The music education program at Bishop Guilfoyle is in an exciting time of energizing growth. The band, which started just three years ago, has doubled in size from a 12-person “instrumental lab” to a 25- person marching band under the direction of Jonathan Mountain. Mountain started at BG for the 2017-2018 school year, and the band program is what piqued his interest in the job.
“My background is in band,” Mountain says. “BG has a really good program. It’s smaller, but there are a lot of things happening … It’s been fun to push the program into new areas and really grow it.”
In addition to their growing band, BG has a thriving chorus program of 84 students from grades 8–12, which Mountain notes is very impressive for such a small school. This year, four students participated in district chorus and three are moving on to Region Chorus in late March 2019. Blair County is in the sixth district with three neighboring counties: Bedford, Cambria and Somerset. The top 22 in each section—Soprano I, Soprano II, Alto I, Alto II, Tenor I, Tenor II, Bass I, Bass II—move on to Region Chorus, which adds an additional seven counties to our region, Regional 3, to compete with. The BG students moving on placed in the top 22 in their sections of Soprano II, Alto I and Tenor I at pre-auditions in October to qualify for the festival, and then placed in the top 12 within their section at the actual festival in order to qualify for Region Chorus.
“All of our students who make it to the district level and beyond work really hard,” Mountain says.
Chorus isn’t the only program sending students to the district level. There was one orchestra participant as well, and Mountain hopes to add band to that list next year.
The growth of the program and student interest is a huge step for the music education program at BG. The next step involves meeting the needs of those students and enhancing their experience in music education. The band, which has had uniforms in storage for years, has outgrown the number of uniforms it had on hand. Thanks to a donation of 70 uniform jackets from Marching Link located in Cambria County, the band will be able to display new uniforms next year once school patches have been sewn on.
Another area the school is investing in is the gymnasium stage. In the past, the band has performed from the floor. Once renovations of painting, lighting and the sound system have been completed, students will have the opportunity to perform onstage for their productions.
BG also has a limited supply of large instruments, which are an important current need of the music program. Students involved either rent from local facilities or use a parent’s instrument if they own one. The goal is for the school to build a collection of their own, so students don’t need to fund their own instruments. Mountain is pursuing that goal by reaching out to parents and alumni and asking if anyone has old instruments they are willing to donate to BG.
Once some of these more practical needs such as uniforms, instruments and materials are met, Mountain has plenty of dream goals he hopes to pursue for his students through additional funding, primarily traveling for performances.
“The dream trip for any music program is in Disney World,” Mountain says. “Many students have asked if we could ever do that trip.”
The four-day invitation-only event gives students the chance to explore Disney World and the surrounding Florida area and perform in Downtown Disney.
In light of the impending needs for the music education program, and the desire to see the program continue to grow to new levels, a parent booster club started in January 2019. The hope is it will help the music program move up to the next level now that it has gained interest and participation from students.
“Our biggest push right now is working on funding support for the group. As much as our [administration] supports us, and BG is really generous, there’s a point coming up where funding for the program will need to go to the next level. And what is going to make BG music become a really good program is if we can provide those extra great opportunities,” Mountain says. “That’s what really excites me, being able to see the growth of this program and see where it goes.”
The value of the music education program is founded on much more than the skills of reading and performing music. Mountain especially believes in the teamwork and leadership traits developed as part of music education and notes that the true value of music education is in nearly everything but the actual learning of music.
“There are opportunities in music for teamwork, for leadership, for working together towards a common goal, as well as all the other things you get through the arts, like expression and creativity,” Mountain says. “You get a lot of kids that don’t otherwise have classes together or wouldn’t otherwise get along, but in a band room they have to play a challenging piece together and a lot of interesting things happen. It’s a nice chance to put everything aside and work together towards one thing. That’s what music is all about, just seeing them work on teamwork and leadership, which are obviously really important skills to have going forward into colleges and the work place.”
There are exciting things coming for the future of BG music, and not only in the long-term. The school musical Hello Dolly was performed at the Mishler Theater in downtown Altoona March 1–2. March is “Music in Our Schools” month and Mountain has various small performances planned to draw attention to the school music opportunities. On April 13, the chorus and band will perform the national anthem at the Altoona Curve game, and the year is wrapped up by the spring concert on April 28. Summer will be short-lived for students in the band who will attend band camp end of July and early August to begin preparing for the football season and learn their halftime show.