FOCUS ON SCHOOL ORCHESTRASNOTES DA CAPO - By Clifford Brown
School orchestras did not exist in West Virginia before 1900. The first orchestras organized after the turn of the centurv have been called "private" groups, apparently because the students of private teachers were the nucleus. They really were community orchestras with adult musicians, private teachers, and school students joining together. In some areas there were recent immigrants from Europe who were quite skilled, and for whom music was integrated into their cultural background. They were anxious to play traditional European and American compositions. These community orchestras would usually perform at civic events, school assemblies, graduation exercises, and drama productions.
One of the earliest known performances of a school orchestra was bv the Charles- tion High School Orchesta at the State Education Association meeting in Charleston in 1910. J. Henry Francis, supervisor of music in Charleston, was the conductor. It is recorded that Morantown High School was also attempting to organize an orchestra about this time.
Orchestras were started in Moundsville High School under the direction of Mary Nesbitt, supervisor of music. and in Huntington High School. director unknown, in 1915. A couple years later orchestras were organized in the Parkersburg junior and senior high schools. The Triadelphia District (Wheeling) established an orchestra in 1919 under the direction of Bess McGranahan, supervisor of music. It is obvious that only the large high schools in the independent districts had enough students studying with private teachers to form an orchestra.
Information on the size or instrumentation of these school and community orchestras is unknown. It would be interesting to know - but whae's the difference? Music groups start with what is available and then discriminately develop quality and quantity. One can conclude, however, that stringed instruments dominated, possibly including some mandolins, in producing the traditional orchestral timbre.
In 1927 the first All-State Orchestra organized bv Glenn Sailack of Beckley, Karl Brown of Terra Alta. and J. Henry Francis (who was also the conductor), performed at the State Education Association Meeting in Charleston. Interest in orchestra was spreading as shown bv the fact that 143 students participated in the 1931 All State Orchestra from the following twenly-four schools: Beckley, Buckhannon, Charleston, Dunbar, Elkview, East Bank, Elkhorn, Fairview, East Fairmont. Huntington, Morgantown, Mark Twain at Stocesbury, Monteomery, Martinsburg, Parkersburg, Pennsboro, Poca, St. Marys, Spencer, St. Albans, Triadelphia, West Union, Weston, and Wheeling.