The Pocahontas County High School Warrior band may have only 34 members, but those members more than make up for size with their sound.
Seven of those band members were selected by band director Bob Mann to participate in West Virginia University’s and Marshall University’s honor bands this year. An eighth band student was selected to participate in WVU’s string honor orchestra.
Armed with their instruments and skills, the students – Kevin Thompson, Tiler Mortensen-Smith, Kourtney Cohenour, Kyle Lester, Goldie McClure, Caitlin Barnes and Kaitlyn Lester – auditioned to be placed in one of three concert bands, and then spent two days rehearsing before the final performance.
At Marshall, the students were pitted against musicians from high schools in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia, while at WVU, they competed against students from Washington, D.C., Virginia, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania.
“It’s one way to provide some of our best students with opportunities they won’t have here,” Mann said. “We’re not going to have a one hundred piece band at PCHS. We’re not going to have the level of musicianship amongst the majority of students that they’re going to experience because these honor bands consist of music students that were nominated by the band directors because they’re special.”
While the students Mann selected are the top of the pyramid, they still had to deal with nerves and the unexpected.
“I had an excerpt, it was sight reading,” McClure said. “My scales are my best part, so I was kind of counting on them, and then I got in there and he was like, ‘all right, we don’t have enough time, so we’re going to skip scales,’ and I was like, ‘nooooo.’”
“The percussion only had to do sight reading,” Thompson added. “I had forgotten my mallets and everything. They were nice enough to supply me with a set of sticks.”
Each student had a different experience in their audition, but they all seemed to agree on one thing – sight-reading is harder than they anticipated.
“After I talked to these guys, sight-reading was the big emphasis of the selection process, so part of the reason we do this – it’s a learning experience – so we learned that we need to beef up our sight-reading,” Mann said. “That adjusted my teaching, and it helped everybody else with their perspective of their musicianship. In the years to come, we’re going to hopefully be more prepared with the regiment of sight-reading that we’re doing.”
Once the students got through the audition portion, they had an even more nerve-racking time as they waited for “the list” to be posted.
“We had to wait around for awhile for the list to come out,” Thompson said. “The list said where you were placed. At Marshall, there were three different bands – John Marshall Band, Thundering Herd Band and Marco’s Marauder – and we were waiting around for the list for an hour. As soon as you heard the list was up, everybody rushed to where they were.”
Despite the hectic beginnings, the students soon got into the groove of their new bands and settled into the music. It didn’t hurt that they had famous conductors and musicians as their clinicians.
At Marshall, the bands were led by Bill Drury, associate conductor of wind ensembles at New England Conservatory of Music; John Brewington, music director and conductor of the Tidewater Winds; and Jesse Nolan, visiting assistant professor of percussion at Marshall and former music director with The Blue Man Group.
At WVU, students worked with Robert W. Smith, renowned wind band composer; Stephen Barnett, Tennessee Education Rep- resentative for Amro Music Company and former director of bands at Marshall University; and Julia Kade, director of bands at Princeton High School.
“They all got to interact with a very esteemed guest conductor,” Mann said. “That guest conductor pretty much owned them during that amount of time. They played music that was selected by that guest conductor.”
Along with the guest conductors, the students also worked with instrument section leaders at the universities.
Senior Marilyn Creager, who is in the percussion section of the band, went a separate route and chose to learn a stringed instrument. Her ambition led Mann to sign her up to audition for the WVU string honor orchestra.
Creager began playing the double bass during independent study four months ago and picked it up so quickly, she was a natural for an honor’s seat.
“It has been a learning experience, playing the double bass,” Creager said. “I decided to audition because I love music and I was considering pursuing music education at college, and I wanted to see if it was a possibility for me.”
For her audition, Creager played excerpts from “The Poet and Peasant Overture,” by Franz von Suppe, “Symphonic Dance,” by Edvard Grieg and the bass solo “Sonatina,” by Ludwig van Beethoven.
“The audition was in a small classroom at Bridgeport High School, and the expert there was very kind and listened intently,” Creager said. “It was a very good experience. I thought for sure that I wasn’t going to make it. When I received the news, it was a pleasant surprise.”
Creager is the first PCHS student to participate in the string honor orchestra.