VINTON–William Byrd High School senior Stephanie Ashwell has been selected to perform with the U.S. Army All-American Marching Band in San Antonio, Texas, on January 5, 2013. The band will be performing at half-time during the All-American Bowl at the Alamodome.
This Bowl features the nation’s top high school senior football players, marching musicians, and color guard from across the county. In 2011, over 1300 students auditioned for 125 marching band positions.
Ashwell, age 17, will be spending an all-expenses paid week in San Antonio preparing for the event, which will be broadcast live that day at 1:00 p.m. on the NBC network. Rehearsals begin on New Year’s Day. Her mother will be joining her in Texas on January 3 and will view a special dress rehearsal for parents and band directors on January 4.
Ashwell learned about the band when job-shadowing James Paxton, former director of the Pride of Salem Marching Band. One of his students, Matthew Soderberg, was the first area student to be selected to perform with the band which was first organized six years ago.
Ashwell was nominated by her own band director at WBHS, Daniel Plybon, and selected after a rigorous application process.
As part of the application, three video submissions were required: a video essay introducing herself and detailing her reasons for wanting to participate; a video of her performing a musical selection; and a third videotape of her marching and playing within a five square yard area. She chose to mark off the space in the lobby of her church, Grace Family Church on Hardy Road, for that performance which would prove that she could play and march simultaneously.
Although she was notified of her selection in August, Ashwell and her family had to keep it a secret until the assembly held in her honor at WBHS on November 29.
Representatives from the All-American Bowl, local school dignitaries, and representatives from Congressman Goodlatte and Senator Warner’s offices attended the gathering, in addition to the entire WBHS student body, for the announcement and the presentation of the official All-American Marching Bowl jacket to Ashwell by local soldiers.
At the assembly in Ashwell’s honor, Dr. Richard Turner, who is well-known for the slogan, “Accept only the best at WBHS,” found a very fitting opportunity to use the phrase in describing her accomplishments.
Students chosen for the All-American Marching Band must exhibit exceptional musicianship, marching achievement, character, and leadership. Ashwell easily meets those criteria.
She is not only a member of the WBHS Marching Terrier Band. She plays in the school’s symphonic, jazz, and wind ensembles and in a special military event quintet. She performs with the Roanoke Youth Symphony Orchestra and in honor bands. She plays taps for local military events. She sings in the school choir. Last year she served as junior class president. She is a member of the praise and worship team at her church.
According to a release from the Army, “The U.S. Army All-American Marching Band recognizes the Nation’s leading high school band members. These young men and women demonstrate the U.S. Army core values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honesty, integrity and personal courage in their everyday lives. Like the U.S. Army All-American football players, the national selection of All-American band members is based on a broad range of attributes that go beyond performance and include qualities such as academic achievement, leadership abilities and community service.”
The All-American Bowl has been in existence for 12 years, organized as the Army’s largest annual public outreach effort, allowing them to share their story with millions of people. The event celebrates American youth and the U.S. soldier.
“I am so honored,” said Ashwell in accepting the invitation to perform at the All-American Bowl. “I want to thank the Army. The opportunity you have given me is amazing.”
Ashwell also thanked her music teachers throughout her school career, including Matt Bartley, her choir director at William Byrd Middle School and WBHS; Dawn Harbin, WBMS band director; and Daniel Plybon, WBHS band director.
Harbin opened to door to band for Ashwell in fourth grade when she introduced her to musical instruments at W. E. Cundiff Elementary School. She was intrigued by the recorder, whose distinctive sounds, familiar to many parents, resulted in her being banned to the basement.
Ashwell became a part of WBMS’s band in sixth grade. Midway through the year, Harbin suggested the French horn, prerequisite to the marching band mellophone, which Ashwell now plays.
“French horn gave Stephanie the rest of her life,” said her mother, Vickie Ashwell.
Ashwell now plays French horn, mellophone, trombone, and guitar. Her ultimate goal is to become a band director. She has applied and has scheduled auditions at both Virginia Tech and James Madison University.
During the assembly, Plybon congratulated her on her achievement and complimented her on the hard work she has undertaken to reach her goals.
” It’s been a great pleasure to see her grow over the past years,” said Plybon. “Stephanie is not afraid of the work it takes to be a good musician.”
The band director took the occasion of the school assembly to address each member of the student body.
“Like Stephanie, each of you is blessed with something special to offer the world,” said Plybon. “Find something you have a passion about; chase it down; never give up; pursue your own happiness.”
Ashwell comes from a musical family. Her parents and both sisters sing. All three girls have made all-district choir in their high school careers. Her mother was also a band member in high school.
She generally spends about three hours each day practicing a combination of instruments. Lately that has included learning the music and marching program for the All-American Bowl performance.
Ashwell received the music for the half-time show a couple of months ago, as she is expected to have it memorized when she arrives in San Antonio. She is required to send in videos showing her progress. She also received a type of dance pad programmed with the marching routine to practice steps and documents her progress there as well.
The U.S. Army started the All-American Marching Band to showcase the talents of America’s high school musicians as part of the halftime entertainment at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl., but with a higher purpose.
According to the Army, “The U. S. Army All-American Marching Band is a national celebration of high school marching music. This event is positive PR for each band and high school– it gives accolades to the school, which is important right now when you look at a lot of programs that are under the microscope for budget cuts. We don’t view music education as extracurricular; it is a part of a well-rounded education.”