b Diocesan Honor Band Celebrates 25 Years -b

Over 70 students from 24 diocesan grammar schools have been logging hours of practice time and will perform on May 18 as the Diocesan Honor Band. This year’s concert will mark the 25th anniversary of the honor band, and of the Garwood Whaley Music Program, the official instrumental music program of the diocese. The honor band, created by Garwood Whaley, director of the Bishop Ireton Wind Ensemble, gives students who are exceptionally gifted in music a chance to excel beyond the level of their classmates. The honor band practices once a week during the spring semester leading up to the Ireton Spring Concert, where they perform with the Bishop Ireton Wind Ensemble and Concert Band. The honor band is conducted by music teachers of the Garwood Whaley Music Program who teach in diocesan schools. Garwood Whaley has been affiliated with the Arlington Diocese for 37 years. He began offering music lessons at Ireton in 1966 while he was a member of the U.S. Army Band. He began teaching full time at the school four years later. After one year at the then all-boys school, Whaley decided that an all-male band "wouldn’t cut it." He said for reasons beyond his understanding, boys tend to play certain instruments, and girls tend to play others, so in order to get a good high school concert band, he approached St. Mary Academy in Alexandria and included their students in the Ireton band. Whaley’s band classes were the first co-ed classes at Ireton. Whaley expanded the band program in 1979 and sent music teachers to the elementary schools so students coming to Ireton and Bishop O’Connell would have more music experience. The Garwood Whaley Music Program was born, and since then has been the official instrumental music program for parochial schools in the Arlington Diocese. Whaley said the program was not named after him to satisfy his ego, but he gave it his name so people would realize it was initiated by someone affiliated with the diocese, by someone who had been working with the Catholic schools for 13 years. Garwood Whaley received his music degrees from Juilliard in New York and Catholic University in Washington. As well as directing the Ireton Wind Ensemble, he is an adjunct professor of percussion at Catholic U. His achievements in teaching were recognized when he received the CUA Alumni Achievement Award in Education in 1996. Students at 28 elementary schools participate in the music program and are offered instruction in the following instruments: flute, clarinet, alto saxophone, trumpet, French horn, trombone, baritone, and percussion. Lessons are offered during school hours once a week. Careful consideration is made in scheduling band in order to keep students from falling behind in their academic subjects. The honor band was created at the same time as the music program in order to challenge the more talented members of the elementary school bands who might otherwise get bored when held back by their peers. Whaley’s motive was to "stimulate and challenge kids who needed the work that we can’t provide in the schools." Whaley realized that while some schools had enough students to create more than one band so that the most talented students could receive special instruction, there were schools with only enough students for a single band, so all students must progress at the same pace. The honor band is not only a challenging experience for the students, but it also gives the teachers a change of pace. Whaley said the months of practicing leading up to the concert offer "an opportunity for teachers to conduct and interact with higher level kids. And we all learn from one another. It’s a positive experience for everyone." At a recent practice session, Barry Ward was conducting music that he wrote for the honor band. While practicing "In a Garden with Koi," he told his students, "This has got to be like a Chinese circus sounds." He urged the students to play louder and louder. Mark Moccio conducted "Matrix" by Gary Fagar. The musical selection included the entire band playing "body percussion;" clapping their hands, stomping their feet and beating their music stands with pencils. Flutist Andrew Papp, an eighth-grader at St. Thomas Aquinas School, said he enjoys the honor band because "we get to play really cool songs and have a chance to be a part of something bigger." "We are lucky and proud to have in our diocese a band program that many others don’t have," said Whaley. 

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2003