Bob Buckner
Bob Buckner

CULLOWHEE – While Bob Buckner was busy handing out awards at the recent Tournament of Champions marching band competition hosted by Western Carolina University, a national music education organization surprised Western's longtime director of athletic bands with an award of his own.

MENC: The National Music Educators Association presented Buckner with the association's Lowell Mason Award, which is the highest award in the field of music education. The award, which includes a $1,000 contribution in Buckner's name to the MENC Fund for the Advancement of Music Education, is designed to recognize music educators, music education advocates, political leaders, industry professionals and others who have contributed to music education.

Under the leadership of Buckner, who has been in charge of athletic bands at Western since 1991, the university's marching band has grown from 82 members to more than 300 this year. Western now boasts the biggest marching band in the Carolinas, with a membership larger than the bands at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, N.C. State University and Clemson.

The Pride of the Mountains Marching Band has performed twice as an exhibition band at the prestigious Bands of American Grand National Championships, a showcase for the nation's top high school marching bands. Western's own Tournament of Champions, an invitational competition that brings 25 of the East Coast's top high school marching bands to campus every year, attracts some 10,000 musicians and spectators.

The Pride of the Mountains Marching Band, often called the world's largest funk-rock band, performs a crowd-pleasing medley of up-tempo pop tunes, with electric guitars, singers and other musical elements not typically associated with marching bands. The Bands of America newsletter has praised Western's unit as “the most innovative and exciting marching band in the Southeast.”

Before coming to Western, Buckner guided the Sylva-Webster (now Smoky Mountain ) High School marching band to the title of national champion in 1979, seven years after directing the school's band to a national title at the St. Petersburg Festival of States.

In a recent edition of the Bands of America newsletter, event organizers praised Buckner as “a legendary force in the marching band world.” The publication goes on to say: “One of the leading pioneers of the modern-day marching band style, he has been one of America 's leading drill designers for five decades.”

Buckner won Western's Paul A. Reid Distinguished Service Award for faculty, one of the university's highest service awards, in 2003.

Through the Lowell Mason Fellows program, MENC honors Mason for introducing music instruction to American public schools and establishing teacher training in music education. Widely regarded as “the father of music education,” Mason was co-founder of the Boston Academy of Music, which eventually led to the inclusion of music as part of the regular curriculum in the Boston public schools in 1838.

For more information about Western's marching band, call (828) 227-2259.

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Last modified: Monday, October 25, 2004
Copyright 2004 by Western Carolina University