VINTON–The first William Byrd High School band was organized in 1930 by principal Herman L. Horn with William Burt as its director. The band had 13 members and was the first organized band in Roanoke County.
The band has been a significant part of the community ever since. The Dogwood Festival came into existence because of the band and its need for new uniforms. In 1956 then School Superintendent Herman L. Horn and WBHS principal Charles Jennings, supported by a very active Band Boosters group, local businesses, and civic groups organized the first festival.
Today’s William Byrd High School Marching Terrier Band has 98 members and a color guard of 19. Twenty-five are seniors.
Daniel Plybon has been their band director since 2006. He received his bachelor’s degree in music from Radford University.
Before coming to Byrd, Plybon was the assistant band director at Hidden Valley High School for a year. He started his career at Gretna High School and middle school before making his way back to his native Roanoke. In addition to his duties at WBHS, he is the choir director at Campbell Presbyterian Church on Hardy Road in Vinton.
As a young man Plybon happened on band when he was involved in a confrontation with another student, which was subsequently broken up by the band director.
“‘You seem like a good kid,’ he told me,” said Plybon. “Why don’t you join the band?”
Plybon took up trombone and later percussion. The band director who was his mentor became and remains one of his best friends.
A marching band director maintains a grueling schedule for months on end with the success of his efforts made very public, but Plybon says it is very rewarding to be among students who give it their all.
“When it all comes together, to be part of something like that is rare,” said Plybon. “No one sits on the bench in band. All rely on each other for one purpose, plus you have the freedom to express yourself without boundaries.”
“Mr. Plybon is an excellent band director,” said WBHS principal Dr. Richard Turner. “He cares about our students and our band program. He involves our band in many events including parades, sports events, concerts and spring trips. He has a great rapport with parents, students, staff and the community. He is always interested in doing extra events to promote our music program. We are fortunate to have him as a Terrier.”
English teacher Whitney Puckett directs the color guard. She grew up in Blacksburg and has a background in dance, teaching students with the Roanoke College Preparatory Division.
A 2002 graduate of Roanoke College, this is her ninth year as a high school English teacher and her fourth at WBHS. She coached color guard at Patrick Henry High School before coming to Byrd.
The school year for marching band begins in late July with band camp. The first week is for Color Guard and percussion. The second week the entire band attends to work on the new music and on band fundamentals. The third week they spend at Camp Bethel in Troutville.
However, the themed band program is developed well before that. This year they chose to perform a Latin flavored show, “A Salute to Santana.” Jay Dawson arranged the music and Teresa Hedrick wrote the field drill.
The color guard holds its try-outs in the spring. A fundamental routine is taught and at the end of the week, students are evaluated on ability, attitude, and coordination of basic fundamentals.
The Band performs at all Friday night home games and local away games. They practice Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday afternoons from 3:40-5:45 during football season.
Each year the WBHS band hosts the first area band competition of the season with “Preview of Champions” in early September, originating in the days when David Vail was the band director. This year nine bands performed at the event, from as far away as Raleigh.
The Terrier Band generally travels to four other Saturday competitions during marching season competing with other bands their size. This season the group received two “Excellent” ratings and two “Superior” ratings.
They march in three local parades at the Dogwood Festival, on Veterans Day in Roanoke, and in the Vinton Christmas parade.
Band is an activity which teaches not just music skills, but emphasizes student leadership. Kayla Short is this year’s Corps Commander, the top position. Alan Ward is the current Drum Major/Field Conductor. Sam Nicely is the top horn line captain. Color guard captain is Bethany Porter.
The WBHS band has historically been supported by an active parent organization, the Band Boosters. This year’s president is Craig Balliet, Sr.
Boosters take on the responsibilities of raising money to fulfill a $30,000 budget, and help chaperone band camp, football games, and competitions. Members raise money by working at the Bingo hall, implementing fundraising events selling pasta, fruit, pizza, spirit magnets, and doughnuts, and hosting the Preview of Champions.
“We have a great group of students and parent boosters,” said Dr. Turner. “They are one of our most active groups and they are always there to support the school. Our numbers have grown over the last several years. I think this is a combination of Mr. Plybon, Ms. Harbin, the middle school instructor, and word of mouth from band members themselves. I am very proud of our band.”
“The reason I chose to do Marching Band was to join a group of people my age that shared my interest and love for music,” said senior Lauren Womack. “Feeling that thrill of mastering a difficult part and having someone understand what you just accomplished almost has this feeling of home, like a feeling of belonging. And being a part of something greater than just one person helps you learn a sense of pride in yourself and in others. Yes, the work load is hard, the hours are erratic, and trying to balance school work on top of band is a nightmare, but those moments of success make everything worth it.”
“As a student who has a heavy course load, balancing my school work and marching band is not always an easy feat,” said sophomore Madeline Balliet. “Even though the hours are long and I spend the dog days of summer marching in the school’s parking lot, being a member of the William Byrd Marching Terrier Band is something I have never regretted. The band provides an escape from the stress of school and a creative outlet. The adrenaline felt right before we step out on to the field is like no other feeling I’ve ever experienced, and performing with one hundred of my closest friends just makes the feeling even stronger. Everyone is equally important and no one is dispensable. It’s an opportunity to be a part of something greater than yourself and to work with others to achieve a common goal. Band kids are a different breed of students who truly care about and accept every member; the connection we feel both on and off the field is remarkable. I will never forget the memories I have made in the marching band, or regret joining such a lively, caring, and talented group of musicians who love and are as proud of the organization as I am.”