Morganton High Music Memories
Music At Morganton High School
Music, Arts, and Drama
Just as the Wildcat sports teams were much of lore for the MHS years, so was the excellence of the music programs, arts and drama clubs. At this launch of the MHS Wildcat Alumni Association web history, we have only direct information and recollections of some living band or drama alums. We would hope that as time passes our entire “MHS Alum Nation” and web users would be able to add their own remembrances, old photos, or other history treasures they wish to share. To do so, contact the MHSWAA by emailing Music@MHSWAA.org.
WILDCAT BAND History
MHS was constructed for $100,000 and opened in 1927, late in the “Roaring 1920’s”. By 1929 and even into the mid 1930’s the GREAT Depression had greatly affected many a Morganton family. Jobs were scarce, and paychecks thin. Yet for all the tough times, music flourished with community bands, “swing music” and lavish musical movies with sound (still black and white on celluloid). These when staged or projected at the local Alva theatre flourished and served as an escape from the depression days of the era.
By 1936 according to local archives, the MHS Band was first formed with A. M. Cunningham as Director. Photographs linked here show the first band students of the day performing in white shirts and dark pants and skirts. BY 1937 the entire town was engaged to fund the first uniforms. Can you imagine the pie sales, cake walks, civic club challenges, etc. The Mayor declared a MHS Band Day to help raise funds. The uniforms must have been of the finest wool woven of the day. The uniforms dressed the MHS Senior Band for many years and were handed down to the MJHS Band. Imagine all the years of cleaning and alterations. One thing for sure, members burned up at the early season football performances, but often had to add layers for the cold of the Christmas parades through the streets of Morganton.
The MHS bands became noted for their musical performance quality, crisp marching, challenging and patriotic half-time shows fronted by drum majors, gifted twirlers and flag corps. The Bands attended and regularly came home with top prizes at regional band marching competitions. Yes, all that was some work, but great fun, and accomplished with a sense of WILDCAT pride. The fierce competitor bands of the 50’s to 70’s were little Drexel High School Band under Ms. Katheryn Siphers, and the pre-eminent Captain James Harper of Lenoir City Schools bands. MHS has its own STAR cadre of Band Directors. Perhaps the most famous being M.T. Cousins of the 50’s followed by Neil Williams and Wife Bonnie who famously launched the Dixi-ettes Twirlers and Dancers. My own era of the early and mid 1960’s was led by Rockin’ Ray Babelay, so nicknamed as he fostered a spin-off student Jazz Band that played local events. Enough cannot be said of the band directors over the years. They were gifted musicians, even accomplished published composers, teachers certainly, disciplinarians when needed, and important mentors to many. Included in this history of MHS are separate stories and accomplishments of our musical leaders / teachers and some of their students who went on to be professional musicians and teachers themselves.
See elsewhere in this section for at least a partial list of MHS music directors, composers, teachers and MHS students who studied and made music a part of their profession, and life achievements.
This writer wonders if the MHS bands ever fielded 100 in number. Anyone know? Most years bands were 45-60 musicians with added majorettes and flag groups. Within here we suggest MHS Alums add the history and personal memories of those special band highlights. We remember inspiring Sousa marches that were favorites of M. T. Cousins and the 1959 Washington DC Cherry Blossom Festival; the booster fund raisers and the 1965 New York World’s Fair; The band members selected for NC All-State Band participation at the annual performances at APP State; special events like the Brevard Music Camp; Summer camps at ECU, and marching drills in the summer dust of the then new central quad at Wake Forest University.
The winter concert band took on a different flair preparing for state contests and the usual spring concert for family and friends. How many weeks were we in practice for THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO with its challenge for the woodwinds, Tchaikovsky’s patriotic 1812 OVERTURE, or the impressive horn passages of Dvorak’s 9th, THE NEW WORLD SYMPHONY. Yet all those gave way for the melodic but dramatic songs of Leonard Bernstein’s WEST SIDE STORY as later performed by the MHS BAND under the backdrop of the UNISPHERE world globe symbol of the New York World’s Fair in June 1965.
One has to add that for a lot of band members, memories to never forget include the many band bus rides to ball games near and seemingly far. Each band alum has a memory of those for sure. This writer will just say friendships were made, maybe a heart string plucked, along with a few “going steady” breakups. Some of band boyfriend / girlfriend romances did blossom. Several even have lasted these many years. I married a certain clarinetist and Miss Band 1965. Look her up in the Cat’s Tale. We will celebrate 50 years of marriage soon ! Lucky guy I am, indeed !
To this day the legacy of music at MHS lives on with, and in its alumni. Some of us even with graying hair or none, still blow a horn, beat on a set of drums, play saxophone, or learned to excel at guitar. Others grew into clarinet, oboe, bassoon, flute, violin, cello, or are accomplished pianists, organists, choral directors, and composers.
One of the most moving compositions we should celebrate and take pride in is a piece composed by M. Thomas Cousins, “Glorious Everlasting”. For over sixty years his music and this composition has moved and inspired the masses. Click here to experience the “goose bumps” it will trigger, and appreciate the gifts and talents shared with so many alumni of MHS.
Help the MHSWAA complete our shared musical history and story. Add your pictures, newspaper clippings, knowledge and memories. Email Music@MHSWAA.org
Morganton High School
M. A. Cunningham
Served from 1936 - 1948?
M. Thomas. Cousins
G. Neil Williams and Bonnie Williams
G. Neil Williams served as Band Director, and Bonnie Williams handled Majorettes, Dance, and Flag Corp. They served until 1963
Raymond Babelay and Assistant Dir. James Graber
Serving from 1963 until 1968.
We are trying to find out who served as director during this period - 1968 until 1972.
Other Music Directors
Morganton High School
PEOPLE YOU MAY REMEMBER
Musical Stars of Morganton High School