock ‘n’ roll is probably more extensive than mine,” Michael explains.
He also points out one critical factor that made Trent and Jeff perfect for this project.
”They are both well-equipped with the skills and personality to do high-energy performances for kids and are willing to be silly to connect with a first grader about rock and roll music.”
In creating the program, the trio needed to determine a starting and ending point for their history of the genre. They admit it’s all open to debate and interpretation, but settled on beginning with “Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley, and ending with “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes.
“A lot of the decisions we made were based on what songs kids may have already heard through pop culture references.”
The trio covers about 20 songs in the roughly 45 minute performance. The point is to expose their audiences to as much music as possible to leave a lasting impression
“It’s the initial exposure,” Tiffany says. “For many, these performances are the first time students are experiencing live music. For them to hear Swallow Hill musicians performing songs they know and love, is an added bonus. We are helping young people fall in love with music.”
“I don’t know if you remember ever having a performance at your school,” she adds. “I still remember a performance at my elementary school 30 years ago; I think it may have actually been (Swallow Hill Instructor) Michael Stanwood!” Her eyes light up and she laughs when she recalls this.
With a high-energy rock show including fun, interactive portions where kids are pulled from the audience to try their hand at percussion, and teachers are called upon to demonstrate the moonwalk, this current generation of students are undoubtedly creating cherished memories of their own.
“The reaction we’ve seen is kids having a really good time, they think it’s fun,” Michael says. He also notes many of the students carry an impressive wealth of knowledge about obscure classic rock songs.
And it’s fun for the performers as well, as Tiffany notes. “Immediately after the first performance, all Trent could say was that was so much fun.”
“I am very proud of We Will Rock You: History of Rock-and-Roll,” Trent says. “I hope there are more and more opportunities to perform it, because I think it’s a really cool part of our American history to celebrate.”
“And it is fun, and that’s the best part. Who doesn’t want to make some noise, and dance around, and do the moonwalk and have some fun during school?”
DID YOU KNOW?
Swallow Hill Music will present 55 Interactive Performances at 48 locations in 2019.
*Swallow Hill Music’s Community Outreach Programs currently offer the following Interactive Performances:
The American Vernacular: The Art of Jazz
The Blues: A True American Art
Colorado History through Song
Irish Music & Dance: The Cultural Connection
The Melting Pot: Bluegrass & Beyond
Rhythm: A Multicultural Music Experience
We Will Rock You: History of Rock-and-Roll