Time marches on for band director

MIFFLINTOWN – … And the band played on.

Juniata High School’s band director has many memories of various band trips.

Though Kevin Cunningham has not given a specific date, he is planning to retire after 34 years of teaching in the Juniata County School District.

Cunningham shared some of his thoughts in a letter he recently wrote to the media.

“While on the Juniata High School Marching Band’s recent June 24-26 trip to the Philadelphia area and New Jersey, I found myself quietly reminiscing about past overnight band trip experiences. As I began to reflect on specific trips and the students and adults involved with each particular trip, the floodgates of my mind opened and I soon began thinking back through my entire 34 year teaching career and even earlier days when growing up in Juniata County. Regardless of the remembered occasion, I found that each memory of past events created an appreciation for the many individuals who were involved with each group or event. Thus, the initial thoughts of past overnight band trips led into a time for reflection and being thankful of others,” Cunningham wrote.

Cunningham grew up on a dairy farm and was raised by his parents, John and Betty Cunningham.

Betty had a degree in music but chose to be a farmer’s wife. He credits his parents for giving him such an interest in music.

Cunningham graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 1980 with music education major and educational psychology minor degrees. He then took on the role as band and chorus director at Juniata High School in his hometown.

“During the initial minutes of an extra course that I was taking during my college student teaching days, this very wise professor stated, ‘If you do not remember a single other thing that I have to offer to you, remember this … when you begin your teaching career, you should first get to know three very important groups of people: your school’s secretaries, custodians, and cafeteria staff workers. In time, you will understand the meaning behind that statement.'”

Cunningham noted, “Constantly keeping the intent of her message in my mind has hopefully allowed me to follow my parents’ unspoken teaching … and that is to always show respect to others so that others might be more inclined to show respect to you.”

He listed his many activities with the band department by the numbers.

Cunningham has embarked on 17 overnight band trips. His first was in 1982 when he arranged for the band to go to New Jersey. Trips over the years have included Disney World, Florida (seven different times), Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park (three different occasions performing on the Phillies ballpark field), SIX FLAGS Great Adventure (multiple times), Niagara Falls, Canada, Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, and Cedar Point, Ohio.

Overnight trips, he said, were about more than just performing.

“The trips also demanded financial planning by the individual band members and their parents who were expected to cover ALL costs through band booster sponsored fund raising activities and/or out-of-pocket funds. Accompanying adult chaperones and family members also covered 100 percent of their individual trip expense. The overall trip experiences allowed me to stress the importance of good behavior and representing our school and community with a sense of pride. These trips created positive learning opportunities on how to treat others with respect and to be accountable for one’s financial obligations.”

He also listed “countless” JHS band, chorus and jazz performances and concerts.

Cunningham went on to cite 350 to 400 parades and just as many football games.

“Just think of the number of supporters that were in attendance at each event. It was especially gratifying when complete strangers made it a point to speak favorably of our high school band’s performance and the students’ overall behavior. On more than one occasion, I actually had the opposing team’s fans approach me during the second half of games or immediately following the games to relay their appreciation for our band’s presentation.”

Cunningham has also overseen 34 years of Christmas cantata productions. “Since 1997,” he said, “I have greatly enjoyed rehearsing and combining adult volunteer singers with our high school chorus members. These annual community performances are held during a special time and allow the opportunity for us to show support for our local Juniata County Food Pantry. Special performances were also provided for our local area’s senior citizens.”

Another number listed by Cunningham was the number of Pennsylvania Music Educators Association events he has hosted at JHS.

He also accompanied students to 130 to 140 PMEA festivals over the years.

Cunningham has also taught thousands of students in ninth and sixth grade music classes and at Mountain View Elementary School over the years.

Cunningham wished to extend his gratitude for all who have helped make his career a successful one.

“Whether it be concerning experiences with our local high school, junior high, or elementary school students and other valued Juniata County music teachers or at PMEA district, regional and state events, I believe that I have enjoyed a ‘career of opportunity’ – a career that has provided many positive moments for which I will always be grateful.”

Cunningham is thankful “for the continued interest of a large number of high school band and chorus members who have chosen to keep music and the arts as an important part of their lives; for having had the pleasure of working with MANY outstanding teachers and staff members in our own school district … as well as working with others from outside our local area; for my own family members who have supported my career choices; for a very supportive church family (Port Royal Lutheran parish); and especially thankful that my wife, Laura, has been a supportive life partner for 30 years (and counting). She is a wonderful wife, mother, and grandmother and I feel truly blessed to have had her in my life.”

Cunningham said he will more than likely submit his intent to retire during the winter months.