Charles H. Gorby Music Educator/Music Dealer

"Notes da Capo" by John L. Puffenbarger

September 1991

(On a Saturday in February 1991 1 had the pleasure of sitting in Charles Gorby's office, reminiscing with him about his musical career, which spans several decades. Mr. Gorby, who is now eighty-one, continues to be active in music circles. This is the first of two articles).

"My uncle always said to me, 'Charles, if you will prepare yourself to be a band director or a shop teacher, you will never be without a job."' -- Charles Gorby.

When a person thinks of Gorby's Music House and its proprietor, Charles Gorby, one naturally thinks about band instruments, sheet music, and pianos, but that is only part of the story. Music education has also played an important role in his career.

Charlie (as he is known to his friends) was raised in the Ohio River town of New Martinsville, and it was here that he met his wife, Mary. In the tenth grade he was encouraged to play trumpet by his school principal and, also, his father. In 1926 his father went to Wheeling and purchased the instrument for $105. Charlie helped pay for the trumpet by working part time in his father's grocery store.

When Charlie was a junior in high school, Harold Leighty, (who taught Spanish and bookkeeping) was asked to give one period daily to start a band. Charlie was the first to report with his trumpet and, therefore, can take credit for being the "original beginner" of the Magnolia High School Band.

He attended Ohio University from 1928-1932, earning a B.S. degree in education with a major in industrial arts and a minor in music. He was in the marching and concert bands, orchestra, and brass quartet. He was, also, president of the band and still had time to join the track team. One of the boys on the track team organized a band and asked Charlie to play in it. His name was Sam Zarnocay, Jr., who is better known today as Sammy Kaye.

Charlie's first teaching job was in Kanawha County at the Loudon District Six-Year High School, where his monthly pay was $135. His duties were to teach mechanical drawing, electricity, wood- working, and to organize a school band. Starting with a brass quartet playing for a student assembly, the group grew to 16 players within a short time. During the first year rehearsals were limited to two per week. The second year brought daily rehearsals, while a second period each day was added for beginners during the third year.

The band boosters club met with the administration the following year and re- quested more time for band, suggesting that an instrumental music program be available to elementary students. The board of education approved the program, and a junior band was formed along with an elementary group.

The senior band played at all home and away football games and gave annual Christmas and spring concerts. It also played for many community functions. A five-piece German band known as "The Hungry Five" entertained many service club and social events.

During his time as band director at South Charleston High School Gorby helped form the West Virginia Bandmasters Association (serving as its first secretary) and the first state band festival. The theme of the festival was "Let us pace each other on the road to excellence." He also helped form the Kanawha County Band Directors Association.

To be continued.

Charles H. Gorby -- Music Dealer (Part Two)

"Gorby's is more than a music store-- it's an institution."--Charles Gorby.

Charles Gorby's success in building the South Charleston band program prompted the H.N. White Company, a manufacturer of band instruments in Cleveland, Ohio, to hire him to promote and develop school bands in West Virginia and Virginia. At that time (1938) band instrument factories sold direct to consumers and schools, as there were very few band instrument dealers. And that's how Charlie Gorby became West Virginia's own "music man."

During the next four years he covered both states, selling band programs to community leaders, administrators, and school boards. He told them about the advantages of bands and talked about uniforms and trips. At the Covington (Virginia) High School, after giving his usual talk about the band he asked how many wanted to be in the band, and every hand went up except for the eleven boys on the football team. Student-grade trumpets, comets, clarinets, and trombones in silver finish and with cases sold for $40 cash or rented at $2 down, $6 C.O.D., and $3.60 for ten months. In many instances the band director would serve five schools, spending one day each week in a school. By the second year the bands were doing so well that a full-time director was hired for each school. Charles Gorby started over 150 school band programs in four years.

This part of his career continued until Decoration Day, 30 May 1942, when the government froze everything made out of metal: stoves, refrigerators, bicycles, and musical instruments. Gorby was out of business overnight. Then, at age 34, married, and with two small boys, he received "greetings" from Uncle Sam. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War U, directing a naval training station band and drum corps in Detroit, Michigan.

When he mustered out of the service in 1945, the H.N. White Company wanted to make him director of sales. Since his home was in West Virginia, he chose to become a dealer here, where he first sold instruments from his garage. The company sent him four horns, and he sold them. Then he bought six and sold those, bought eight and sold eight--and that is how his business grew.

His store officially opened in 1946 in a room over Vogue Dry Cleaners. At the end of the first year the business was incorporated, and then he leased a building on Seventh Avenue in South Charleston. The present Gorby's Music House was built in 1955, and was expanded in 1967. Sons Jerry and Steve, and wife Mary contributed to what became a family corporation. Mary, who was in the business from the beginning, handles the sheet music department, and Jerry is president and general manager. Steve was killed in a tragic airplane accident in 1985.

Over the years Charles Gorby has contributed greatly to music education in West Virginia. Gorby's sponsored its First Annual Stage Band Festival on 10 January 1959. The festival was held for fifteen years until the West Virginia Bandmasters Association took it over. Gorby's also held annual marching band clinics. Gorby's has supported the WVMEA and Charlie has twice served as exhibits chair and chair of printed programs for the annual Conference. He is an honorary member of Tau Chapter of Phi Beta Mu, national bandmasters fraternity. In 1989 he was inducted as an associate member of the American Bandmasters Association.