By Nicole Lemal
Times West Virginian
From his childhood days, Michael Ford has always enjoyed music.
First learning to play the trumpet and then expanding his musical talent to guitar, he attended Salem College on a scholarship to play in the jazz band. After earning his bachelor’s degree in music education, he eventually found his calling in life, working as a band director in Harrison County.
“I decided I wanted to pass along music to others,” he said. “I like the fact that I can pass music on and help children learn how to play."
Now, after a year of preparation and practices, many local school bands will have an opportunity to see how they fare against their competition in the Spring Festival for Performance Evaluation and Assessment for Region 10. As the acting regional festival director for the past 27 years, Ford also serves as the music education representative for Bandland and is a substitute teacher for the Harrison County Board of Education.
The festival will be held today and Friday. Middle schools will be performing at Bridgeport Middle School and high schools will be performing at Bridgeport High School. More than 2,500 musicians from 19 high schools and 24 middle schools are expected to participate in this year’s festival, and the public is invited to attend.
With the efforts of the Secondary School Activities Commission (SSAC) and the Principals’ Association, the festival was started more than 50 years ago. Principals felt music was such a specialized area that it was difficult to evaluate how effective the band directors were instructing their students.
And Ford said he is looking forward to another successful year, seeing as how the bands always tend to perform well.
"I just enjoy it because now I’m retired, and this keeps me in the loop with all the band directors,” he said. “You have pretty good results from all the bands.”
Each band will perform two musical selections from the West Virginia Band Masters Graded Music List, which is comprised of a large selection of music graded from Grade Level 1 (easiest to perform) to Grade Level 6 (most difficult). Performances will then be evaluated by three judges. Ratings are as follows: I for Superior, II for Excellent, III for Good, IV for Fair and V for Poor.
Band directors have to be careful what they select for their students to perform, Ford said. Having one or two students off key can greatly affect the overall rating.
“When a band does well at a festival, all the kids have to be doing their job,” he said. “The band director can pick anything he wants. But they need to make a judgment as to what will challenge their students, but not have something too difficult that they can’t perform the music.”
For example, a middle school band playing a Grade Level 5 or 6 would find it to be more challenging than a high school band that has been exposed to a variety of music.
Music at the festival will be classical in nature, most of the music being selected from concert music composers. Of the 40 bands that performed in last year’s festival, Ford said approximately 13 were rated superior.
“There are many bands that are superior in this region, and they may do certain aspects of music better than others,” Ford said. “Every band has its own interpretation of the music, but hopefully that interpretation is the same as the composer because the judges know the composer’s interpretation. It can get technical.”
So technical in fact that so many other variables besides notes and rhythms must be above par. In addition to playing the proper notes and rhythms, a band with a superior rating must also demonstrate proper dynamic levels, articulation and phrasing.
After working at every possible level on the educational scale, Ford and many others are ecstatic to see how the bands are ranked over the next few days. Nothing seems to be more rewarding than to see a child in music blossom over time.
"I tell them as a high school director, I did it all, but I took it a choice and I like to see the improvement from the young kids. When you hand them a horn and they don’t even know how to handle it and then are playing it with ease later — it’s very gratifying.”
Email Nicole Lemal at email@example.com.