Gorby’s Holds First Stage Band Festival

"Notes da Capo" by John L. Puffenbarger

February 1998

(This is the WI in a series of articles on the history of the West Virginia Bandmasters Association by Owen West and John Puffenbarger).

The first stage band festival in West Virginia was sponsored by Gorby's Music House of South Charleston on 10 January 1959 in the South Charleston Recreation Center. Arrangements included a demonstration program by the "Commanders," a stage band from Concord College. After the "Commanders" had played several selections, their director, William E. Caruth, discussed phrasing, interpretation, seating, and musical arrangements. In the afternoon, eleven stage bands from schools in Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia performed for a panel of three adjudicators, who gave the bands constructive comments.

For the next two years a stage band festival was co-sponsored by the West Virginia Bandmasters Association and Gorby's, and in 1962 Morris Harvey College became an additional sponsor. For a while the festival was held on the campus of Morris Harvey, and each year an outstanding musician of national reputation served as a clinician and adjudicator.

About 1965 Fred Ross' BANDLAND of Clarksburg organized the northern stage band festival. Like Charles Gorby, Fred Ross was a corporate member of the WVMEA who supported music education. Ross himself had played saxophone in several dance bands. The two festivals existed until 1973, when the Bandmasters Association voted to emphasize the educational rather than the competitive aspects and became the total sponsor. A state stage band contest was also organized that year.

Over the years the bandmasters have made modest changes in their organization to meet changing times. In 1961 the membership voted to allow a band to perform "anything" as its selected number, though there would still be a required number in each class that all bands would be required to perform. The bandmasters also decided that no band should receive prize money at a parade or any other event in the state.

In 1964 the Bandmasters Association sponsored solo and ensemble festivals in several regions of the state. At this time executive board members were allowed four cents per mile as expenses to attend meetings and official bandmasters functions. This was also the time when the bandmaster’s constitution was changed to have their annual clinic in summer months rather than in December.

About 1967 WVMEA President Ron Wood encouraged the Bandmasters Association to drop their solo and ensemble festivals and join the WVMEA’s newly formed solo and ensemble festivals. These festivals included strings and voice in addition to band instruments. A booklet titled "Instructions for Adjudicators" was developed for band festivals, and the fee for participation in state band festivals was set at 25 cents per student.

Thereupon the Bandmasters Association began work on a new festival plan. Rather than using a point system to determine ratings, an education plan was developed using ratings of "superior, excellent, good, fair, and poor." Music grade levels from one to six were introduced, and the emphasis was to be on music education instead of competition.