Music is an essential and integral part of Henderson’s nature … the community’s culture.
Think of Henderson’s festivals. Most of them involve live music. The W.C. Handy Blues & Barbecue Festival and Bluegrass in the Park/Folklife Festival are perfect examples.
Most of Henderson knows the story. The Handy Fest celebrates the life of blues legend and one-time Henderson resident William Christopher Handy, a musician and composer. The Henderson Music Preservation Society was inspired by the blues great to organize the free festival each year as a way to share that music with everyone.
The festival this year is set for June 14-17.
As its name suggests, the Bluegrass in the Park Festival celebrates a much different music style than the Handy Festival. Going on its 32nd year, the festival features western Kentucky’s original musical art form. What first started as strictly a music festival has grown to include different workshops during the day for more hands-on activities. Those workshops cover traditional activities such as candle and soap making, sheep shearing, woodworking and more.
The bluegrass/folklife event will take place again in August this year, but exact dates haven’t been set yet.
Along with music festivals, several energetic and talented individuals contribute to and sustain the musical culture of Henderson.
Paul Metzger, the band teacher at South Middle School, has dedicated his life to music. Along with teaching band at the middle school, he has also been the organizer of Henderson’s community band that plays at Henderson’s Fourth of July ceremony each year. This July will see the community band’s fourth concert on the Fourth of July.
“I knew there were community bands out there and it’s something that used to be here in the 1970s,” said Metzger. “It never really took root because it never had an organizational base. About five years ago, I got to thinking if I was ever going to organize a community band in Henderson, it was my only opportunity to do it before I retired.”
Metzger is planning to retire in May of 2018 from this teaching position after 27 years and move to Lexington with his family. He hopes someone will carry on the tradition of continuing the community band.
“A lot of people don’t want to see this end,” said Metzger. “There is a huge following for this band. I’m going to lobby really hard for someone to continue it. It’s a lot of work, but it’s not undoable.”
To Metzger the community band is a chance for music lovers to continue playing their instrument past school. Many of his former students come back to play at the community band, like a form of a reunion.
“Community bands give people that have gone on past their formal education but still want to be able to make music with other people,” he said. “You also get to really enjoy the community that is a band.”
Adam Thomas is another music teacher in Henderson and has directed the band at Henderson County High School for four years. Thomas’ interest in band began in sixth grade when he played the clarinet and became a conductor and drum major.
The HCHS band has 145 members and the marching band went to state semi-finals this year for the first time in about five years. They’ve also performed the national anthem at Busch Stadium in Saint Louis and in a parade at Disney World’s Epcot.
Along with the marching band, there is also concert band, wind ensemble and symphonic band, which hold four concerts during a year. Last year the wind ensemble went to state.
Thomas said his love for orchestra and band music was fueled from an unlikely source.
“There was a time in sixth grade when I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay with it or not,” said Thomas. “But then I started to pay attention to movie scores. I was a big fan of John Williams, and someone gave me the Star Wars movie score. I would listen to it for hours and conduct to it. That’s when I started to realize I wanted to maybe stick with music for a long time.”
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