The Huntington State Band Festival


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

Spring 2006


An envelope of newspaper clippings that I received recently from Kathryne Williams led me to delve further into the history of the State Band Festival in Huntington. I was also able to talk with AI Frey, Phyllis Osenton, Margaret Pantelone, and Kathryne at the March WVMEA conference in Charleston and learned much about their participation in the festival. Records from this period are sketchy, so I was pleased to be able to learn more about these early years.


In an effort to promote the growth of high school bands in the 1930s, Henry Shadwell, Carl McElfresh, J. Henry Francis, and Charles Gorby developed the idea of holding band festivals in West Virginia. Their dream was to elevate the performance of high school bands, to provide opportunities for young band students to hear performances by others, and to create an atmosphere of good public relations. Huntington was chosen as the location for the WVBA State Band Festival.


The West Virginia Bandmasters Association divided the state into eight regions (which later grew to ten). Festivals were held in each region prior to the state festival. Classifications of bands were established in accordance with the size of the student body. Bands were classified A, B, or C. (This was changed in the late 1960s to AAA, AA, and A.)


The WVBA organized a bandmaster's band each summer to play selections that were being considered for use in festivals. One piece was selected as a "required" piece that all bands attending the festival would perform in their classification. Band directors were given the option of selecting a warm-up number, usually a march, and they were to choose a "selected" number of their choice. (Note: Sight-reading was included at a few regional festivals, but not at the state festival.)


Bands that wanted to go to the state festival were eligible to do so, provided they had earned a "superior" rating in the regional festival. The first Huntington State Band Festival was held in 1936. In 1939, twenty-seven bands attended the festival. Students were housed in private homes, although some bands made arrangements to stay in hotels.


All-Festival Bands were organized in each classification. The method of selecting personnel was interesting. Prior to the event, band directors held a meeting to make selections. While sitting around a table, the festival chairman would announce, "We need several good flute players. Who has one?" A director would reply, "I have an outstanding player." The student's name would be added to the list. One director remarked that each year a particularly forceful and loud director was always able to get more students chosen than anyone else. The All­Festival Band Concert was usually held on Friday night of the two-day event.


The All-Festival parade was held on Saturday. The evening prior to the parade, a dinner was held, during which parade positions were determined by a drawing. Among the clippings mailed to me by Kathryne Williams were newspaper articles about parades held during the 1940s. One picture shows the starting point of the 1946 parade. The Hinton and WeIch High School Bands were pictured on Fourth Avenue near Bailey's Cafeteria. These two bands were selected to lead the forty-four bands that day.


Thousands of spectators lined both sides of the two- mile parade route, standing six to eight deep. Third grade student Sandra Shaffer of Mercer Elementary School was unofficially selected as "Miss 1946 Band Festival Sweetheart." She was the youngest drum majorette in the parade. (Note: In the 1960s, the WVBA ruled that only a bona fide member of a high school could participate with the band.)


The newspaper picture showed the style of uniforms bands wore in 1946. All band directors wore uniforms, some choosing all white uniforms, while others wore a conservative black style. Some students wore white buck shoes and a military style belt around the waist with a smaller belt over the shoulder. Other students wore black shoes with white spats.


It was a grueling march from the downtown area to Fairfield Stadium, where several bands demonstrated marching maneuvers. Thousands of spectators went to Fairfield Stadium to watch the bands show their expertise in field maneuvering. Several hundred people swarmed on the cinder track and borders of the turf to have a better view of the spectacular display of color and talent.


The dream the founders of the festival had many years ago was realized. The festival was a huge success. By the mid-1950s, the festival had grown to seventy-five bands. After the number of bands exceeded fifty, the logistics and housing created an insurmountable problem, making it extremely difficult for Huntington to host the thousands of students who attended. In 1957, the state festival was divided into four area festivals.


For more information about the Huntington State Band Festival, please read the March 1990, September 1992, February 1997, and April/May 1997 Notes da Capo articles, which are posted on the WVMEA Web site.)