Lumberjack Express ensemble experiences big numbers - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Lumberjack Express ensemble experiences big numbers

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Richwood High School’s band, the Lumberjack Express, performs in downtown Richwood as part of the Create West Virginia conference. Richwood High School’s band, the Lumberjack Express, performs in downtown Richwood as part of the Create West Virginia conference.

Since the 1920s, students at Richwood High School have had the opportunity to participate in what Band Director Greg James describes as "Mayberry USA."

And "Mayberry USA" has a booming population. Those who reside in "Mayberry USA" are Richwood High band members, numbering 130 in a 387 student body high school. 

So what makes "Mayberry USA" so popular among the student body? 

Drawing in students

"It's a great, small school and we have a unique situation here," James said.

James, who has directed the Lumberjack Express ensemble for more than 30 years, said consistency and continued success are the driving factors as to why students continue to march toward the sound of music.

"I've been here a long time," James said. "There's consistency, and we've been rather successful. I think kids want to be part of something that's successful."

Principal Jim Weber attributes the success of the Lumberjack Express ensemble for what it has to offer students.

"I think the kids enjoy playing the instruments, the structure, taking trips and playing at different venues," he said.

According to Weber, the Lumberjacks adhere to a traditional marching band structure, preferring traditional musical selections. Lumberjack performance attendees can expect to see and hear classical instruments: trumpets, trombones, drums, saxophones and flutes. What's not on the instrumental menu? Electric guitars that Weber said some schools are starting to incorporate. 

A big part of the Lumberjack Express, James said, is the Lovely Lumberjack Ladies, which consists of 12 majorettes.

It's often a generational affair, with current majorettes following in the steps of grandmothers and mothers, he said. 

The inclusive, not exclusive, atmosphere is another reason why the Lumberjack Express is so popular among students, Beverly Kingery, superintendent of the Nicholas County Board of Education, said.

"Every walk of education is in the band," she said.

It consists of football players, cheerleaders and students involved in numerous extra-curricular activities. During halftime, Kingery said it is not uncommon to see football uniforms and cheerleading outfits mixed into a sea of orange and black.

Community pride

Kingery said with the start of every school year, community members look forward to the programs and performances of the Lumberjacks. She also described the Lumberjacks as a great source of pride for the community.

"We are extremely proud," Kingery said.

One of the ways that support is shown, she said, is through the financial support the school receives via a school levy.

Not only do the Lumberjacks receive complimentary notes for performances well-done, but also positive remarks about their behavior outside of the school, Kingery said.

Keeping it in the family

Although Weber has been Richwood High's principal for four years, his connection to the school music program, and James, goes back several years to when Weber was a student himself.

In high school, Weber participated in the school choir and had none other than James for his teacher.

The Weber family musical participation at Richwood High has been carried on through his daughter, a trumpet player and majorette and his son, a first chair drummer. 

Senior Ben Weber, Jim Weber's son, said his favorite thing about being a Lumberjack is getting to play music and going to the multiple events.

What does the first chair drummer think makes Richwood High's band so special?

"We're a really small school with a big band," he said.

Extending beyond West Virginia

The orange and black of the Lumberjack Express has flashed across more than just the Mountain State. 

James said the ensemble has performed at six different professional sporting events, led the Disney Parade at Disney World, performed on ESPN at the Indianapolis 500 and at major football bowl games. The Lumberjacks even left their musical mark at Niagara Falls, Canada, by participating in the blossom festival parade.

James said the big events happen through a mix of submitting applications and by being invited.

Richwood High School participated in the second annual West Virginia Marching Band Invitational Oct. 19, which consisted of 26 marching bands from across the state. The event took place at the University of Charleston Stadium at Laidley Field.

The West Virginia Marching Band Invitational was sponsored by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History in participation with the VH1 Save the Music Foundation, the Higher Education Policy Commission and the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts.

"This Marching Band Invitational gives our West Virginia high school bands an opportunity to savor the spotlight completely," Randall Reid-Smith, culture and history commissioner, said in a news release. "It gives everyone who loves the band a chance to get a full day of music, high stepping performances and pride in the talents of our young musicians."

Great kids, great parents

What has kept James in love with his job after 30-plus years?

"I have great kids and great parents," he said.

He describes a community effort, with numerous people helping to make sure no conflicts in schedules arise and everything runs smoothly.

Kingery also commented on how coaches and others outside the band program work together and coordinate to ensure the best possible experience for the band members and the community members who have come to regard the Lumberjacks with such pride.

When it comes to the topic of retirement, James he has no intention of doing so.

"I have no intention of retiring as long as I'm kicking," he said. "I love the kids."