For several decades, colleges and universities across the United States have offered courses and even degrees in bluegrass and traditional music. Well-known programs such as those at Glenville State College, Morehead State University and South Plains College have had students travel the country and world performing, eventually going on to make a name for themselves in the bluegrass world. More recently, high schools have begun offering bluegrass bands as an alternative to a regular orchestra or marching band. One of those high schools is Wheeling Park High School in Wheeling, WV.
The bluegrass band at Wheeling Park was created in 1993 when teacher Bob Turbanic decided that students were listening to the wrong kinds of music. He had grown up on bluegrass music, and thought that the kids he was teaching should be exposed to that style of music as well.
So… he started a bluegrass band. At first, only a few students seemed interested. However, within a few years, the program had grown large enough to field full bands at each grade level.
Over the years, the band has played frequently within the Wheeling area at such venues as the Pennyroyal Opera House in Fairview, Ohio. They’ve also been repeat performers at the Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival, including an appearance this past May. In 2008, the band was given the opportunity to travel to Kawaguchi, Japan and participate in the town’s International Exchange program. There, students stayed with Japanese families and performed at the Lilia Festival in Kawaguchi.
Several graduates have eventually made careers out of bluegrass music, including Della Mae co-founder Amanda Kowalski. Another prior student, Ben Bateson (who is currently the Recording Laboratory Manager and an instructor within ETSU’s Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music Studies), credits Turbanic and Kim Mattis (another faculty advisor with the bluegrass club) for encouraging him to pursue his degree in Recording Engineering.
The Wheeling Park Bluegrass Band is not part of the school’s regular music program, and is actually listed as an extracurricular club which students can choose to join. In general, the club depends on donations to fund travel and other expenses, and even to help provide students with instruments.
The club has become a beloved part of the school and community and, hopefully, it will continue to teach students about bluegrass music for years to come.