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Williamsport's Blue Band back in step

November 15, 1998|By LAURA ERNDE

WILLIAMSPORT - Williamsport High School's marching band qualified for a regional championship for the first time in eight years, and Band Director Ray Chaney has the bald head to prove it.

Chaney told the 120 Blue Band members they could shave his head if they got a score of 90 percent or better to qualify for Saturday night's Atlantic Coast Championship.

They kept their promise, so he kept his. The senior boys in the band took the clippers to his head Friday afternoon.

When the band took the field in Scranton, Pa., Saturday night, they capped off an amazing year that officially signaled the comeback of the school's band program.

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Williamsport, which entered the competition seeded 20th, finished 13th, Chaney said Saturday night. The North Hagerstown High School band placed 24th, he said.

The band took many awards in the late 1980s under the direction of Susie Kunkle, but the program lapsed after she left to become music resource specialist for the Washington County Board of Education.

Several band directors came at went at the school. Membership in the band dropped to 80.

Then, four years ago, Chaney arrived.

A former North High band member, Chaney made it is mission to improve the band and found a community willing to support his efforts.

"I'm extremely excited about what they've done and what Mr. Chaney has done," Susie Kunkle said.

The students have worked hard and worked together during countless practices, Chaney said.

Even before the morning sun melted the frost off car windshields Saturday morning, the band started its final practice. Without being told, they lined up in formation and began drilling.

"This is your last shot to make every last little thing work so you're happy with your performance," Chaney told them.

The students respond easily to Chaney's commands. With his goatee, he looks almost like their contemporary, but he barks orders with the force of a drill sergeant.

He warns them he will make them do routine marching drills if they don't start to give a performance like the one that got them to the championship.

"Don't hold anything back, because you're not going to get another chance. Don't put any limitations on yourself," he said.

Out of their earshot, he says he is saving his remarks of high praise for Saturday night after the show.

Getting to this point hasn't been easy. A steady stream of long practices began in August. The band practiced every Saturday from 8 a.m. until noon and a couple of times a week.

The band also took some heat this year for its program, "Sketches of Russia," because it was perceived to be promoting communism.

That perception is "just uninformed," Chaney said.

Band members said they feel like the organization has become like a second family.

"It's like you spend more time here than at home," said Michelle Syovian, 15, a sophomore baritone player.

"We put all our problems aside and just focused on the band," said Tina Valgene, 17, a senior clarinet player.

While many of the students won't pick up their instruments after gradation, they will always keep with them the personal lessons they learned, Chaney said.

"We learn a lot more than music. How to work together, how to sacrifice for the good of the whole, " he said.

Saturday's Tournament of Bands competition featured the top 100 high school marching bands from nine states.

There were four divisions of 25 bands each. Williamsport competed in the largest division, along with North High and bands from Urbana and Linganore high schools in Frederick County, Md.

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