WEBSTER SPRINGS, W.Va. — In an age where music and the arts are dwindling in public schools due to cuts in funding, two Webster County elementary schools are growing their band programs.

Over 70 students of Hacker Valley Elementary School and Webster Springs Elementary School make up the Highlanders of Tomorrow band, directed by their general music teacher Josh Tharp.

“It’s basically an elementary beginning band that serves as a feeder to Webster County High School,” Tharp said. “We have a very, very unique situation here in Webster County.”

Tharp began his position last August and says the band has grown tremendously since then. At that time, only 17 students between the two schools were involved in the band program.

“When I came in, I came in with a fresh start, fresh ideas and a fresh vision,” he said. “I bring a lot of personality, perseverance and passion of what I do in my field as a music educator.”

Students in grades fourth through eighth are eligible to join band, and roughly 65 percent of those eligible are now a part of the band program.

“The average enrollment of a band program is about 10 percent, so to have 65 percent of our band eligible students is pretty great,” Tharp said.

The Highlanders of Tomorrow had their first performance at Christmas, and this week, they’ll become the first elementary school band to take part in the Region 8 Concert Band Festival.

“I want the kids to have fun,” Tharp said. “I want them to perform music and let them use this band rating experience to develop their musicianship as they grow to be better musicians and better people in life.”

Tharp said he thinks the exposure will be a great benefit for the students to have at such a young age.

“I think getting judges’ feedback and comments is really going to boost our program either way,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what score we get. The biggest thing I want to take from this is to let the kids enjoy it.”

However, being a member of the school band doesn’t only develop the children’s musical abilities. It also teaches life lessons such as being responsible, being on task and how to work together as a team, Tharp said.

“And it definitely helps the students academics,” he said. “Research shows that if you have fine arts classes, like music and art, they’re going to excel in the classroom, especially their English, math scores or science scores.”

Despite the fact that the students aren’t together during the work day, being a part of the band also helps them in developing social skills and building groups of friends with common interests,

“We’re a family. When the bands come together, we all have the same goal,” Tharp said. “Their personalities are different and their school environment is a lot different, but the one thing that they have in common is that they love music, they love their communities and they’re great kids all around.”

The Region 8 Concert Band Festival will be held at Philip Barbour High School on Friday 13th. The Highlanders of Tomorrow will perform “Heroes and Glory” by James Swearingen and “Dragon Slayer” by Rob Grice at 3:55 p.m.

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