John Marshall Strings Students’ Synchrony Saves the Day

Those of you who attended the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra’s season finale on May 17 may have noticed the group of young people performing during the pre-concert dinner and in the lobby before the show.

The students — from the Marshall County Strings Program at John Marshal High School — played their notes superbly, but unbeknownst to us in the crowd, their harmonies were not the only fruits of their teamwork and synchrony.

In fact, were it not for their quick actions, they may not have been able to play at all. Earlier that day, a kickball (presumably missing its intended target) made direct contact with the sprinkler system in the gym of John Marshall High School. The sprockets poured water into the gymnasium.

“It was kind of funny for about two seconds,” said WSO music director candidate Silas Huff during his pre-concert talk — and after his visit with the students that day. “But then you think about that poor gym floor and how it’s flooding at the moment.”

It wasn’t just the floorboards, however, that lay in the water’s path.

Located directly below the gym is the Strings Program’s classroom and storage area. Within minutes, the students realized that with the amount of water continuing to flow freely onto the floor, it would soon begin trickling — or worse — into the music room. While there was definitely an immediate reaction, it was not, however, panic.

“We were worried, but we jumped up and got everything out really quickly,” said junior McKenna Gump. “There were even some kids who weren’t from strings who helped out.”

Students in the Marshall County Strings Program clean up following last week’s flooding of their classroom.

Rather than embark on a mad and frantic dash with tens of students darting every which way, the group quickly organized a fire line to carry the instruments out of the flooding room and into a side lobby.

According to Huff, their precision and coordination in removing their instruments were impressive, but hardly the end of their work.

“I was telling their teacher how much respect I had for them, and just as that happened, the water started coming through the ceiling, Huff said. “And then we realized there’s a whole music library full of sheet music to be saved.”

The students ran back into the room and began to carry out the music in whatever they could find. Hurriedly, they emptied not only the music library but much of their teacher’s office, which had electronics and important files at risk of being ruined by the impending water.

“it was a little hectic,” Gump said. “We were grabbing crates and totes and taking them up on carts. Some people were carrying them up the stairs while others were taking loads up the elevator. There were just a lot of people; I think that’s what helped.”

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After about an hour, the music room, library and office had been cleared of everything important or not waterproof. Nearly everything was piled up outside in a lobby not directly under the gymnasium. But even then, as the fire department worked to shut off the fire suppression system, somehow water began dripping into the second room.

Following the penetration of water into the second room, students from multiple classes pitched in to carry instruments and files upstairs.

Again, teamwork helped to save the day.

“As if a miracle, about 100 kids came down, descending from every stairwell into this room,” Huff said. “Each of them grabbed one box, and within five minutes, everything was upstairs and safe.”

Somewhat ironically, Huff had planned on speaking to the class on the issue of teamwork and leadership. But after watching them work together, he realized they had already demonstrated the very message he had hoped to impart.

“I had never seen such a display of teamwork and proactivity from teenagers in my life,” Huff said, leading to laughs from the crowd. “I was fairly impressed.”

Their teacher, Justin Jones, echoed Huff’s praise.

“These kids are great,” Jones said. “They always jump up to help with whatever is needed. Last week was no different.”

The day was, of course, not over for the members of the Strings Program, who still needed to tune up and prepare for their performance later that evening in Wheeling.

“It was a little stressful,” Gump said. “We get there [to The Capitol Theatre] and someone asks, ‘Hey, where’s the music.’ We didn’t know; it had been thrown in a crate somewhere.”

Stacks of files and music — perhaps including the missing music from Friday night’s performance.

In keeping with the theme of adaptation and overcoming obstacles, again the group figured out a solution. Jones kept a backup flash drive of all of their music and was able to print out new copies in plenty of time to spare.

Despite the tumultuousness of the day, the Marshall County Strings Program ended on a high note. Well, actually some high notes and some low notes, all ends of the range coming out beautifully as the symphony patrons filed into the theater.

Quick playing fingers, quick thinking minds and quick moving actions. That deserves a “bravo.”

(Photos by Nick Musgrave)

•  Nick Musgrave is a self-described history geek living in Wheeling, W.Va. He is a graduate of Hastings College in Hastings, Nebraska, where he earned his bachelor’s degrees in history and political science. When not writing for Weelunk or uncovering cool stories about the past, he can often be found reading in his hammock or trying to brew the perfect cup of coffee.