By Debbie Adams
The Mount Pleasant Lions Club hosted their James Bland Music Scholarship Competition on March 6 at their club building on Mayfield Drive—the “Lions Den.” Lion Anne Ferguson commented that this was their first competition in about 15 years, but they plan to return to sponsoring an annual event.
Four students participated in the competition:
- Jennah Rasoul, age 11, a sixth grader at Community School, performed “Für Elise” by Ludwig van Beethoven
- Alyssa Walker, age 12, a sixth grader at Read Mountain Middle School, performed “Sonne” by Rammstein
- Elizabeth Martinez, age 13, an eighth grader at William Byrd Middle School, performed “For Good” by Stephen Schwartz
- Alexander Whitt, age 16, a sophomore at Community School, performed “La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin” (“The Girl with Flaxen Hair”) by Claude Debussy
Rasoul and Whitt are students of Kimberly Mucha. Martinez and Walker are taught by Carol McCulloch. This was the first time any of the students had taken part in a music competition.
Lion Mike Ferguson explained the origin of the Bland Scholarship program. The 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 and Queen Victoria.
Judges for the Mount Pleasant Lions competition on March 6 were Judy Clark and Dr. Gordon Marsh. Clark is the founding Executive Director of Opera Roanoke, and also served as company rehearsal/performance pianist, working with conductors Victoria Bond, Steven Crawford, Scott Williamson, and Steven White. She has toured Japan twice with violinists Kevin and Bryan Matheson, including appearances at Tokyo’s Yamaha Hall. In addition to her work as a teacher and freelance coach/accompanist, she serves as organist at South Roanoke United Methodist Church.
Dr. Marsh is a professor of music at Roanoke College, where he also serves as chairperson of the Department of Fine Arts. He has performed as a recitalist, chamber pianist, concerto soloist, and conductor. His scholarly work and created sound installations have been featured at regional, national, and international venues. His work has been published in scholarly journals and books devoted to contemporary music. His concert reviews are regularly featured in the Roanoke Times.
Once the students had performed and the judges completed their evaluations, Jennah Rasoul was awarded first place in the competition and will advance to the district level. Whitt won second place. All received monetary gifts and certificates.
The goal of the Lions of Virginia Bland Music Scholarship Foundation is to promote cultural and educational opportunities for musically talented young people in Virginia, primarily at the secondary level.
This goal is achieved through progressive music competitions beginning in February/March at the local Lions Club level and culminating in a state competition in which 12 finalists (two per district) from the three Lions districts in Virginia compete at the state competition in May. Music scholarships are presented to the top finalists at the state level. The scholarships may be used for college tuition, music lessons, summer music programs, or other music education endeavors.
Lions Club International was founded in 1917 in Chicago as a service club (in fact, the Lions Club motto is “We Serve”), at first focused on eyesight and the blind at the urging of Helen Keller. They have grown to become the largest service organization in the world.
The Mount Pleasant Lions Club was founded in 1961, at the urging of Mount Pleasant Elementary Principal Annie B. Stiff, who saw the need for a community-based service club. At first the club was limited to men, but now welcomes women as members. The Mount Pleasant Club celebrated their 60th anniversary last year.
Mount Pleasant Lions have their focus on the community. They continued their 40-year tradition this year of shopping for students at Mount Pleasant and Garden City Elementary Schools for school supplies and clothing prior to school opening and at the holiday season. They also began assisting Rivermont School when it moved into the area—they actually donated a piano to the school.
They are one of the few Lions Clubs fortunate enough to have their own building for meetings, but also make the space available to the surrounding community for parties, showers, reunions, etc.
They contribute to the schools’ clothes closets by providing new underwear and socks and sponsors a weekend food backpack project to make sure children don’t go hungry when they are out of school. They stop by the school to read to students on “Read Across America Day.” They conduct vision screenings for students in several local schools. They also show their support for the schools with Teacher Appreciation Day.
The Mount Pleasant Lions maintain historic Kefauver Cemetery; they do regular roadside clean-ups in the community, and support eye-glass recycling.
The Mount Pleasant Lions Club and Lions Clubs across the state raise funds for many service projects through the sale of LOVF (Lions of Virginia Foundation) raffle tickets with a grand prize of $10,000. The LOVF provides grants to help communities in need with humanitarian services, disaster and emergency relief, youth assistance, hunger, vision, environment, and other community projects.
The Mount Pleasant Lions are the community-minded neighbors everyone wishes they could have.