"Why Not A Band Festival?"

NOTES DA CAPO - By John Puffenbarger
September, 1992

One evening in 1935 after a Huntington High School band concert, the director, Henry C. Shadwell, invited Carl McElfresh and Charles Gorby to his home for a few hands of bridge. His mother, with whom he lived, served refreshments. McElfresh. director of the Logan High School Band, and Gorby, director of the South Charleston High School Band, mentioned to Shadwell that it would be great if the various bands of the area could come together on a weekend for a band festival. The last band contest had been held on 20 April 1933.

Shadwell stated that "we could pace each other on the road to excellence." It would give bands an opportunity to compare one another's progress, and soloists would have a chance to be heard. The three directors agreed that the idea had merit, so Shadwell took the lead and began making plans to hold a band festival in Huntington in the spring of 1936. This first West Virginia band festival involved bands from West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky. Each band played concert selections for audition and received constructive ratings and comments from qualified judges, rather than have direct competition.

Although some bands wore uniforms, many wore white duck trousers, white shirts, and "overseas caps." The students were housed in private homes. and free meals were provided by the city of Huntington, which also bore the expense of adjudication and quest conductors.

After the auditions a parade was held, and this resulted in an amusing anecdote. A Sousaphone was found in the middle of one of the streets and was delivered to Mr. Shadwell. It was thought that the instrument belonged to one of the high school bands. Shadwell contacted all the bands which had participated, but no one was missing a Sousaphone. Later, the Owens-Illinois Company revealed that its band had lost a Sousaphone. It seems their Sousaphone player became tired, and since his feet were hurting he put his horn down in the middle of the street and went home!

Today Henry C. Shadwell is recognized as the founder of the West Virginia high school band festival. He was a junior high science teacher for the first nine years of his educational career, but his interest in music enabled him to organize the first Huntington High School Band in 1924. He then became supervisor of instrumental music in the Huntington and later the Cabell County public school system.

Shortly after his retirement in 1951 his death left a void in the life of those who knew him. But this void is somehow filled again every spring when bands travel to band festivals throughout the state and continue a tradition which he had helped start.

(Thanks to Charles Gorby for supplying background for this article.)