It was a warm, bright morning on Memorial Day of 2014. The sky was unblemished, and the inhabitants of Windber filled the streets waiting for their annual Memorial Day parade. More people than in past parades squeezed together on sidewalks and lined the streets that surged with excitement. The parade would be different this year.
Loud cracks of the snare drum snapped through the air, successfully grabbing everyone’s attention. From a distance, the band marched in beat with the cadence of the drums, a mass of uniform, royal blue T-shirts. This year, there weren’t enough uniforms to fit the large number of players. As the band marched closer to the waiting crowd, the snares rolled and horns rushed attention, the piccolos gulped for breath before bursting with a patriotic tune that exploded throughout the town. For once, the crowd was silent as students holding the banner came into view. In place of “Windber Marching Band: Spirit and Excellence,” this year it read: “In Loving Memory of Larry McGiboney.” This parade was the first one without the man who gave the gift of music to a sleepy, Pennsylvania coal mining town.
Larry McGiboney passed away a few months before. For 26 years, he had taught music and directed the bands at Windber Area High School. Affectionately known as “Chuck” to his band students, Larry McGiboney taught music to concert band students for grades 6-12, and was director of the school’s band. He was known for his strict, no-nonsense teaching methods. Determined to never let his students fail, he encouraged them to be the best musicians they could be, knew each of his students by name, and gave them lessons to prepare them for honor band auditions. There was an extracurricular jazz band, for which Larry often recruited students. If a student didn’t play a jazz instrument, it was okay. “You can learn,” he would say. For the students who were fortunate enough to stick with the music program from sixth grade to graduation, he was a beloved, respected mentor. Students might glare and grumble, frustrated at certain challenges, exasperated when “one more time” became the rest of the afternoon. Students were challenged to play the phrase right and march the drill correctly, because he knew they could do it. He would make them see that they could, too. The band room was littered with musical scores, his office was a mess, but the room was overflowing with a sea of marching band trophies. He conducted with a pencil instead of a baton; the students wouldn’t have had it any other way.
That Memorial Day 2014, the marching band filled the entire street. It consisted of both current students and alumni. There were 125 members that day, playing in memory of their beloved director, creating a sound that engulfed the town of Windber. The musicians were united in their desire to honor Larry McGiboney and to share the music and life lessons he had taught them along the way.
By Kelsey Walls