The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

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April 2, 2014

Some sharp kids: 18th Honor Band showcases 119 players w/VIDEO

17 students selected as first-chair musicians

COXEY — The muscular strains of Scott Watson’s “Awake the Iron” and the sweeping sounds of “A Tribute to Count Basie” filled the Clements Baptist Church sanctuary Tuesday night.

The mixture of classical music and band standards came courtesy of the 18th Limestone County Honor Band, formed through an open audition process for students in the Athens and Limestone school systems.

The hour-long concert ended in a standing ovation from the crowd of more than 500 and featured an array of song selections, including John Philip Sousa’s Semper Fidelis march and “Old Scottish Melody” composed by Charles A. Wiley.

The 17-section wind ensemble featured 58 students, including 17 first-chair musicians known as principal players.

Dr. James K. Simpson, the retired chair of the University of North Alabama Department of Music, served as guest conductor for the ensemble’s three pieces.

“I consider it an honor and privilege to work with these students,” Simpson said before picking up the conductor’s baton. “And it’s special because a majority of their band teachers are former students of mine.”

Among Limestone’s nine band directors, Simpson trained six of them — Vechiel Stone, Ryan Nix, Gary Russell, Jennifer Janzen, Mark McChristian and Ken Engle.

The concert band, conducted by Decatur High School Band Director Robbie Stout, showcased 61 students playing everything from the piccolo and oboe to the timpani and mallets.

Stout, who described the band members as “the cream of the crop,” got the show off to a light-hearted start after pausing to take a selfie with the band members.

Stone, director of the Tanner High School band, served as this year’s Honor Band host and commended the students for “pushing themselves.”

“(Honor Band) not only helps them musically but it will also help in the rest of their lives,” said Stone, a former trumpeter for the U.S. Marine Corps Band.

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