After years of growing, 'Big Green Machine' no longer so large

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

In the Kannapolis School System, the bands started first as just an orchestra and small band in 1932.
The orchestra consisted of three guitars, two ukuleles, two clarinets, two trombones, one saxaphone, one trumpet and one drummer.
The band consisted of four trumpets, one saxaphone, two clarinets, one French horn, three trombones, one bass drum and two snare drums.
There were no uniforms. The very next year the Depression caused the elimination of part of the music program.
From 1933 to 1937 there are no bands listed in the annuals. In 1938, a small band is shown in uniform. Since no faculty is shown, I suspect Paul Hudson was listed for the first time as a member of the staff. He was probably the director.
By 1939, a picture of the first of the bigger bands is shown, directed by Hudson. It consisted of 30 members, two flag men and a drum major, Bernice Winecoff. She was the first drum major for the school.
They had raised enough money to buy green uniforms in 1938, which was a first. There were 23 members plus the director, who wore a white uniform. There are still several members of that band living today.
The 1940 band increased to 42 members. A variety of new and different instruments were added. The bands continued to grow each year, adding new uniforms as they grew, sometimes even changing the style. Adding banner girls, flag girls, more majorettes and many new types of instruments greatly increased the size of the band.
In the 1960s, Harvey Turner and Harold Matheny really cranked up the music program in the Kannapolis school system. In elementary schools, bands began to appear as the music program expanded.
In the early grades, a black plastic flute was used to teach reading notes and determine who could qualify for more advanced study. This fed new members to the high school program and the band. Each new director wanted his band to be the largest.
By the 1970s, the Big Green Machine was going big time. The band had grown so large it took five to seven charter buses to travel to football games or any other events.
They traveled to the Orange Bowl, Amsterdam, and to many other places and events they were invited to. They sold a lot of fruit as fundraisers in order to travel.
Competition was always important to the directors, especially to Lewis Beam. His band had 339 members in it, which made it one of the largest in the state and perhaps in the south. He always entered the band in the competition at Bristol, Tenn.
My youngest son was drum captain in 1978. My wife and I went to Bristol to see the competition that year. While sitting in the stands I heard some of the spectators say, “Where is the end?” after about 250 members had entered the arena in single file.
It took almost 30 minutes for all of them to get seated. It was the largest band there and won a superior rating. They also won first place rating in the parade competition. I must say, they were quite impressive.
After the retirement of Mr. Beam in 1980, the band began to decrease in size, though it was still one of the largest for many years. Cost of transportation was a big factor in having a smaller band. In more recent years, the school schedule has made it even harder for students to participate. But many students have benefitted in their future careers because of their musical training.
At present the band is an all volunteer, afterschool band with no credit in the curriculum. The size is just more than 50 members. I hear some schools are charging $500 or more to be in the band because of budget cuts. It is no wonder the big bands are no longer possible.
The Big Green Machine is no longer big. It was widely known throughout the U.S. because of the performances and competition.
Perhaps it should now be called the Small Green Machine.