Each year, the top high school band students in West Virginia and surrounding states converge on West Virginia University, Marshall University and Virginia Tech to participate in each university’s honor band.
Band directors nominate students who exhibit a knowledge of scales and sight reading, have a talent for their instruments and are dedicated to expanding their music education.
Pocahontas County High School band director Bob Mann nominated students for each university and had at least one student to qualify for each of the three.
Juniors Miles Goodall and Danielle Cain were selected by Virginia Tech; freshman Kyle Lester, sophomore Caitlin Barnes, juniors Kimberly Lester and Kayla Lester, and seniors Joey Friel and Amanda Gibson were selected by Marshall University; and Friel was also selected by West Virginia University.
Mann was excited for the students because they got to be part of a band much larger than the one at PCHS.
“At this time, we’re small and these kids don’t know what the experience is to play in a band of over 100 people,” he said. “They’re playing music with all the parts. They actually have enough percussion players that some of them have to sit down because there’s nothing for them to do.”
Before the students “join” a band, they have to audition for a seat in one of three honor bands.
“The top band is often equivalent to the All-State band,” Mann said. “We are very fortunate that Amanda Gibson made the top band at Marshall. She was in the John Marshall band which also has the featured guest conductor.”
Once students are placed in the top band, the remaining students are divided among the two lower bands. Each university has three levels of honor bands, except Virginia Tech, which also includes a middle school honor band.
This year, two Marlinton Middle School students – Mark Jordan and Kaitlyn Lester – were selected to perform.
Along with experiencing amazing music with likeminded high school students from all over the state, the students are also given an opportunity to experience life on a college campus.
“Not only do they interact with professors, they get master classes from the professor throughout the day,” Mann said. “They give you a break where you can go to a master class and it’s a professor, like the university saxophone professor, who will have all the saxophone students meet up, and would teach them some techniques.
“One other perk, and something amazing while we’re there, each corresponding university will show off their facility, and do a little bit of recruiting also,” Mann continued. “Our students get to experience a college campus and what it’s like to be on a campus.”
As a Marshall alum, Mann had the upper hand when escorting his students around campus.
“I was able to take the students from place to place,” he said. “It’s wonderful to go to a place where you spent ten years of your life and seeing the kids respond. It’s like seeing it through a new set of eyes. I got to give them the tour and they were really fascinated because I told them about when ‘We Are Marshall’ was filmed.”
Mann’s connections and pure kismet made the trip to Marshall even better for the students when they were able to perform with the Marshall pep band at a men’s basketball game.
“Greg Richmond, who is the former band director here is a really good friend of mine,” Mann explained. “He is currently the pep band director. Because we’re good pals and he’s still got a soft spot for Pocahontas, the Thursday night we arrived, Marshall’s men’s basketball team was playing. I called him and said, ‘hey, could we get in and watch the game?’ We got to talking and he said, ‘why don’t the Pocahontas students put on their green shirts and just join the band?’
“We did it. They had a blast,” Mann said.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org