Macon Middle School band members secure top honors

Macon Middle School’s 7th and 8th grade bands, jazz band, and honors band (shown here) performed their spring concert May 9. The MMS band is under the direction of Thomas Graham.

Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer

Macon Middle School has a thriving band program – evidenced by several recent distinctions. Maylee Anderson, 8th grade, and euphonium first chair, was the only Macon County student selected for All-State Band. 

“I do not know the last time a student was selected for All-State, but for the middle school it has been well over a decade,” said Thomas Graham, director for the last six years and the choir and piano teacher prior to that. 

Besides Maylee’s honor, seven students won All District this year and 20 were chosen for the Far West Honors Band. The honorees received medals and/or trophies at the May 9 spring concert event held at Macon Middle School. 

Graham explained the importance of both honors.

“All District Band is made up of students from the 14 westernmost counties in the state. Students audition at Tuscola High School after memorizing many scales, learning a difficult solo, and sight reading audition music. Judges then decide on students who achieved the best results and assemble two middle school honors groups that meet in March at Western Carolina University (WCU) to rehearse and give a concert. It’s a great experience for the students and gives them the chance to visit a college campus for the weekend.

“Far West Honors Band has been in existence for the past several years for high schools in Franklin, Bryson City, Murphy, Robbinsville, Hayesville, Andrews, and Hiawassee Dam. The past two years, middle schools have also taken part. Students are selected by their band directors depending on their skills and the needs of the Far West Honors band. These students then meet at Swain High School to rehearse and give a concert. Similar to All District, this gives even more of the students in the far western counties a chance to be part of an excellent honors group.”

Maylee’s sister, Mallory Anderson, 7th grade, is the percussion first chair. Mallory received an award May 9 for outstanding percussionist.

“We have musical talent in our family on both sides,” said Justin Anderson, the girls’ father. “But this is the biggest achievement so far.” 

Anderson credits Graham’s “energy” and commitment with the students. 

“He’s changing lives,” said Anderson.

Graham gives kudos to parents, other Macon Middle teachers, and administrators.

“We are also fortunate to have wonderful band programs at Mountain View Intermediate and Franklin High School that surround our students with a sense of family throughout their school years. Our students are great kids and rise to the challenge of very difficult music. We have had guest conductors and masters class presenters from WCU as well as other schools throughout our district. Many of our students stay after school for optional rehearsals every day, including a jazz band that meets Wednesdays after school.”

This year, the Macon Middle band is comprised of 104 total members in 7th and 8th grades. The school has had a band program for at least 20 years. 

During his time at Macon Middle School, Graham has been impressed with members’ skills and tenacity. 

“Our students are great kids and rise to the challenge of very difficult music.” He taught and was involved in “superior band programs” for 20 years in West Virginia, and he performs currently with community groups at WCU, including the Mountain Winds Concert Band and the newly formed low brass ensemble. “I am also actively involved with my church’s music offerings as an instrumentalist and vocalist.” 

Graham recognizes young talent.

“Music is a creative outlet for students that often is not presented in standard subjects in school,” said Graham. “A music student must learn to read a foreign language (music notation), they must learn specific fingerings and techniques for their instrument, they need also to be able to feel rhythm and apply that mathematical grouping of sounds while simultaneously combining all the previously mentioned skills and synthesize this into the interpretation of musical performance. They learn to work together to achieve a great performance and the discipline to know that success is usually not something that happens immediately, but more often after a series of mistakes in which true learning takes place.”

Graham pointed out that the band has performed at the Franklin House, area churches, open-to the-public Macon Middle concerts, and at Franklin High School football games along with the FHS band. 

“Many countries value music education as strongly as they do core studies and have flourishing education programs,” said Graham. “Macon Middle is a great school and the MMS band enjoys being a positive and thriving aspect of the school, the town of Franklin, and surrounding communities.”

“The band has really just done well as a whole,” added Anderson. “Students put forth effort, even at home, in order to get to the level of success they have enjoyed.”