They may seem like your average group of fifth-graders, but beneath their music lessons and four-foot frames, the trio of Oscar Smith, Alex Arbucci and Kian Hecht are The Great Oaks.
They met in kindergarten at P.S. 24 — and it wasn’t really that long ago. Smith and Arbucci are 10, while Hecht just turned 11.
This past weekend, the boys grabbed their instruments and rocked An Beal Bocht Cafe.
“Those kids were amazing and I loved how much support they had,” said Meghan Owen, a waitress at the West 238th Street eatery.
That “support” poured out the front door. Owens squeezed past many friends and family of the young band, many holding drinks and plates full of food as The Great Oaks brought down the house.
Hecht plays guitar, Arbucci is on bass, and Smith bangs it out on the drums. Their set list includes covers like “Believer” by Imagine Dragons, “Can’t Stop” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream, and “Friday I’m in Love” by The Cure. They even have an original written by Smith, “Ja Ja Boom.”
“We were blown away by it,” said Marcy Rosaly, an An Beal regular. “I really liked the range of decades that they chose, and their original song.”
Each boy has an in-depth proclivity for music. For the past five years Hecht has played guitar and saxophone. Smith found the drums three years ago. Arbucci has played bass for a little over a year.
The “oaks” in their name is simply the first letter of each of their first names — Oscar, Alex and Kian.
The band has met every Saturday over the past six months for a couple of hours of practice with their mentor and coach Timothy Haufe. He already knew Smith because he is his drum teacher, and when his student talked about forming a rock band, Haufe was more than willing to advise.
“For their age, their focus level is incredible,” Haufe said. “They’re super driven. I don’t have to play disciplinarian with them. It’s really rewarding, and when I was their age, I wanted something like that.”
Not only does Haufe dedicate his time to the boys, he’s a performer himself. He plays in a number of musical groups like his electronic band and strings quartet. He has played An Beal himself a few times, and helped The Great Oaks get booked there.
When the kids finished their set, the audience roared with applause, shouting for encores. The Great Oaks would have been happy to oblige, if they had prepared an encore.
During their Saturday sessions at Smith’s house, the boys practice songs and learn new arrangements. They also come up with new ideas, and together make choices about music. They learn not only through Haufe but also through each other.
“I feel really good after practice,” said Arbucci, gripping his band T-shirt his father John Arbucci created for the band. The black features a bright green large tree with “The Great Oaks” written across.
An Beal has prided itself as a place for artistic expression, but inviting a rock band with members so young is certainly something new. And not only are they learning a lot, but the members of The Great Oaks are having a great time together.
“It can be a little hectic, but I really love having all the people in here,” Owen said. “What other bar would let people do this?”
The boys take most of their inspiration from The Beatles, Green Day and Imagine Dragons. They have known each other practically their entire lives.
Even when Arbucci moved to Pleasantville, he still trekked back into the city to make practices. Hecht, however, is moving to New Jersey, which will not be as easy a commute. Yet, the boys are determined to make things work.
“We’re strong and sturdy, and we really just liked being together and smiling,” Smith said. “Together we’re really a big tree.”