The Beginnings of WVMEA Solo and Ensemble Festivals
NOTES DA CAPO by John L. Puffenbarger, WVMEA Historian
Historianís note: The author of this article, Jim Andrews, is a native of Elkins and a 1954 graduate of
Solo and ensemble training was not prevalent in school music programs of
Harold Gothard was band
When I returned from military
service in 1958, the
Band Festival had also changed dramatically. No longer was there only one festival in
The band directors in the counties met twice each year to develop plans
for the festivals. In 1959, the directors developed a plan that included both junior high and high school bands and a
regional solo and ensemble festival. Sight-reading became part of the band fes≠tival in 1961 and, at the time, only Region XII and the
I can only recall the reaction from band directors in the Huntington/Kanawha region, where I presented the plan. There were comments that a program like this would take too much time, and some even questioned if we were trying to turn the music program into a "conservatory." Eventually, the region approved the plan unanimously. Even those who questioned the idea voted for it, stating that they appreciated the fact that a plan was presented and that it was a good plan. The solo and ensemble committee reported approval by the directors in each region. The plan was later presented to and approved by the WVBA, and a regional solo and ensemble program for instrumental students was in place.
The plan asked for local schools to hold festivals and to send only students with high scores to regional festivals. Many directors were unfamiliar with graded solo and ensemble literature, so sources for obtaining lists were included in the plan. Application forms were part of the plan, along with guidelines that included information about the length of solos and ensembles, piano accompanists, and in≠formation for selecting judges and ideas for administering each festival. One of the side benefits of these festivals was that they en≠couraged schools to seek out pianists from the schools and communities to accompany the students.
The regional solo and ensemble programs flourished and, in two years, captured the attention of the Secondary Schools Activities Committee. I got a call from Gordon Eismon, who was head of the SSAC, asking questions about the festivals. Apparently, some principals did not know what was going on. Buses were being or≠dered and teachers and students were traveling to solo and ensem≠ble festivals that were not on the SSAC list of approved activities. A copy of the plan was sent to the SSAC. Gordon Eismon at≠tended several of the regional solo and ensemble festivals and later called me to say that he was impressed by these programs and how they were administered. Soon afterward, the SSAC ap≠proved the regional solo and ensemble festivals, and they became official.
One part of the solo and ensemble plan called for regions to sub≠mit tapes of the outstanding soloists and ensembles for considera≠tion as honor finalists to perform at the WVMEA annual conference. The solo and ensemble committee formed a group of jurors to hear the tapes. The 1964 WVMEA conference was the first to present honor finalists. These students performed for con≠ference luncheons and prior to major clinics. The Williamson High School Stage Band, under the direction of Bill Barrette, was the stage band finalist and also appeared at the 1964 conference. The 1965 conference featured performances by honor finalists from vocal, orchestral, and piano organizations as well as stage bands.
My recollection of more than fifty years ago (1955-1965) and the beginnings of solo and ensemble programs and festivals probably omits the names of many individuals who contributed signifi≠cantly to the development of this outstanding program. I apolo≠gize. Those who followed and continued to develop this valuable educational program are to be commended. Solo and ensemble programs provide each student with the skills and knowledge of the literature needed to continue performing individually and to consume music intelligently for a lifetime.