Charles Gorby:  “First stage band festival was money well spent”

NOTES DA CAPO – by John L. Puffenbarger, WVMEA Historian

Spring/Summer 2008


In 1959, after talking with several college, high school, and junior high school band directors in West Virginia, Charles Gorby cocluded that there was a need for stimulating interest in dance bands. He conceived the idea of sponsoring a festival for high school and junior high school dance or stage bands. Many directors and school administrators expressed the feeling that the tenn "Stage Band" might be better than "Dance Band," since they thought that the latter term might discourage participation.


Five area high school band directors had started stage bands in their schools and were interested in promoting a stage band festival. They also expressed need for a clinic since the concept of stage bands was new, and the directors were inexperienced with stage band repertoire.


William Caruth, chairman of the Music Department at Concord State College, had organized a group that was known as the "Com­manders." Mr. Caruth was an outstanding dance musician as well as an orchestra director. He said that he would bring his band as a clinic group and that faculty members from the music department would serve as clinicians.


After much discussion, the Stage Band Festival was scheduled for Saturday, January 10, 1959. January was selected because Christ­mas programs would be over, and the date would not interfere with spring festivals or concerts. A bulletin announcing the festival was mailed to band directors in West Virginia, Virginia, and Ohio, and an article announcing the festival appeared in "Gorby's Band News & Views," a publication printed by Gorbys Music Store. A second bulletin was mailed prior to the Christmas holidays that included an enrollment form, to be returned to

Gorbys Music Store no later than Monday of the week of the festival.


Gorbys store had an auditorium, but it was not large enough to handle the bands plus the spectators. The Social Room of the South Charleston Recreation Center was rented for the day. The Recreation Center was located several blocks from the business district, so to avoid having the participants leave for lunch, and perhaps not be able to return on time, the staff of Gorbys prepared a snack lunch, consisting of sandwiches, potato chips, ice cream, and soft drinks, sold for twenty-five cents a serving.


The festival began at 9:30 with doughnuts and coffee available. At 10:00, the "Commanders" played three standard numbers for the visiting bands and spectators. Mr. Caruth then discussed phrasing, interpretation, seating, and use of stage band selections. Kenneth Gleason of Concord College gave an interesting and informative presentation on the use of brass instruments, using the brass section of the "Commanders" for demonstration. David Lewis, woodwind instructor at the college, discussed mouthpieces, embouchure, se­lection of reeds, doubling on clarinet, and saxophone. The "Commanders" reed section demonstrated various phrasing of musical style. Charles Davis, band director at Clifton Forge (Virginia) High School talked about the value of the drummer in the modern day dance band. Using a tape recorder for background, he demonstrated various American instruments, cymbals, and tom-tom.


After lunch, the afternoon was devoted to auditions. The bands appeared in the order in which their registration forms were received. There was no cost or charge to any of the bands. Each band played three selections. Adjudicators were Dr. Earl Houts, head of the Music Department at West Virginia Institute of Technology and Mr. Lewis and Mr. Gleason. Bands were rated as Superior, Excellent, Fair, or Good. The ratings were not published, but were handed to the directors by the adjudicators. The adjudicators were seated in different locations in the auditorium and did not collaborate while rating the bands.


The bands and their directors, in the order that they auditioned, were George Wythe "Maroons," Wytheville, Virginia, Jack White, di­rector; "Pearisburg Hi-Hatters," Pearisburg, Virginia, Richard Beasley, director; South Charleston Junior High Stage Band, John Jarvis, director; "The Jestures," St. Albans, WV, Alan Farley, director; Lincoln Junior High Stage Band, Charleston, WV, Nelson Gael, director; "The Swingsters," Gauley Bridge, WV, James Warren, director: Kyger Creek Stage Band, Cheshire, Ohio, William Everson, director; "The Starlighters," Belle, WV, Lawrence S. Carson, director; "Night Lighters," South Charleston, WV, Richard Katholi and Bill Dale, co-directors; "Tiger Tones," Princeton, WV, John W. Lilly, director; "Mello-Bridge Swingsters," Meadow Bridge, WV, Robert Hamer, director.


Approximately 300 persons attended in addition to the band members. The overall cost to Gorbys for providing lunch, advertising, hall rental, transportation of the piano, and miscellaneous expense was $150.00. Charlie Gorby commented later that it was worth the time and effort, saying, "I feel that the stage band program has a definite place in the public school curriculum. It gives additional training for the outstanding musician who wants to be a better performer. It provides dance band experience for those students want­ing to pursue this effort in college and later life."


(For further information about the development of stage band festivals in West Virginia, see the February 1998 "Notes da Capo" artcle, "Gorbys Holds First Stage Band Festival" on the WVMEA Web page.)