SHENANDOAH JUNCTION – Band members at Jefferson High School are busy prepping for Friday’s Homecoming game and other performances on the lineup this fall, but they’re also thinking ahead seven months to spring.
Specifically, they’re eager for April 13 when they’ll march in the 2013 National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade in D.C.
“It’s a tremendous honor for our band,” explained J.P. Lynch, a Martinsburg native who became the school’s band director in 2008. “We weren’t expecting to hear we’d been selected – we’ve never been a big parade band school – but of course we are very pleased.”
Jefferson High’s band is one of just eight from across the nation selected for the 2013 parade, said Danielle Piacente, the spokeswoman for the festival. No other band in West Virginia was picked, she said.
The 2013 parade could draw a crowd of 100,000 or more, with many more viewing it on TV.
Marching along Constitution Avenue NW from 7th to 17th streets, Jefferson’s 127 band members – musicians in grade 9 to 12, plus the band’s color guard – will parade past some of the city’s most recognized landmarks, including the Washington Monument and the White House.
Larissa Elliott, a Shepherd University grad who is the band’s assistant director, says the Cherry Blossom selection puts Jefferson High’s band on the national stage.
“Everyone’s excited,” she said. “This will be the biggest-ever audience for our students.”
The Cherry Blossom honor follows a string of successes for the band, including its No. 1 finish in the large-band division at the Shenandoah Valley Apple Blossom Festival Parade on May 5 Winchester, Va. The festival also awarded the school’s 16-member color guard the top prize among all auxiliary units in the parade.
On Sept. 15, the school took first place at Martinsburg High’s 34th annual Band Spectacular. Jefferson’s symphonic band and jazz ensemble also have repeatedly won honors.
Such achievements don’t surprise Lynch, who says the band benefits from support at every level. “We have a lot of talent here and our students work tremendously hard,” said Lynch, who has been teaching music for 18 years. “Plus we have a school system that is extremely supportive, from the superintendent and the board to the principal, the school staff, the parents and band boosters. It really is across the board.”
Lynch, who previously taught in Hardy and Berkeley counties, says he gets to work with higher-level teen musicians at Jefferson.
“Jefferson County really does have a commitment to the arts,” he said. “Here, middle school students have band every day – compared to Berkeley County, where students took band only every other day. By the time a freshman comes to me, he or she has had the equivalent of an additional year of music instruction over a student in Berkeley County. That makes a big difference.”
Lynch also has Elliott – a full-time helping hand that’s lacking in many West Virginia high schools. “Having a highly trained, full-time colleague to work with lets us do so much more,” he said. “Instead of one professional, we have two.”
Another key, according to Lynch, has been the backing of Jefferson’s principal Howard Guth. Soon after Lynch joined Jefferson’s staff, he asked for permission to move the band’s chief daily practice from third period to later in the day.
“We went from having band third period, one of the shortest periods of the day, to fifth period, which is 20 minutes longer,” Lynch said. “Suddenly we had time to get everyone out to the field and back and still have time to practice. I feel very fortunate to have the support we have from our principal.”
Excellent music teachers in the elementary and middle schools that feed into Jefferson High also create dividends, said Lynch, who was a top trumpet player during his days at Martinsburg High, where his father John Lynch served as band director for 24 years.
During his senior year in 1988, Lynch was one of two West Virginia musicians selected for the McDonald’s All-American High School Band, which for years brought together 100 high school all-stars from across the nation each November to play in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.
That experience has inspired Lynch to work to get his Cougars selected for a Macy’s parade some Thanksgiving soon. “That’s my ultimate goal for our program,” he said. “This latest accomplishment will help get us there. We’re building a parade resume.”
Lynch comes from a musical family.
His father’s accomplishments include being named West Virginia Band Master of the Year twice and being named an Outstanding West Virginian by then-Gov. Gaston Caperton. In 1994, he was honored as Outstanding Music Educator for a six-state region by the National Federation of Music.
When Lynch was teaching in Berkeley County and serving as his father’s part-time assistant, the two became the first father-son pair ever named West Virginia Band Director of the Year.
His paternal grandfather was an outstanding trumpet player in Fairmont. Lynch himself studied at Fairmont State before heading to West Virginia University to earn his master’s degree, also in music education.
Along with his wife, Dawn, Lynch is raising a music-minded family. Dawn Lynch teaches at Martinsburg’s St. Joseph School, where their daughter Emma, 9, is advancing on the trumpet. The couple’s older daughter Anna, 11, plays the flute and is part of the band’s junior guard at Wildwood Middle.
Teaching music remains challenging, Lynch says, though he says he’s much calmer with students than in his first teaching job in Moorefield. “In high school, I thought about going into business because I was very good at math but I wanted to pick a career that involved both what I was good at and what I enjoyed doing,” he said. “It’s definitely been the right choice for me. I love working with students. It’s very fulfilling.”
For those eager to see Lynch and his band perform at the Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, it’s not too early to make plans.
Though it’s free to attend the parade, set to begin at 10 a.m. rain or shine, some spend $20 to reserve a seat in the parade’s grandstand.
Last year – the festival’s 100th anniversary – newswoman Katie Couric and Alex Trebek of “Jeopardy!” co-hosted the parade, which featured astronaut Buzz Aldrin and singer Marie Osmond as grand marshals.
Other highlights included ’80s singer Debbie Gibson; Olympian Kristi Yamaguchi; finalists from “American Idol” and Javier Colon, the 2011 winner of TV’s “The Voice”; Miss America 2012 Laura Kaeppeler plus elaborate floats, antique cars, oversized balloons and marching bands from across the country.
The Cherry Blossom Festival is an annual event that celebrates Japan’s 1912 gift of lovely, delicate cherry blossom trees to the United States, dozens of which still thrive along with thousands of newer arrivals along the Tidal Basin and other spots in the city.
The 2013 event happens March 20 to April 14. Besides the giant Japanese street festival that happens the same day as the parade, the festival also will include free, family-friendly activities such as fireworks, a kite festival, a master yoga class at the Washington Monument, hands-on art projects, Jazz at the Jefferson, and more.