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Majorette festival chance for local bands to shine

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Coming later this month is the 66th annual Daily Mail Kanawha County Majorette & Band Festival.

It will be the 15th for Fonda Lockhart, who oversees the event in her role as fine arts curriculum supervisor for the Kanawha County school system.

However, it will be her last.

She reached a difficult decision to retire in August but decided to hang around for one more festival.  

"I think the festival is a wonderful event, a community event that brings us together," she said. "It's a showcase for the bands and an opportunity for them to demonstrate the skills the students are learning in the classroom.

"This is something people can come enjoy and feel good about what's happening in the schools."

Tickets are on sale for the festival, which is the only competition that includes all eight Kanawha County high schools.

It begins at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 25 at the University of Charleston Stadium at Laidley Field.

A highlight of the evening will be an exhibition performance by Marshall University's Marching Thunder.

For several years, festival planners have invited either the Marshall or West Virginia University bands to perform after the high schools have competed. Both are large, crowd-pleasing bands, and this year is Marshall's turn.

Lockhart said the audience would notice a few changes in this year's event.

Band directors voted to draw straws for playing order rather than starting with the smallest band and progressing to the largest.

As luck would have it, the largest band, Capital High, will play first. It will be followed by George Washington, Sissonville, Riverside, Nitro, Hoover, St. Albans and South Charleston.

The bands represent a wide range of sizes, with some schools struggling to attract the critical mass they would like for tough competitions.   

Hoover Band Director Meleah Fisher is confident her students will be ready to go this year, but she said it's gotten harder to recruit.  

"Sometimes I just don't get kids to come out," Fisher said in a phone interview.

The proliferation of extracurricular activities has given students more options that could conflict with band participation, she said.

Some students can juggle playing soccer with band, but the soccer schedule often will take precedence. If a student wants to play volleyball, a sport with a demanding practice and game schedule, that student generally can't find time for band.

This year Hoover's band includes 25 total members, with 17 "noisemakers," as Fisher labeled her students who play instruments.  

However, she is glad she no longer has to deal with a hurdle posed by the school's academic schedule.  

For the last two years, she and several other county band directors haven't had to compete with the complications of block scheduling as they prepare for the yearly majorette and band competition.

In a block schedule, students take fewer classes during the day but the class periods are longer. They also might take a subject for only part of the year, Fisher said.

As students became upperclassmen and academic rigor increased, sometimes that led to conflicts in scheduling.

"Band kids in general, they want to take an upper-level class," Fisher said. "Sometimes you're going to have an AP class or an honors class butt heads with band."

In the past, that meant trying to work with kids after school or in the summer, Fisher said. Moving to a traditional schedule — with eight shorter periods each day — has given students more flexibility to schedule band class.   

Nitro High band director Rich Brooks agreed. Although moving from a 90-minute period to a 45-minute one leaves little time to waste, he thinks students enjoy the change.

And it has led to increased participation.

"My band (with block scheduling) usually consisted of between 40 and 45 kids," Brooks said. "Last year I had 53. This year I'm right at 60."

Brooks said his students have just about finished learning their show for the festival. The students are excited, but Brooks didn't want to make any predictions.   

"We just want to make a good showing," he said.

This has been a particularly challenging year for Fisher. She said her father, Roland, who drives her band's equipment truck and is a grandpa figure to members, has been in the hospital off and on over the past month.

"He's kind of quiet, but they call him Poppy," Fisher said. "We're kind of a package deal."

Fisher needed to care for her father during the school's band camp. But she felt confident in handing the reins to her student leaders and some adult helpers. She gave them a list of things to do early in the morning, went to the hospital to be with her father, and worked with the students in the evening when she returned.

"They took care of business," Fisher said. "We're a little family up here."

The family has been working hard since the end of July, practicing almost every day in preparation for the season and festival.

Lockhart, meanwhile, is feeling nostalgic about her 38 years as an educator but looking forward to retirement.  

"I want to have time to do things I want to do. I'm going to buy symphony tickets and never miss a concert. I may sing in the community chorus.

"I'd like to be more active in my church. I used to play the piano and direct the choir. I need to make music somewhere."

She taught for 23 years before taking the central office position. The job grew as administrative jobs were consolidated. Five people used to divide the responsibilities for choral music, band music and fine arts that she juggles now.

Yet the school system has managed to expand services to students, going from three to six string teachers; 14 to 26 elementary music teachers; and 5.5 to 14 elementary art positions during her years in charge.

"It's not where I want us to be, but we've sure come a long, long way," she said.

She credited support from the elected school board and its top administrators.

"They feel the arts are important, and they've looked at research that shows students exposed to arts score higher on the tests everybody is concerned about."

Ticket for the festival cost $7 in advance and $8 the day of the event. They can be purchased at each of the eight county high schools, Kerr's and Gorby's music stores and Laidley Field. There is no charge for children 4 years old and younger.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@

dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.  


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