The music of Joseph Rivers often reflects his love for storytelling, history, and the natural world. His music for the ballet, Wahzhazhe: An Osage Ballet, portraying the story of the Osage people, was premiered in August 2012 in Tulsa and Bartlesville, OK and performed at the Smithsonian National Museum for the American Indian in March 2013.

Symphony No. 2, Oklahoma Peoples in Trial and Triumph, which recounts the Cherokee Trail of Tears and other events in Oklahoma history, was premiered by the Signature Symphony and Chorale and the Cherokee National Youth Choir in November 2011.

Buffalo Run , commissioned by the Tulsa Youth Symphony, was composed to celebrate the American buffalo (or bison) and their connection and essential value to the American Indian way of life, and to depict their near demise and rise again.

These works are in a series of original compositions based on Oklahoma history: Lonely People of the Osage, a choral setting of words by Oklahoma poet and Pawhuska native Winston Weathers, which received its New York premiere by the Gregg Smith Singers in 1994; Will Rogers Self-Portrait, for chorus and orchestra, commissioned for the Will Rogers Heritage, Inc. and the Claremore Community Chorus; Prairie Dreams, a one-act opera about pioneer Oklahoma; and Trio for Violin, Violoncello, and Piano, depicting the Oklahoma landscape through the eyes of a native warrior, commissioned by the Oklahoma Music Teachers Association during the Oklahoma state centennial in 2007.

Additional works include Rivers's first symphony, Echoes of War—Visions of Peace, commissioned and premiered by the Signature Symphony of Tulsa, which was recorded by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra for Vol. 15 of ERMMedia's "Masterworks of the New Era" series, and two works commissioned by oboist Lise Glaser, the Concerto for Oboe, English Horn and String Orchestra, perhaps the first concerto for these two solo instruments in combination, and The Wanderings of Ayumi for Oboe and Harp, composed for both Lise and for harpist Lorelei Barton. Rivers recently released a soundtrack album of his score for Bo Bergstrom's film Midsummer Night's Dream and a CD of some of his piano and chamber compositions entitled, Nuova Avventura. Tempests Round Us Gather, for mixed chorus and piano, commissioned by the Coventry Chorale of Tulsa in conjunction with the Smithsonian American Museum of Art exhibition, "The Gilded Age." Previous works for dance include the Portrait of a Cat, for woodwind trio and dancer with narration, commissioned by the Harwelden Institute for the Arts and premiered by the Council Oak trio, who toured it widely in Oklahoma schools; and The Exile's Return, orchestral ballet in five scenes, premiered by the Mid-Illinois Ballet.

Joseph Rivers is J. Donald Feagin Professor of Music and Film Studies at the University of Tulsa, where he also chairs the Department of Film Studies. Rivers also directs the Film Scoring program at the University of Tulsa. Studies include the aesthetics and techniques of music scoring for film, collaborations with student film directors, conducting original cues in live recording sessions, and participation in student film festivals.

Students in more advanced studies conduct the university orchestra in recording the film cues they have scored, and are mentored for internship opportunities. Guest film composers, orchestrators, and film directors are frequently invited to TU for residencies, and recent visitors have included (in alphabetical order) David Amram, Paul Chihara, David Friedman, Sonny Kompanek, Hummie Mann, Tim Blake Nelson, David Spear, and Tim Zinneman.

Rivers earned his degrees at the University of South Carolina (B.M. and M.M.), where he studied with Gordon Goodwin and Fred Teuber, and at the University of Arizona (Ph.D.), where he studied with Richard Faith and Edward Murphy. He studied film scoring at NYU, Pacific Northwest Film Scoring Program, Film Music Institute, and UCLA Extension. Rivers is a member of BMI, Sigma Alpha Iota (National Associate), Society of Composers and Lyricists, American Composers Forum, College Music Society, and Phi Beta Kappa. He resides in Tulsa, Oklahoma.