Music at the Mall gives Harrison County, WV, students an opportunity to shine

by JoAnn Snoderly STAFF WRITER | Nov 16, 2019

Students in the Bridgeport Middle School Jazz Band perform during Music at the Mall on Saturday at Meadowbrook Mall. | Staff photo by JoAnn Snoderly

The Bridgeport High School Orchestra performs during Music at the Mall on Saturday at Meadowbrook Mall.  | Staff photo by JoAnn Snoderly

BRIDGEPORT — Shoppers at Meadowbrook Mall were treated to musical performances by students Saturday during Harrison County Schools’ fifth annual Music at the Mall.

Seats were mostly full as hundreds of area residents packed into the event space in front of JC Penney to support the young performers.

Typically held in December, this year’s event was held early because of the shorter time period between the school breaks for Thanksgiving and Christmas, according to Nell Givens, Harrison County Schools music curriculum chairperson and a teacher at Bridgeport Middle School.

“The first Saturday in December is always ACT weekend, so that takes off every high school, and then the second Saturday is “Annie” at the Robinson Grand, and we didn’t want to conflict with that,” Givens said.

“It ended up working out because Santa Claus’ first day here at the mall is today, so it just puts everybody in the spirit,” she added.

However, the earlier date for Music at the Mall, combined with the late start to the school year, meant the young performers had much less to time to practice for the event, Givens said.

Despite that, the musicians consistently brought audience members to their feet.

Givens led her Bridgeport Middle School Jazz Band in a performance Saturday.

“We practice once a week during our homeroom time to prepare, and we had a couple of after-school rehearsals to help us get there quicker,” she said.

For Lincoln High School Jazz Band’s Mathew Kerns, the shortened practice window was particularly nerve-racking. Kerns, a sophomore who also plays the bass drum and auxiliary percussion, took up playing piano for the Jazz Band this school year.

It was his first-ever performance on the new instrument in front of a crowd, Kerns said.

“I started this year, and I really didn’t know how to play piano until I joined Jazz Band, and I’ve slowly been learning,” he said. “I’m excited and I’m nervous. I have a piano at home, and I sat there for an hour or two and practiced this morning. I’m pretty nervous, but I think I’ll do OK.”

Bridgeport Middle School seventh-graders Keira Klingensmith and Bria Smell said they were also excited and somewhat nervous.

Smell said she played in All-County Band last year, so she was used to the big crowd.

Klingensmith said she ignores the crowd at performances.

“I don’t really pay attention to the crowd. It makes me even more nervous,” she said.

According to Givens, the students look forward to Music at the Mall every year.

“The kids love playing in front of their family and friends, and it’s a great place for people who don’t normally hear us to hear us. At our concerts, it’s mainly friends and family, but here it’s whoever happens to be at the mall,” she said.

Music at the Mall gives an extra opportunity to show off students’ talents, said Fred Channell, director of the Lincoln High School Jazz Band.

“Whoever needs a concert at Christmastime, we’ll go out and perform for them. It’s a good way to just leave your area of the county so you see what other people have going on in your little community, he said.

The event also brings foot traffic into the stores at the mall, Givens said.

“You have to think that every school in Harrison County is represented,” she said. “There’s a lot of flow going.”

Channell said the support of the community and the Board of Education makes events like Music at the Mall possible.

“We’re very thankful as music educators to the Board of Education because they support the arts,” he said. “That doesn’t happen in a lot of counties.”

Givens agreed.

“A lot of counties just have your basic elementary school choirs and your basic high school marching band, but we have strings, a middle school jazz band that you don’t see a lot. There’s a lot of diversity that people may not be aware of,” she said.