Q&A: Ruby Robertson-Knox, Upper School Music Director
Actions is a new editorial feature from Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child. Each week we will spotlight the dedicated faculty and staff across the PK-12 campus who make a difference in the lives of OKS students and the life of the school. This week, we feature:
Upper School Music Director
Q: As a Catholic school, Christmas is a very special time of year at Oak Knoll. Oak Knoll’s Upper School Christmas Prayer Concert is something the community looks forward to every December, and this year is certainly going to look different with social distancing and mask/singing rules. Can you talk a little about some of the challenges you had to overcome to coordinate the Christmas Prayer Concert this year and how you and others developed this plan?
A: As we entered this school year, I knew it would be a challenge to navigate social distance and mask wearing while singing. Working with the administration, I trimmed back rehearsals to one sectional per 8 day cycle, reduced the number of songs on the program, and worked with fewer singers per session. Once this was decided, the singers and I began singing while wearing a mask. Ms. McGroarty generously offered face shields as an option but, after sessions with both face coverings, we all decided the mask allowed us to hear one another and produce the best choral sound. The urgency to get the old and new repertoire ready to record was now our goal.
Over the past few years, our collaboration with St. Teresa of Avila and their Music Director, Mr. Matthew Still, has been a blessing. Once again, in early September, Mr. Still reached out to me and graciously offered the sanctuary for rehearsals and concerts. I was elated! The large sanctuary and high ceilings seemed to be the answer to keep everyone safe and perform our Christmas Prayer Concert. The choirs could sing from the pews and socially distance while experiencing the exquisite acoustics for blending their angelic sounds.
Once we received administrative approval, I called Mr. Still and reserved the church to rehearse and record the program of sacred song. Twenty select singers met at St. Teresa’s on Saturday, November 14 with black formal dresses in tow. We managed to record 17 sacred and secular Christmas carols in formal black dresses draped with red shawls. It was four hours of hard work but, we were able to accomplish our goal!
Q: What will the community get to see and hear during the Upper School Christmas Prayer Concert?
A: This past week was the scheduled dress rehearsal and performance to record the entire Concert Choir and Orchestra, over a two day period. Although, we are all disappointed the Concert Choir (numbering approximately 60 singers and 5 Chamber musicians) could not experience the beauty of St. Teresa, I am thankful we have the recording from November 14. The students know the story of Jesus’s birth will be told and the smaller core of singers represents the contributions they gave as well. We look forward to witnessing the annual Christmas Prayer Concert as we work with the videographer and tech department to combine the gospel readings and archival tableau photographs from past years.
A special note: The pre-recorded gospel readings were directed by Mr. Brian Topping, photographs of the Tableaux (from past years) were directed by Ms. Carlee Bennett and presentations of student artwork were directed by Will Cardell.
Q: During this uncertain year, how has music been a stress relief and gateway to expression for your students and why is music important in school curriculums?
A: Numerous times this semester, students entered the Grace Music Room, although happy to be in person, exhausted and stressed. Conversations were shared about their day and how “wearing a mask” (and other constraints) is burdensome. To help the singers in vocal classes, I would start with physical warmups in conjunction with vocal warmups. I found the students really appreciated the structure and comfort effective music rehearsals provide. Once we started singing their repertoire, they were ready to work the music and seemed to forget about the rigors of their day during these uncertain times. By the end of class, we came away with a sense of joy and appreciation for the privilege of having an administration and school philosophy that supports the arts. The girls leave class always so kind to express their thanks and appreciation. Our family of musicians and artists know that we have something special at Oak Knoll and that music and art (in this environment especially) is essential!
Q: When and how can the community view the Christmas Prayer Concert?
A: There will be a link sent from the technology department to everyone in the Oak Knoll community. It is December 17, 2020 at 7 p.m.
Q: Is there any other news from the Music Department that the community should know about?
A: Please, look forward to the spring musical production, a tribute to the works of Rodger and Hammerstein! It is on the OKS calendar for February 25, 26 and 27 2021! The spring drama and spring concert are on the OKS calendar for April and May. More news TBA!
Upper School Music Director Ruby Robertson-Knox has worked at Oak Knoll since 1985. She has directed performances such as “Beauty and the Beast,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Little Women,” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” She has traveled the globe with Oak Knoll’s select singing group, Ensemble, which she founded in 1986. The group has received extraordinary invitations to perform in grand venues such as St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Carnegie Hall and the Vatican, among others. Ruby earned her Bachelor of Music in Voice and Piano from Baylor University and was recognized in 2018 by Grammy-winning composer and conductor Eric Whitacre as Teacher of the Week for her passion for education and the performing arts. The honor specifically highlighted Robertson-Knox’s role in fostering a “special choral community of singers,” as well as her involvement in “Dramatica”, the Spring Musical, chamber choirs and providing musical support of on-campus liturgies.