Kathryn G. Siphers
Kathryn G. Siphers was a native of Kentucky, and earned her B.A. degree at Eastern Kentucky University in 1948. She would later earn her M.A. in 1956 at George Peabody College. She began her teaching career as a primary school teacher in Harlan County, Kentucky. However, her passion for band music led her to leave after one year and take a band director’s position in Butler County, Alabama. Her job was to start two band programs at Georgiana and McKenzie High Schools. When she arrived there were no instruments, no music and no students. In Kathryn’s words, “The situation over-whelmed me, a young inexperienced music teacher just out of college! But with the understanding and determination of wonderful principals, interested parents, and enthusiastic students, I soon had the bands organized.” After the first year, another band director took over the Georgiana band, and Siphers was able to work full time at McKenzie High School. In the band’s second and third year, McKenzie earned superior ratings at the Georgia State Band Contest.
After the third year at McKenzie, Siphers wanted to move closer to her family in Morristown, Tennessee. She applied for the band job in the small town of Drexel, North Carolina. As she began teaching at Drexel High School in 1951, Siphers found the challenges somewhat different. An organized band was there, but many of the students were playing on inferior instruments, and many were resistant to the challenging work that Siphers demanded of them. In 1954 the Drexel High School Band competed at the state band contest and won a superior rating. It was the beginning of many superior ratings both in concert and marching that the small North Carolina band would earn over the 23 years of leadership that Kathryn Siphers provided. In 1973 she was awarded Burke County Teacher of the Year. The musical landscape changed in the small Burke County community as many of Siphers’ students took their excellent training into church choirs as both singers and leaders, many of those students became music teachers in the school system and several went on the have professional careers in music.
In the fall of 1974, Drexel High School was one of four schools to be consolidated into East Burke High School. Kathryn Siphers was the first director, and the excellent teaching and superior ratings continued for the much larger band. She was the first recipient of the “Scroll of Excellence” award given by the Women Band Directors National Association. In 1983 the North Carolina Bandmasters Association selected her as Band Director of the Year. Kathryn retired from teaching at East Burke when the school year ended in 1986, thus ending a 38 year career of teaching excellence.
Appalachian Legacy by Robert Sheldon
This piece was commissioned by the North Carolina Northwest District Bandmasters in remembrance of Kathryn G. Siphers, long-time band director of Drexel and East Burke High Schools.