The May River High School Band program has come a long way since its inception in 2016, but the award-winning program is now facing some hurdles.
The program has grown from 26 members its inaugural year to 75 this past school year and an anticipated 115 students next school year, the school’s director of bands David Carbone said.
“That’s due to a number of things,” Carbone said. “The area growing certainly is one, but I’m also a believer that success breeds success, and we’ve enjoyed steady success in the band program over the past two years. I think more and more students are wanting to be a part of that.”
Even more impressive than the growth in student numbers is the success of the band program, which consists of the Silver Sound Marching Ensemble and the Wind Symphony.
The May River High School Band was presented the 2018-2019 SCBDA Outstanding Performance Award (OPA) for excellence in marching band, concert band and individual musicianship, Carbone said.
The marching band was a state championship finalist in Class 3A in fall 2018, and the May River Wind Symphony received a “Superior with Distinction” award this spring, garnering an invitation to perform at the State Concert Festival.
According to the South Carolina Band Directors Association, the OPA is the highest award that can be given to a band program in South Carolina. Carbone said this is the first time a Beaufort County school has received the honor since the award was established in 1970.
Carbone received a letter from SCBDA awards chairman Kevin Horton, who wrote: “The outstanding marching, concert and individual student performances are a testament to the high-quality of teaching taking place in the band department at your school.”
Unfortunately, success often comes with challenges. According to Carbone, the band program needs $90,000 worth of instruments based on current registration for next school year.
May River High School principal Joseph Bornscheuer said the shortage is primarily due to the extreme growth in the program in a short period of time.
“The district must balance all band programs with funding,” Bornscheuer said. “The success and exponential growth of this program has formed a need for some creative solutions.”
Leah McCarthy, a band parent and president of the Band Advocacy Group, a new committee of the Band Boosters, said keeping the program afloat is an expensive task. She said it will cost an estimated $75,000 to $95,000 for the Boosters to support the bands during the upcoming season, and that doesn’t even include the cost of instruments or uniforms.
McCarthy attended a recent public forum on the school district’s budget, during which, she said, district chief financial officer Tonya Crosby stated there would be no money for instruments next year.
If the Band Boosters group is unable to raise the $90,000, Bornscheuer said there is a company that is willing to rent out instruments to band members, which might provide an opportunity to survive a lean budget year until funding exists.
“I believe that creating music is one of the things that makes us uniquely human,” Carbone said. “And I believe that it is our responsibility as teachers, administrators and as a district to provide opportunities, including access to instruments and adequate staff, for students to pursue music in the schools.”
Another challenge the band program faces is finding a new director. Carbone announced in May that he is retiring to spend more time with his family.
Bornscheuer said there has been a great level of interest in the band director position. He also praised Carbone for doing such an amazing job in a short period of time.
“He is leaving a phenomenal opportunity for the next director to take the reins of one of the best programs in the entire state,” Bornscheuer said. “His vision has the program in a fantastic place.”
Carbone, who has more than 30 years’ experience in music education and the marching arts as a performer, conductor, educator, arranger and adjudicator, has led the May River Band Department for two years.
Carbone’s retirement doesn’t mean he won’t be involved in education anymore. In fact, it means quite the opposite. He hopes to be more active as an advocate for young musicians districtwide. He plans to initiate a music advocacy group to help raise community awareness regarding music education and its importance in the schools as well, as to provide a vehicle to raise funds for instruments for individuals and programs in need.
He said it really “takes a village” to have a successful band program. It takes great kids, a motivated parent association, supportive administration, community and financial support, he said.
“Having successful performing arts and band programs at every school is important,” Carbone said. “I hope that the community realizes and embraces that moving forward, especially when they are called upon to make their opinion count.”
Anyone interested in donating funds to the instrument drive may contact McCarthy at 843-263-7001.
Amy Coyne Bredeson of Bluffton is a freelance writer, a mother of two and a volunteer with the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance.