The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


September 16, 2012

Keeping the beat | Despite challenges, area high school bands marching on

People keep reminding first-year Greater Johnstown High School band director Sam Fuge that they remember when the Trojans band had several hundred members and stretched three blocks long.

Those were the glory days, and considering the social and socioeconomic status nowadays, there are simply not the same amount of students in towns and cities as there once was.

“We are down in numbers, but we are in a rebuilding year,” Fuge said.

“We are going to succeed.”

Students’ values and visions also have changed.

“Kids would rather play video games, basketball and sit at home rather than work hard for something that takes time to be rewarding,” he said.

Fuge stated that one of the biggest issues he faces as a director is that students are looking for instant gratification.

“Music and marching take time, demands rehearsal, practice and more rehearsal,” Fuge said.

“It is not an instant recipe for success.”

He knows the rewards students may attain by making a commitment to be in the band.

“Students who do stick with it, and do continue to play, find that the experiences in marching band are fulfilling and ones that will stay with them far after high school football games are over,” Fuge said.

“I run into people all the time who tell me that they used to play an instrument. That speaks volumes to me, because they then tell me all about their band director and the impact, for better or worse, that he/she had on them.”

The following is the lineup of area high school bands:

Greater Johnstown

Director: Sam Fuge.

Assistant director: Jayme Brooks.

Color guard instructor: Stefanie Zucco.

Percussion instructor: Brandon King.

Marching band: Eight instrumentalists, seven percussionists, 12 guard members.

Concert band: Approximately 25.

Director’s thoughts: Recruiting starts at a young age. Students can learn an instrument in high school, of course, but they are going to have to work diligently to gain the knowledge and skill to play it well, whereas their friends, who have been playing for five years, already have that skill.

As this is my first year at Johnstown, I am facing some challenges. I was hired late in the summer, so I had to write drill for a halftime show, pick music and facilitate a band camp within a matter of two weeks.

Likewise, students were unsure of what the band’s role was going to be this fall and whether they were going to compete or be a football band.

It was my job to reassure them that we would compete and that we would not let our fans down.

I take time at each rehearsal to remind the students why they march, why they love music, and how to maintain their pride.

I stress self-worth, confidence and teamwork throughout rehearsals, and make sure that we, as a group, carry our heads high no matter the circumstances and show our pride to our community and others.

– Samuel R. Fuge.



Director: Stephen Rodgers.

Assistant director: Evan Cumo.

Band front director: Bobby Mellot.

Marching band: 67 members.

Concert band: 57 members.

Director’s thoughts: The Bedford band program is in a great place right now. Our numbers are growing and the talent level is high.

The past few years Bedford sent many students to the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) District and Region band festivals, as well as sending at least one student to the PMEA All-State Festival for the past two years.

This being my first year as the high school director, changes are being made. The students have been great with accepting these changes.

Our biggest challenge with getting kids in the band is the transition from middle school in eighth grade to high school in ninth grade.

The younger kids don’t know much about marching band and sometimes the thought of marching and playing at the same time can overwhelm them.

As the director, it is my job to show them it is possible to memorize the music, and to move and play at the same time, and that it is fun.

– Stephen Rodgers.


Berlin Brothersvalley

Director: Brett Tozer.

Assistant director: Jenna Tozer.

Band front adviser: Alisha Coulter.

Band front volunteer: Mary Lou Woullard.

Band front: Three majorettes and five flags.

Marching band: 40 members in Grades 7 through 12.

Concert band: 21 each in high school and middle school.

Director’s thoughts: The marching band that travels to the football games is not required for members in the concert band. So our marching band is 100 percent dedicated and it shows on the field.

The biggest challenge we have this year is preparing to represent the Berlin community in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl in Atlanta in December.

The band boosters and students, along with a lot of help from our local community have been working hard to raise funds to make a trip like this possible.

We will perform in the bowl parade, and perform on the field for a massed band pregame and halftime show in front of more than 70,000 people in the Georgia Dome.

– Brett Tozer.


Bishop McCort

Director: Keith Kuckenbrod.

Student drum majors: Olivia Murphy and Tara Shaffer.

Color guard instructor: Leslie Lech.

Marching band: 31 members.

Director’s thoughts: Our show for the year includes hits from Ke$ha, LMFAO and P!nk. Our show has more of a contemporary feel to attract new members as well as appeal to our middle school students.

Marching band is open to any student in Grades 7 through 12, and we try to recruit as many as possible by doing fun and exciting shows.

We also take a semiannual trip to Disney World to march down Main Street USA.

Our marching band has grown in the past three years, and we hope to continue this growth by connecting with students and appealing to our fans in the stadium.

– Keith Kuckenbrod.


Blacklick Valley

Director: Linda Smeed.

Color guard instructor: Joan Villa.

Marching band: 13 members.

Director’s thoughts: We currently have 13 members that participate for football season.

We have three high school students and two elementary students who participate for parades only.

We face a lot of the same challenges as other area bands. The enrollment in our school is decreasing, making it harder to get new members.

There are a lot of activities available to students and the students have to decide which ones they want to participate in.

Our halftime show this year is the music by Green Day: “21st Century Breakdown,” “21 Guns” and “Know Your Enemy.”

Last year, we were unable to do a field drill due to not enough members to make formations on the field. But with our numbers this year, we are able to put on a nice show, and the kids are enjoying the movements and the music.

– Linda Smeed.


Cambria Heights

Director: Michael Kokus.

Assistant director: Megan Hall.

Majorette instructor: Joan Bogus.

Color guard instructor: Jeanette Price.

Bagpipe instructor: Cori Luchau.

Marching band: 34 winds, seven percussionists, nine color guard, 12 majorettes.

Concert band: 41 members.

Director’s thoughts: Our community is extremely supportive of music in our schools, and fortunately we have been able to recruit and maintain a respectable number of students in our band program considering we are a smaller district.

I believe that the only major threat to our music program at Cambria Heights comes from state and federal legislation that mandates high test scores in reading and math without the consideration of many other abilities and talents that I see in students every day.

The strong support we receive locally can only go so far to balance a budget and stress the importance of a well-rounded education.

A 21st century has to be innovative, collaborative and creative, and that is what I do.       

– Michael Kokus.


Central Cambria

Director: Michelle Kokus.

Assistant director: Ken Biter.

Band front adviser: Laura Wolf.

Marching band: 40 members, 33 musicians and seven color guard.

Director’s thoughts: Central Cambria marching band features 40 talented students in Grades 8 through 12.

The band performs at the Red Devils football games and various community events.

The band is comprised of 33 musicians and seven color guard members.

In addition to the extracurricular band, students can also participate in concert band as part of the school curriculum.

Recruitment and retaining of members is always one of the challenges as a marching band director.

Many of the students are also athletes and the coaches at Central Cambria have always been very cooperative in “sharing” the students.

In a smaller school, one often finds that if students are involved in one activity, they are most often involved with at least two or three more. Several of my students also work part time.

The students and their families do a great job communicating about schedules and most conflicts can be avoided.

Our biggest challenge this season is raising funds for transportation to away games.

Due to budget cuts, the district will only provide busing for the band and cheerleaders to one away game, and for the students to perform at the remaining games, we must raise the additional money. We are struggling to secure the funds for the games. It’s very unfortunate for these students who work so hard and may have their season end prematurely due to the budget constraints. 

– Michelle Kokus.


Chestnut Ridge

Director: James S. Ballow.

Assistant director: Judy Conrad.

Visual ensemble coordinator: Shari Zembower.

Choreographer: Bethany Barefoot.

Guard instructors: Amanda Beutman, Nikki Brown and Justyna Brittlebrun.

Field conductor instructor: Makayla Zonfrilli.

Woodwind instructor: Joshua Oldham.

Brass instructor: Elizabeth M. Ballow.

Marching band: 74 members.

Director’s thoughts: This year’s band has 26 woodwinds, 16 brass, 17 percussion and 15 guard. The music is “Any Way You Want It,” “Open Arms” and “Don’t Stop Believing.”

I am very excited about the upcoming year. We at Chestnut Ridge have a fortunate situation.

I am the instrumental director for Grades 5 through 12, with assistance from Kevin Zizzo, who is the elementary classroom teacher for the district, and Judy Conrad. I also teach Grades 5 and 6 general music. I know the instrumentation I will be losing to graduation in any year. I try to start the correct instrumentation to fill that gap.

In general, numbers are shrinking due to the economy, scheduling conflicts of classes and lack of support for the program from the parents.

With a new principal in place, the instrumental program has been rejuvenated.

Max Shoemaker has worked diligently with parents and staff to address problems.

He instituted a program titled ELO, Extended Learning Opportunities. This is a period where students are able to have classes in other subjects areas that interest them.

Because of this program, Shoemaker was able to schedule seventh- and eighth-grade band students together.

The high school music program is supported by  George Knisley, principal.

In my tenure at Chestnut Ridge, we have sent seven students to college and universities for music education.

Chestnut Ridge Band Boosters and associates contributed a large amount of money last year. This enabled the program to purchase equipment for the band, pay band staff, purchase supplies for the guard and pay for transportation to Williamsburg and Virginia Beach, which the band performed in Colonial Village.

Without the help of these dedicated parents, aunts, uncles and family members this could not have been attained.

– James S. Ballow.


Conemaugh Township

Director: Suzette A. Gardenhour.

Marching band: 20 instrumentalists.

Concert band: 40 members in high school and 54 in Grades 7 and 8.

Director’s thoughts: Marching is an extracurricular activity at Conemaugh Township.

Concert band members are not required to participate in marching band.

There are so many fall activities for students.

At Conemaugh Township, there is a no-cut policy, whereas anyone that wants to be a cheerleader, can be a cheerleader, or be on the football team or in the marching band.

The biggest difference is everyone gets to play in the band and no one sits on the bench.

My concern is why kids don’t want to participate. The answers I receive from the students are varied.

I have had athletes in concert band tell me that if they didn’t play their particular sport, they would love to march, not at football games, only to compete. It’s not the answer I expected.

The students that are in marching band don’t particularly care for the football games – they only want to compete.

The kids I have are wonderful and I thoroughly enjoy working with them. They have a great work ethic and do a tremendous job.

 – Suzette A. Gardenhour.


Conemaugh Valley

Music/band director: Allen P. Bixel.

Band front adviser: Mandy George.

Voice of the Marching Blue Jays: Keli Williams.

Marching band: 33 instrumentalists, 14 color guard and 13 majorettes on the field, with seven others on developmental squads, plus a manager and our school mascot, the Blue Jay.

Concert band: 38 members in Grades 7 through 12.

Director’s thoughts: With the changes in education and  the family situation due to the economy and other factors, recruiting and retaining members have become greater in the past few years.

Conflicting schedules create problems for students. The administration and guidance counselor are very cooperative in scheduling.

With the current economy changing the status of families, students may not be able to afford to rent or buy instruments, plus many older students may have to hold down part-time jobs. This may prohibit them from participating in not only band, but other extracurricular activities.

We have worked hard to build a quality product that is looked upon favorably in our school and in the community.

– Allen P. Bixel.


Ferndale Area

Director: Jonathan Freidhoff.

Assistant director: Jim Ballow.

Color guard instructor: Taylor Wyar.

Marching and concert bands: 47 members.

Color guard: 12 members.

Director’s thoughts:  Our 2012 show features music by the hit rock band KISS. We open with “Rock and Roll All Night” continue with “Beth” and “Detroit Rock City” and close with “Shout It Out Loud.”

Soloists are Summer Huffman, fluegelhorn; Dylan Zelenski, electric bass; and Brenden Lovejoy and Shawna Woodlin, trombone.

Students who are in band are in marching and concert bands.

We perform at all football games, along with various parades and festivals. The band also performs at the Christmas and spring concerts.

Having a marching band with members from Grades 7 through 12 presents challenges due to ages among the students. We work closely with our new members to develop the necessary skills to be a successful marching upperclassman.

Our membership has steadily grown in recent years. We have 15 more members this year than we did last year and more than 50 percent of our members are in seventh or eighth grade.

We are supported by very active band boosters.

The boosters help the band by providing apparel, equipment, fundraising, additional performances and help make band a more enjoyable experience for our students.

– Jonathan Freidhoff.


Forest Hills

Director: Mitchell Custer.

Color guard and majorette instructor: Martha Ringler.

Drumline: Andre Dubose.

Adviser: Libby Custer.

Forest Hills Marching Rangers: 39 musicians, nine color guard, five majorettes from Grades 8 through 12.

High school concert band: 47 musicians from Grades 10 through 12.

Middle school concert band: 82 students from Grades 7 through 9.

Director’s thoughts: The challenge is getting students interested. Students at Forest Hills really enjoy being in the group and have a lot of fun. The catch is getting them to join and make that commitment.

Even though Forest Hills doesn’t have a competition group, the Marching Rangers participate in many local parades and perform at every football game and at some of the local competitions as an exhibition group.

I think the biggest difference between Forest Hills and the smaller schools in the area is what extracurricular activities are offered.

Forest Hills does offer many different activities for students to join, so what I have done with band is try to make the commitment as easy as possible.

I have or had students who participated in every fall sport, including football and cheerleading, offered here be members of the Marching Rangers. The coaches are all willing to cooperate with schedules. I do our band camp, which is two weeks long, two weeks before all the fall sport camps. This allows all my students who participate in other activities the opportunity to devote all the time needed to their activity.

– Mitchell Custer.


Ligonier Valley

Director: Bethann Trickett.

Assistant director/baton instructor: Karen Machak.

Silk instructor: Jessi Foust.

Marching band: 52 members.

Color guard: Eight members.

Majorettes: 10 twirlers.

Concert band: 65 members.

Director’s thoughts: The band is 52 members strong. We would like to see more members of the concert band  participate in marching band if they are not already a member.

I would encourage collaboration between the feeder programs (students coming from the younger grade levels) in order to recruit and retain numbers.

It is important to get kids excited about the band activities at the younger grade levels and have them carry that with them to the high school ensembles.

I am looking forward to a great season with a very hard-working group of students. I am encouraged by their work ethic and willingness to be the best that they can be with every rehearsal and performance.

Our show this year is a Disney theme and the second song features our color guard members.

The band is looking forward to playing at football games, pep assemblies, Meet the Rams Night, annual parades and various performances throughout the season.

– Bethann Trickett.



Director: Katie H. Strong.

Assistant director: Roger Johnston.

Majorette/silks adviser: Tracey McKenzie.

Marching band: 50 members.

Majorette/silks: Three majorettes and six silks.

Color guard: Nine members.

Concert band: 52 members.

Director’s thoughts: The band is strong. It is made up of students in Grades 9 through 12 who are all very talented players and marchers.

Recruiting starts at the elementary level with Roger Johnston. He is a great teacher and his students love coming to band and taking lessons. That love for playing and music is carried with them all the way to 12th grade.

As a small school, we do face a tight budget, but we do quite a bit of fundraising.

We are looking forward to purchasing new uniforms soon, provided we have enough funding to do so.

– Katie H. Strong.


Northern Bedford

Band director: Jerry Berry.

Volunteer assistants: Jennifer Long and Jessica Patterson.

Majorette instructor: Natasha McKnight.

Silks adviser (color guard): Kelley Weidler.

Marching band: 34 winds, nine percussionists, three majorettes, eight silks and four honor guard.

Concert band: 50.

Director’s thoughts: The community does support our music program in parades and at football games. They stay in the stands while the band performs, then go to get their hot dogs.

Every year we’ve had decreased attendance at Northern Bedford, but this year, we had an increase.

In the past, we’ve had more than 100, but I think 100-piece high school bands are over in this area.

I have one of the best bands I’ve had in years this year. They’re committed in all four grades.

– Jerry Berry.


Northern Cambria

Director of bands and high school choral: Lance Jones.

Color guard instructor: Jessica Bougher.

Marching band: 26 winds, six percussionists and 13 color guard.

Concert band: 21 high school, 46 middle school.

Director’s thoughts: Today’s marching band students are strong academic performers, who balance multiple responsibilities on top of their social lives.

Students in band are enrolled in many honors classes, multiple clubs and activities and are employed part time. These students successfully and creatively manage this schedule while fulfilling their obligations to the band program.

While the program’s retention remains stable, these extensive workloads affect the commitment level of these students, who are asked to equally represent in each of their extra-curricular activities.

In this age of technology and video games, the need for “instant gratification” is counter-productive to learning an instrument.

The commitment and challenges that come with beginning the exciting craft of music are increasingly met with resistance and frustration.

These overwhelming feelings deter many from investing in a skill that will magically transform their lives and enhance those around them.

– Lance Jones.


Penn Cambria

Middle and high school band director: Alan DuBreucq.

Assistant director: Stephanie Rossman.

Marching band: 33 winds, seven percussionists and five band front (majorettes and color guard).

Concert band: 27 high school, 35 middle school.

Director’s thoughts: The marching band at Penn Cambria has come a long way over the past eight years. Our numbers remain consistent and the quality of the group continues to improve. Retention of members is very high. Typically, once a student joins the marching band, they rarely quit.

Recruitment of members is a challenge.

Students have numerous opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities. As our school populations decline, recruitment of new members is evermore challenging for all extracurricular coaches and advisers.

The band program is a reflection of the entire school community.

A successful music program would be impossible to build without the commitment of the school board, administration, faculty, staff and community.

– Alan DuBreucq.


Portage Area

Junior/senior high school band director: Shana Casey.

Assistant director: Floyd Rousell.

Majorette/color guard instructor: Nicole Molnar.

Marching band: 47 winds, 12 percussionists, six color guard, two drum majors and 12 majorettes.

Concert band: 71.

Director’s thoughts: Portage has always had the tradition of a strong band and music program. The support from the administration and the community has been incredible. We are incredibly fortunate to have such a large and talented ensemble in a Class A school.

– Shana Casey.


Salisbury-Elk Lick

Band director and silk instructor: Jan Burkett.

Marching band: 40; four to six silk squad.

Concert band: 40.

Director’s thoughts: The situation in a small school is that the same students are involved in many organizations and sports. Flexibility is the key. We learn to “share” students.

– Jan Burkett.


Somerset Area

Director of bands: Brandon Lambert.

Assistant directors: Tricia Diamond and Sherri Ritenour.

Color guard instructor: Krystal Keener.

Percussion coordinator: Elizabeth Heist.

Marching band: 27 winds, eight percussion and 12 color guard.

Concert band: 59.

Director’s thoughts: The marching band at Somerset is currently in a growth period in terms of members and of number of performances.

Last year, we ended with 31 members, and this year, we currently have 47 members.

The most challenging part is working around the many activities the students are involved in besides the band.

The Somerset marching band performs at all Somerset varsity football games and at numerous competitions and parades each year.

– Brandon Lambert.


United Area

Director of bands: Ben Saylor.

Assistant marching band director: Zack Karcher.

Majorette and color guard instructor: Elyse Shearer.

Marching band: 37 winds, five percussionists, seven color guard and 16 majorettes.

Concert band: 71.

Director’s thoughts: Especially at a small school where students are so talented and therefore involved in many after-school activities, it is sometimes difficult to retain numbers.

Fortunately at United, the instrumental music program is on the rise and more students are being attracted to both the marching and concert bands.

– Ben Saylor.


Westmont Hilltop

Director of bands: Joshua Brumbaugh.

Assistant director: Jonathan Donath.

Color guard instructors: Matt Miller and Stephanie Zucco.

Marching band: 19 winds, eight percussion and 12 color guard.

Concert band: 27.

Director’s thoughts: Because marching band at Westmont Hilltop is not connected to our concert band program, nor is it a class that students receive a grade for, it is a completely extracurricular activity.

Our marching band spans members from Grades 7 through 12.

In terms of recruitment, we often perform in middle and high school pep rallies and have recruitment meetings at the end of each year.

Recruitment and numbers are always a challenge, but it helps when you have coaches and advisers who are willing to share students who participate in more than one activity like we do here at Westmont.

– Joshua Brumbaugh.


Windber Area

Director and music arranger/orchestrator: Larry McGiboney.

Assistant director: Eric Pfeil.

Drill and visual design: Jesse Trentini.

Guard instructors: Steph Barrick, Julie Rohrabaugh, Karen Barrick, Missy Plows, Matt Helman and Jessica Barrick.

Percussion instructor and arranger: Bob Lane.

Marching band: 12 winds and brass, five percussionists and 11 visual ensemble (color guard).

Concert band: Unsure.

Director’s thoughts: Although our marching band is comprised of quality students, the marching band has gotten smaller the past few years.

Our marching band competes, and this is a big-time commitment for our members.

Some students are simply unable to make the time and effort commitment necessary for a successful          program.

 – Larry McGiboney.

Editor’s note: The schools included in this list responded to a request for information by The Tribune-Democrat.


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