Gonzalez and Sealey win Bland Music Scholarship competition

By Debbie Adams

The Vinton Breakfast Lions Club hosted their fourth annual Bland Foundation Music Scholarship Competition at Thrasher Memorial United Methodist Church on March 8. Ten contestants participated in vocal or instrumental performances.

Pianist Andrea Gonzalez was named the first place winner in the instrumental competition, performing “The Storm, Opus 109.” She is a junior at William Byrd High School and takes piano lessons from Susan Lewis.

First place winner in vocals was Oliver Sealey, performing “Confutatis” from “Requiem.” He is a senior at Hidden Valley High School and takes voice lessons from Susan Lewis. His future plans include majoring in music in college.

Second place in the instrumental division went to Zach Baldwin, playing “Turkish March: Sonata No. 11, K331.” He is a sophomore at Lighthouse Christian and studies piano with Susan Lewis.

Second place in vocals went to Emily Mower, who performed “Naughty” from “Matilda.” She is a student of Susan Lewis and attends Roanoke Catholic where she is in fourth grade.

Third place winner in instrumentals was Selene Kelley, playing “Night of the Tarantella.” She is a student of Carla Fosbre, and a fifth grader at Buchanan Elementary.

Third place winner in vocals was B.J. Armes, performing “You’ll Be Back,” from the musical “Hamilton.” Armes is a senior at Salem High School and a student of Susan Lewis. He plans to major in music in college.

Other students in the Bland Music competition were:

Alto Latriva Pierce, a freshman at William Byrd High School, performing “Still Hurting” from “The Last Five Years.”

Alto McKinley FiGart, a seventh grader at William Byrd Middle School, who sang “Popular” from the musical “Wicked.”

Sofia Gonzalez, a sixth grader at William Byrd Middle School, who performed “Speechless” from “Aladdin.”

Chloe Hopkins, a sophomore at King’s Christian Academy, who performed “Big City Blues,” on the piano.

These four are all students of Susan Lewis.

The Bland Foundation Music Scholarship Competition was held on March 8 at Thrasher Memorial UMC in Vinton. Participants included front row left to right Emily Mower and Selene Kelley; middle row piano and voice teacher Susan Lewis, B.J. Armes, Oliver Sealey, music teacher Carla, Fosbre, Sofia Gonzalez, Chloe Hopkins, and McKinley FiGart; back row, judges Dr. Chris Monroe and Josh O’Dell, Zach Baldwin, judge Bob Schmucker, Andrea Gonzalez, and Latriva Pierce.

Winners on March 8 move up to the District Competition at Peters Creek Church of the Brethren on Cove Road on March 22 at 3 p.m. The winners there are invited to perform at the Lions of Virginia State Competition in Chesapeake, held from May 14-17. Last year there were 12 contestants in the final state competition.

Lions Club District 24-C Second Vice District Governor Eric Mills again served as emcee for the competition. He thanked Lions Chris McCarty and Gary Myers for their efforts in organizing the event.

He introduced judges Dr. Chris Monroe, Josh O’Dell, and Bob Schmucker. Monroe is the Minister of Music at Vinton Baptist Church. O’Dell serves as Minister of Music at Thrasher Memorial UMC. Schmucker is a local singer/songwriter who runs the popular 3rd Street Coffeehouse, which features regional and national touring folk and Americana performers every Friday night. He writes and performs his own brand of Chicago and Texas-inspired folk and Americana music.

Judges (left to right) Dr. Chris Monroe, Josh O’Dell, and Bob Schmucker

The Breakfast Lions thanked music teachers Susan Lewis and Carla Fosbre for their support of the competition each year by encouraging their students to enter.

Mills shared the history of the Bland Music Foundation Music Scholarship Competition and some facts about the Vinton Breakfast Lions.

The Bland competition was established by the Lions Clubs of Virginia in 1948 to “assist and promote cultural and educational opportunities for the musically talented youth of Virginia.” Any elementary, middle, or high school student is eligible to participate. Over $25,000 is awarded annually in prizes at the local, district, and state level. First place winners at the Vinton Breakfast Lions event were awarded $100; second place winners, $50; and third place winners, $25.

The “Bland Contest” is held in honor of songwriter James “Jimmy” Bland, composer of over 700 songs, including the former State Song, “Carry Me Back to Ole Virginny,” which he wrote at age 19. He was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 1970.

Bland was born in 1854 as a free black American. He taught himself to play the banjo and earned spending money by singing and playing on the streets of Washington, D.C. By age 14, he had become a professional musician and entertained in hotels and restaurants. He began composing at age 15. He eventually performed for President Grover Cleveland, General Robert E. Lee, and Queen Victoria.

Mills told the audience that there are approximately 48,000 Lions Clubs in over 200 countries, with over 1.4 million members around the world—one of the largest service organizations in the world.

The Vinton Breakfast Lions Club was chartered in 1985. Its members serve the community in many ways throughout the year. They sponsor many fundraising events including a Pancake Breakfast during the Vinton Fall Festival and their Spaghetti Dinner prior to the Vinton Christmas Parade.

The club is preparing for one of their biggest fundraisers of the year coming up on April 25—their Reverse Raffle. Raffle Chair Hal Mabe explained that participants purchase a ticket for $100 which gives them a chance to win $5000. There is an all-you-can-eat dinner with cash prizes awarded throughout the evening as well. Tickets for the Reverse Raffle are available from Lions Club members.

Proceeds from all Breakfast Lions’ fundraisers go back into the local community and communities across the Commonwealth, the nation, and the world. The club awards scholarships each spring to seniors at William Byrd High School.

The Breakfast Lions maintain the bright yellow eyeglass collection boxes at the Vinton and Bonsack Kroger stores, as well as other boxes at Vistar locations, in Dr. Neal Jessup’s office, at Vinton Baptist Church, and in several local businesses.

Donated eyeglasses are sorted by prescription by local Lions members at the Lions Eyeglass Recycling Center in Roanoke and then distributed around the world. Approximately 100,000 pairs of eyeglasses are processed annually at the Roanoke center–the largest processing center on the East Coast.

The Breakfast Lions raise money for the White Cane Project which provides support for eyeglasses and eye exams for needy children, the Old Dominion Eye Bank, and Leader Dogs for the Blind.

Breakfast Lions support Diabetes Awareness, the Hearing Foundation at UVA, JDRF, Service Dog School, and more.

Lions are well-known for their broom sales. Brooms are available locally at Grand Rental, Jerry’s Restaurant, Northwest Hardware, Cundiff Drugstore, and the Dogwood Restaurant.

The Lions of Virginia Foundation was founded by the Lions of Virginia in 1972 after Hurricane Camille. The organization raises funds for disaster relief in the state through their sale of $1 raffle tickets. Mills noted that the funds are made available quickly (within 48 hours) during crises such as flooding in Richlands in recent years. The foundation also provides grants for community projects such as the picnic shelter the Lions built at Herman L. Horn Elementary last year.

Lions International supports worldwide humanitarian efforts such as their “One Shot, One Life: Lions Measles Initiative,” and their campaign to eradicate River Blindness which destroys vision, through partnering with drug companies to distribute medications.

The Breakfast Lions are members of Lions District 24-C which covers 68 clubs in 25 counties and seven independent cities in Virginia, including Bedford, Bland, Botetourt, Bristol, Buchanan, Carroll, Craig, Dickenson, Floyd, Franklin, Giles, Grayson, Henry, Lee, Montgomery, Patrick, Pulaski, Roanoke, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington, Wise, Wythe, and the Independent Cities of Bristol, Galax, Martinsville, Norton, Radford, Roanoke City, and Salem.

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