Two AHS students to perform in national Sousa band; Athol performance scheduled

  • Alma White and Dylan Wornham, two Athol High School students, will be performing with the John Philip Sousa National High School Honors Band. The band will perform at 5 p.m. in Memorial Hall at Athol Town Hall on Tuesday, June 28. It will also make appearances in Gardner and Worcester. For the Athol Daily News/Greg Vine

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 6/16/2022 3:26:23 PM
Modified: 6/16/2022 3:24:08 PM

ATHOL — Just two weeks after their last day of school, two Athol High School students will be taking part in a performance by the John Philip Sousa National High School Honors Band. Alma White, who will be a junior next year, and Dylan Wornham, who just completed his freshman year, will be a part of the band, which will perform in Memorial Hall at Town Hall on Tuesday, June 28. The performance begins at 5 p.m.

Asked by the Athol Daily News what prompted her to audition for the band, Alma replied, “I found out through my band teacher, Mr. (Brian) Hicks, and he told me that John Sousa had played in Athol. So, that’s kind of what struck my interest, knowing that he was here. It’s going to be something that’s going to go down in history, so I thought that was really cool.”

She added that she enjoys playing marches (she is a member of the AHS marching band) despite coming of age in the era of Kendrick Lamar, The Weekend, Billie Eilish, Panic at the Disco, and other contemporary artists.

“I love John Philip Sousa,” said Alma matter-of-factly. “He’s a brilliant artist. We played his music in our concert band, and I really liked it. I like all the music, honestly. I really do.”

She said she picked up the trombone about five years ago.

“I liked how it’s the only (instrument) with a slide,” she added.

“I always just liked the idea of learning music itself,” Dylan said. “I’ve always loved listening to music whenever I could, whenever I wasn’t really doing anything — just kind of relaxing; I guess the idea I could not only play it myself and make it, but also learn things you wouldn’t normally hear. I find that really appealing about marching band music. It’s not something you’ll hear on the radio while driving to get groceries or something. It’s something you’ll only hear in a marching band.”

Dylan said he’s been playing the saxophone since he was in the fourth grade.

In addition to marching bands, the soon-to-be sophomore said, “I certainly enjoy jazz. We got a little bit of a taste of playing that recently, so I really enjoy it. But one day I’d definitely like to play as part of an orchestra. Symphony music just produces a really wonderful sound that blows my mind.”

“I also really like jazz,” interjected Alma. “I really, really do like jazz. I like being able to play with different rhythms that you don’t see in other types of music.”

While both students are obviously blessed with a talent for music, neither intends to pursue a career playing professionally.

Asked if the thought of performing with other talented young musicians from around the United States is a bit daunting, Alma said, “I think I definitely am a little bit intimidated, but I’m more excited because I’ll be able to learn so much from everybody there. I think it’s going to be a really good experience. I’m really excited to meet all of the talented people that I’m going to be playing with. It’s going to be an honor.”

Dylan had a bit different take.

“I don’t think I feel really intimidated by them,” he explained, “because if I meet people who are better than me, I’m going to feel competitive. But at least I’ll know I have more to learn and I can probably learn from them as well.

In addition to the Athol performance, Alma and Dylan will join the band for a performance on June 27 at 7 p.m. at Gardner’s Monument Park and another on June 29 at 7 p.m. at Mechanics Hall in Worcester.

Other area students who will be part of the John Philip Sousa National High School Honors Band include Brianna Nunez of Templeton, Tiana Graessle of Winchendon, Olivia Charette and Emily Shouse of Gardner, and Declan LeClair of Westminster.

Band administrator Dr. Thomas Reynolds said plans call for Sousa historical plaques to be presented to each community during the band’s performances in Athol and Gardner. A similar plaque was presented to Worcester during a performance by a New England regional band in 2019. He explained that Sousa and his band performed in Athol a half-dozen times between 1898 and 1928, adding that the band enjoyed staying at the Pequoig Hotel on Main Street.

In a recent interview with the Athol Daily News, Reynolds said the Sousa Foundation had commissioned someone to pen a book that included all the communities where performances were held.

“In looking at Massachusetts for the book,” he said, “we discovered that Athol had six performances, Gardner had three, Mechanics Hall in Worcester had 27 performances. We have a historical marker project — the Sousa Foundation — where we’re trying to be involved in presenting different historical plaques to different communities and we just felt this was a natural extension of the program we’re doing, by blending this with the National High School Honor Band program that we do.”

Asked about the mechanics of rehearsing with musicians from all over the country, Alma said, “We were given the music, so it’s our responsibility to learn the music before the performance date. We will come together as one whole group, but in the meantime it’s really up to us to learn our parts.”

“I think it’s like everybody practices the music full-time on our own,” added Dylan, “and then when we go there for the first time, we just play all together.”

Admission to all performances is free. Again, the Athol performance takes place at 5 p.m. at Memorial Hall in Town Hall on Tuesday, June 28.

Greg Vine can be reached at

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