Today, the Corry Area School District will host its 22nd annual Winds of Autumn marching band competition at Howard J. Sheen Field.

The event, which is sponsored by the Corry Music Boosters, will allow high school students from 10 area schools to showcase their talents in front of family members, friends and maybe more importantly, up-and-coming musicians.

Elementary band students in the district are invited to attend today’s event — which begins at 5:45 p.m. — at no cost, and are being encouraged to help cheer on the Corry high school students when they take the field at 8:15 p.m.

“One nice thing about Winds of Autumn is that some of the best bands from this part of Pennsylvania come right here to Corry,” said Brian Gresh, high school marching band director. “They can learn from these situations and it’s also motivating.”

What motivates Gresh and elementary band Director Gary Johnston is the participation they are seeing in the grade-school band program.

After a recent round of band student-parent “interviews,” 89 new elementary band members have signed up for the program.

Adding that number to last year’s total, which was also 89, now puts instruments in the hands of 178 fourth- through sixth-grade students from Corry, Conelway, Columbus and Spartansburg elementaries.

“I think those numbers are excellent,” Johnston said. “I’m really quite pleased with our participation.”

Gresh and Johnston, who agree about 40 percent of the district’s elementary students play an instrument, hope those numbers carry through the students’ middle and high school years.

“Between elementary and middle school is where it tends to drop off,” Gresh said.

However, a group of fifth- and sixth-grade Conelway band students who were practicing with Johnston Friday morning said they plan to stick with their talents.

“I have a lot of fun with it,” said sixth-grader Sage Skitka, who plays the drums. “We get to show off what we can do.”

Skitka hopes to one day have a career playing the drums, possibly in a band.

But before Skitka and her peers begin booking their own venues, the students will be part of a districtwide concert that will take place this spring at the middle-high school.

The young musicians meet once a week to practice with either Gresh, Johnston or Brian McCowin, who is also a music director for the district, in preparation for the end-of-the-year event.

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