Virginia Tech Magazine
Spring 2010
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Encore! by Jean Elliott
(above) Seventeen-year-old clarinet player Alfred Anderson, a student at Hickory Ridge high School in Harrisburg, N.C., prepares to warm up before performing with the Gold Band.

Photos by John McCormick

Despite a delayed opening on Jan. 22, Squires Student Center is soon abuzz with activity as 500 middle and high school musicians, in various states of anticipation, prepare to audition for the 13th Annual Honor Band at Virginia Tech.

A cacophony of random scales floats out of the woodwind practice room. The brass and percussion areas pulse with drumbeats and tinny warm-up blasts as instruments adjust from the frigid air outside. Nervous laughter echoes in the hallways, a sharp contrast to students' confident smiles--after all, these band members had already made the cut from the 1,500 nominated by band directors at 170 schools in eight states.

After sight-reading audition music, the musicians face a packed weekend. Based on auditions, they are assigned to one of five 100-piece bands--Bronze, Silver, Orange, Maroon, and Gold--where they learn four new pieces before performing in a big concert at Burruss Hall on Sunday.

David Widder, a professor of music, started the Honor Band in 1998 after several teachers urged him to promote music by showcasing the Virginia Tech programs and ensembles. The popular weekend has turned into a recruiting wonderland for the Hokies. Widder says that in a recent survey of music majors, the Honor Band "was the single most mentioned influence on students deciding to attend [Virginia Tech]." Overall, 29 percent of the majors had participated in Honor Band.

Honor Band weekend falls in the "it takes a village" category. Three student music organizations (Delta Omicron, Kappa Kappa Psi, and Tau Beta Sigma), music faculty, various guest clinicians, and knowledgeable and patient directors converge to give 500 youths a meaningful three days.

2010 HONOR BAND   .   Slideshow by John McCormick   .   Length: 02:41

Whitney Mullins, who completed her undergraduate degree in music, continues to help with the music-packed weekend as a graduate student in instructional design and technology. "I just could not give up Delta Omicron," says the president of the professional co-ed music fraternity. Mullins happily coordinates various music activities, including major auditions and a student soloist competition.

Dana Cone, a junior Spanish and international relations major, has always considered music to be "the main component" in a life that includes playing French horn and participating at one time or another in the symphony band, the wind ensemble, the horn ensemble, and the Marching Virginians. Cone is a three-time veteran of Honor Band. Although she considered attending the University of Virginia because it was "so close to home," her Honor Band experience influenced her decision to select Virginia Tech. "Everyone was so nice here, and it's such an intimate experience. Plus, I was pushed outside my boundaries to do my very best," she says.

Junior music education major Brandon Cole is also a three-time Honor Band member. A self-proclaimed "band nerd," Cole confesses that he loves to be in the band room setting up chairs and music stands. "I just wanted to find a way to continue to serve music," says the Kappa Kappa Psi member. Cole coordinated trips to local high schools to gather "all of the equipment needed for 500 people to get together and play music."

Shaun Warmuth
Caroline County, Va.
Scott Humphries (left) conducts the Silver Band
in its Sunday performance.
Deja Rasberry-Dickey
Ruther Glen, Va.

"Bandarama" highlights Friday night, when the Marching Virginians and the jazz and wind ensembles combine to practically rock the doors off Burruss Hall.

Saturday brings a full day of rehearsals and master classes. By 4:30 p.m., however, the whirlwind learning curve is nearing completion: a catchy ragtime piece emanates from the Silver Band in the Commonwealth Ballroom; castanets are perfected in a spicy Latino number by the Maroon Band up in Haymarket Auditorium; and Assistant Professor Travis Cross pauses the Gold Band in Old Dominion Ballroom to discuss dynamics.

Cole, a French horn player, gives this advice to future participants: "Don't sweat the audition. Go in and just play. When I came here for Honor Band, I met some faculty, got to see the campus, and fell in love with it."

Despite the weather, there is little doubt that an Honor Band experience can ultimately build to a Virginia Tech encore.

JEAN ELLIOTT is the communications manager for the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

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