PRC Band gets help from visiting professors

Published 11:31 pm Saturday, January 13, 2007

Three professors from two universities came to Pearl River Central High School to give Blue Devil band members some pointers.

After the devastation Hurricane Katrina dealt to the school’s band hall, the band had to relocate to the multipurpose building, which has more room but lousy acoustics and no storage space, said band director Ben Burge.

Since that time, the band has made do within the confines of the multipurpose building by creating a makeshift office and by sectioning off parts of the building for instrument and other storage. In spite of its current conditions, the band received all superior ratings in the Gulf Coast Marching Festival last fall and Burge is preparing band members for the concert competitions coming up this spring, which will be held in Jackson.

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“I’m just proud of the band and how hard they are working,” Burge said.

To help with that process, Burge was able to contact Dr. Jackie Edwards-Henry, a professor of piano at Mississippi State University; Dr. Gail Levinsky, who was Burge’s professor at MSU and is currently a professor of woodwinds at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania, and Dr. Robert Damm, a percussion and music education professor at MSU. The trio showed up Friday morning to coach some of the school’s band members during their tour of the coast as part of their Katrina Relief program, Edwards-Henry said.

“Because a year after the fact people were still going to have needs,” Edwards-Henry said.

She said the dean at MSU set up some master classes on the Gulf Coast where the individual needs of the students could be addressed. The classes give the students a morale boost by separating the students into their respective instrument categories and helping them with skills such as solos, she said.

“Some things they may not get in everyday band rehearsal,” Burge said.

“We’re just trying to be supportive of the students and say that we care,” Edwards-Henry said.

Those same master class practices were used Friday at PRC High.

Burge said he is hopeful that soon the school district will come to a conclusion on the band’s current facility situation. While the current location for the band in the multipurpose building would be good if some minor remodeling were done, that would leave the school no place to host meetings, Burge said. He said that even though the band lost a lot of equipment and supplies in the storm, the tremendous support by the school district has helped the band program replace items as funding has become available.

Selmer, a large instrument manufacturer, and Levinsky are working out details to help replace some instruments that were lost in the storm. That would give students something more to work with than the lesser quality or borrowed replacement instruments they now have, Burge said.