Three PCHS Students Represented Pocahontas County on the WVU Honor Band
Three students from the Pocahontas County High School’s Warrior Band, Ben Dunz, Sydney Puffenbarger, and Maxine Puffenbarger were chosen by the WVU honor Band to participate in this year’s WVU Honor Band Invitational High School event and concert. It was held on February 9th, 10th and 11th, at the WVU Creative Arts Center in Morgantown where they got to work with nationally known conductors. We spoke with PCHS Band Director Rick McLaughlin and each of his three attending students about this event.
Rick, can you tell us about the Honor Band Event?
“They have had WVU Honor Band since probably about 1980,” said McLaughlin. “I was in WVU Honor Band when I was a senior in high school.”
“Last year they didn’t have it because of COVID, obviously.”
“This year there were five states represented. They selected 185 high school students from those five states. They came together on February 10th in the evening, and they practiced a little bit. And on Friday they practiced and they also had a couple of concerts they got to see. Then on Saturday morning they had their dress rehearsal and then they put on a concert that afternoon.”
“There are three bands up there. The Mountaineer Band, which is the top one, and there is the Gold Band and the Blue Band, which are basically equal bands. We had two students who made the Gold Band and one who made the Blue. I nominated eight students, and they selected three.”
Was there a big audience for the Saturday afternoon concert?
“It was open to the public.” McLaughlin replied. “I know that auditorium holds thirteen-hundred people, and it looked like is half full, or a little over half. So, I want to guess there were probably six hundred or seven hundred people there to watch the concert. It was a pretty big deal.”
How meaningful of an honor was this experience for your students?
“Well, it is an honor. It’s done by (Band) Director nominations. I nominated the maximum I can nominate. And, then WVU chooses from that list to fill out the band. It is a big honor because you have to be one of the best So, the bands are really top notch and top quality.”
Is there anything else you’d like to say about them?
“I couldn’t be more proud of them! They were really phenomenal!”
We also had the opportunity to hear directly from the three band students. I asked each of them to talk about what being part of the WVU Honor Band meant to them.
First up is Ben Dunz, a senior at PCHS:
“It was awesome,” said Ben. “It was an honor just performing in front of so many people. The Creative Arts Center is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I’m used to performing in our high school auditorium. It’s like three times the size of that. I believe our band had sixty people in it? Something like that. And we had a section of like seven or eight French Horns. I am not used to having French horns in a band. That was definitely an experience.”
“Whenever we first started site reading, we got through the first song and our Director told us we definitely needed practice, and it sounded like we had been playing for months upon months. It was like definitely a shocker to hear her go ‘that spot needs some work and that spot needs some work’ and I was like I thought those were perfect, and in the concert, we put it all together and it sounded amazing.
Next, we heard from Sydney Puffenbarger, a Junior at PCHS:
“It was just such an honor to get to play with other talented musicians,” said Sydney. “I am in percussion, and I wasn’t used to walking in and seeing all of these percussion back in their section, and playing their part almost perfectly right away. It was insane! I remember one of the parts I got was for snare drum. I stayed up until I think 11:30 Thursday night in my room, playing it, to perfect it, so I could go back and actually sound like I knew what I was doing. It is so different than playing with our, I’d say, thirty-person band, going with a band that doubled the size and with way more instrumentation than what we have. And, I would definitely do it again in a heartbeat.”
We then heard from Maxine Puffenbarger, a Senior at PCHS, who is Sydney’s cousin:
“It was truly an honor,” said Maxine. “It was double our size from the band I am used to playing in. We went through all our music the first day. The first time I thought we were like perfect. We got it down pat, but, my conductor, she’s a navel officer. She’s Lieutenant Commander Kelly Cartwright. She stopped us and she was like ‘yeah, we need some work.’”
“I was in a different band from the two others that were with me. I was in the Blue Band. We played some hard pieces. We are used to grades threes and fours here. We played grades fours and fives at honor Band, and it was an absolute honor to be there. It made my eyes open a little bit wider (about) being in the music profession.”
So, congratulations to each of these students for representing Pocahontas County on the WV Honor Band.