BE band hits a high note with alumni

(Miscellany/Deirdre C. Mays) Carlos Ellis, second from left, and other members of Bishop England High School’s marching band alumni perform at the homecoming football game Oct. 22.

(Miscellany/Deirdre C. Mays) Carlos Ellis, second from left, and other members of Bishop England High School’s marching band alumni perform at the homecoming football game Oct. 22.DANIEL ISLAND—What began as a casual comment on Facebook inspired Bishop England High School’s marching band alumni to hold the first all-year band reunion Oct. 22.

After a barbecue picnic, alumni joined the new seven-member student band in the stands to play at the school’s homecoming football game against Timberland High School from St. Stephen.

Band alumni began reconnecting five months ago when Billy Sottile, who now lives in Las Vegas, posted a group photo of the 1975-76 marching band on Facebook.

“He tagged a few people he recognized and it spread to everybody in the photo. That one picture generated 185 comments and a suggestion that we have a reunion,” said Tara Veronee Hyatt. She is an alumna who played the oboe in the 1970s, and helped organize the event.

“All of a sudden you’re communicating online with people you haven’t seen or talked to in 20 years,” she said. “Because a lot of us graduated different years, we hadn’t seen each other at class reunions.”

During the ’70s, the marching band had over 100 members and regularly placed in the top three in state music competitions.

“The Bishop England band was very successful,” said David Pstrak, who traveled from Washington, D.C., to attend. He began playing baritone horn and tuba in 1976 when he was in the seventh grade.

“It gave me a lot of discipline, learning to march and memorizing 15 minutes of music — that’s a lot of music,” he said. Pstrak was awarded a music scholarship to the College of Charleston in 1981.

Cornelius Faulk, who played the saxophone from 1976-1980, lives outside of Miami. He also recalled the Marching Bishops.

“A number of excellent musicians were in our band,” he said. “We were one of the best in the state.”

Faulk’s children, like their dad, are musicians.

“I think it’s important to keep kids involved in something positive,” he said. “I’m superintendant of a juvenile detention center where I work with children who haven’t been involved in positive activities like school band.”

(Miscellany/Deirdre C. Mays) Van Kerr, age 92 and a Bishop England graduate from 1936, was a band booster.Bob Kerr, who graduated in 1973 and now lives in Spartanburg, said his band experience gave him a tremendous amount of self confidence.

“In my career I do a lot of public speaking,” he said. “The band built up my confidence about being in front of people.”

“In the ’70s the band was the most outstanding thing at the school. We were going to competitions and bringing back trophies,” said Carlos Ellis.

Ellis travelled from Dallas to attend. It was his first time back since graduating in 1976.

“I know this is an alumni event, but for me it’s really a family reunion,” he said.

The reunion was so important to Ellis that he rearranged his kidney dialysis treatment schedule.

“I had to make a lot of changes to be in a position to dedicate myself to this reunion,” he said.

Recently diagnosed with kidney disease, Ellis is on a waiting list for a kidney transplant.

“The problem is that for every one organ that is transplanted, there are over 18,000 people waiting for one,” he said.

His medical situation motivated fellow band alumni to contact Life Point, Inc., an organ and tissue donation center, asking the charity if they wanted to distribute information at the homecoming game.

Don Holzheimer, a volunteer for the National Kidney Foundation and Life Point, arrived with brochures and a desire to help people like Ellis.

“This event is an opportunity for me to get the word out,” said Holzheimer, “I hope that by being here tonight just one more person will consider being an organ donor.”

Ellis was not surprised that his bandmates acted on his behalf and on that of all people needing organ replacement.

“Our shared experiences in the band turned us into family,” he said. “And I’m really hoping that this celebration will make people recognize the need for Bishop England to have a band again.”

One of the school’s seven new band members, sophomore Peter McMillan, was encouraged by the alumni’s participation in the event.

“I think tonight is awesome,” he said. “Hopefully we’re going to get our band back together — maybe get it back where it was when these alumni were in it.”