The City and Country Rhythms program has been, and still is, centered on movement and music. The music, has been performed by Rafi D’Lugoff since 1996. Rafi also plays a crucial role in the school plays, as he provides the music for each scene. He gives the plays more excitement and drama, using his piano skills. Rafi has been at our school for 22 years, but many students might not know much about him.
“I don’t know his last name. I feel like I should know more about him after six years,” said Hanna Kenyatta, XIIIs.
“I know him a little,” said Zenyn Gould, VIsE.
“I’ve only been here since the Vs so I don’t know him well. He plays piano,” said Valentina Huque, VIIsC.
“He plays music for us while we run and skip [and] that way we can listen,” said Ara Triller, VIIIsJ.
“I don’t know anything about him. He plays piano,” said Miguel Rabayo, XIsD.
It is clear from these students in many different age groups, that many of them do not know anything beyond the fact that Rafi plays piano.
Rafi has a unique role at City and Country. His job is exclusive to C&C because C&C is one of the only schools with a Rhythms program. To many students he seems irreplaceable because of how long he has been at C&C. He does not only play the piano. He knows everything there is to know about Rhythms, like which pieces to use for certain activities and what activities are appropriate for different age groups.
Piano came into Rafi’s life early, “I started very young but then . . . I sort of gave up between seven and 13 because I was more interested in sports and stuff.” So when he got interested again, he “had to catch up a lot.” He added, “I would say between 8 and 13 I didn’t really care about music.”
Before working at City and Country, Rafi said, “My father had a nightclub called the Village Gate. It was a very famous jazz nightclub.” The Village Gate was opened in 1958 on the corner of Thompson and Bleecker Streets in Greenwich Village by his father Art D’Lugoff. Rafi said, “I was able to work there a lot and I got to hear a lot of great music and some of it I was too young to appreciate it at the time. I got to hear Charles Mingus and Art Boyky. It was inspiring to me.” “Later on I got to hear some people that were younger than me, and are pretty well-known now . . . Larry Goldings, John Midensky, Brad Mehldau [who are] well known in the jazz world. They were appearing when I was old enough to book music myself. I would decide who would play there. I’m glad I was able to give them work when they were just starting out.”
After working at the Village Gate, Rafi came to City and Country. “It was the Fall of 1996. I was the Rhythms piano player. Joan Morgan was the Rhythms teacher until 2001, and so she taught me what I had to play, and what music is appropriate for what groups, and what games and what movements are appropriate for different age groups,” said Rafi. Max Beyer and Roland Levy, both XIIIs and avid piano players, agreed when Max said, “It’s uncanny that Rafi always knows the right music for the activity.”
In Rhythms, while Rafi has been playing piano for a long time, the teacher has changed frequently. Right now there are three different Rhythms teachers, Michele Gay, Zelda Gay, and Madeline Buhler-Rose.
Ruth Conroy, the current VIIsR teacher used to teach Rhythms and before her, the teacher was Kali Paguirigan, who moved to Colorado. Caitlin Marz was the teacher before Michele and Zelda came in the middle of the 2016-2017 school year. All these different teachers were taught or guided by Rafi.
“Well, the Rhythms teacher is always someone new so I have to teach them or show them what Joan Morgan taught me. The new Rhythms teachers over the years have had their own ideas, but I have to make sure that they stick to what I call the Rhythms major food groups, if you know what I mean,” said Rafi.
As far as Rhythms changing from teacher to teacher, “I would just say that it all depends on the teacher, and the teachers observe the basic needs of Rhythms but they always add their own knowledge and their own personality to it. So it’s all dependent on the experience and the personality of the teacher,” said Rafi.
The core fundamentals or “major food groups,” as Rafi said, have stayed the same for a while. “In my first three of four years, I was still learning myself, about it. It’s not just a matter of being able to play. I mean I had to be told what kind of pieces to play for what situations, and now I know that,” said Rafi.
Once a year, every group from the VIIIs to the XIIIs puts on a play that relates to their curriculum, and Rafi provides the music to all of these plays, playing piano for each scene and in between scenes. “I try to put music in the parts where there is no dialogue and hopefully if I am doing the job it brings some life to the play and it keeps the momentum of the play going. Especially when people are entering or exiting and to set the mood or anticipate the mood of a scene coming up, whether it’s something that is scary or beautiful or dangerous or sad or joyful.” Rafi keeps the plays exciting, and makes every part of them enhanced through the music.
Rafi works at City and Country part-time, meaning he is not at school all day every day of the week and does not attend faculty meetings. Outside of school, he said, “I play jazz piano, so I’ll play with drums and bass and sometimes singers. I play regularly at a place called the Fat Cat . . . every Wednesday at seven o’clock.” In addition to piano, he also plays and teaches chess.
“I played in chess tournaments since I was 14. There are a lot of afterschool programs that do chess including City and Country. I teach chess uptown afterschool, I teach groups of kids. I like working with kids and I like seeing themimprove and giving them easy puzzles to solve and gradually more difficult things to see if they can solve them. For example a couple weeks ago the parent of a kindergartener told me ‘my son beat me so you must be doing a good job,’ so that’s nice to hear.”
Rafi has an important role in our community because of the way he supports the Rhythms program by teaching all the teachers and having so much knowledge on one of the most unique things at City and Country.