By Dedra Cordle
Jim Swearingen and George Edge are legends within the music community. Swearingen has been credited with shaping the modern high school band and Edge is thought to be one of the top high school band directors in the state, if not the nation.
In addition to their musical proficiency, these two have something else in common – the Grove City High School band.
In 1973, Swearingen became the director of bands and guided his pupils to state prominence. Upon his departure in 1987 to join the faculty at Capital University, Edge took the reins. From that year to the present, he furthered the band’s legacy. Combined, they amassed over 100 Grand Championships and turned the Grove City band into a nationally recognizable name.
Throughout their respective careers, they have been honored by prestigious organizations for their contributions to the musical community. Now, they will add more.
In January, the Ohio Music Education Association announced that Edge has been named the 2014 Music Educator of the Year and Swearingen was named the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award, which is the association’s highest honor. They will accept their awards at the Professional Development Conference on Feb. 7.
Edge said he was surprised to learn he was named the Music Educator of the Year.
“It is exciting to be recognized by your peers across the state and it is especially thrilling to get an award for music because that is my vocation,” he said.
Swearingen said he was honored by the Distinguished Service Award.
“Whenever you receive an award, you think ‘Do I really deserve this?’ but I am glad that people think I have done a good job throughout my career,” said the current Professor of Music and Department Chair of Music Education at Capital University.
Jim Dowdy, the immediate past-president of the OMEA and its Da Capo chair, said the awards were well deserved for both individuals as Swearingen has met and exceeded the three areas of criteria – teaching impact, service and professional outreach – required for the Distinguished Service Award and he has seen firsthand how well Edge teaches through sitting in on sight-readings during band competitions.
“He is a master in that room,” said Dowdy.
During sight-readings, band members are given four minutes to study a piece of written music they have not prepared for so the judges can determine how strong their body of knowledge is. Dowdy said the Grove City band never disappoints.
It is very likely that the band – or any high school band throughout the world – has played one of Swearingen’s compositions at some point in their lives.
Swearingen knew he wanted to become a music teacher when he was in middle school, but he never gave much thought to writing his own music until he went to Bowling Green State University to study music education. There, he met Lou Marini, a staff arranger for the BGSU Marching Band, and was inspired to learn.
“I wanted to find out as much as I could about making music and I just bombarded him with questions,” he said. “He was very generous with his time and helped give me a better understanding of what music writing was all about.”
His second career as a composer began when his inexperienced students at Big Walnut found it difficult to play the music he had purchased.
“I saw all these sad faces because they had trouble playing the music.”
Thinking back to the lessons he learned from Marini, he started writing his own music for his students.
“They sounded much better (playing from the music he made specifically for them) and I noticed a lot of smiles that day,” he said. “It made me happy that it made them happy and I knew I wanted to keep doing it.”
In the four decades since he began writing for his students, Swearingen has over 500 published works and 86 commissioned pieces that have been chosen for contest and festival lists.
“His handprint is on educational literature throughout the world,” said Dowdy.
Swearingen said he appreciates all of the awards that he has been honored with, but the thing he is most appreciative of is all of the kids he has worked with over the years.
Edge expressed a similar sentiment when speaking of career achievements that include his bands being invited to perform at the highly selective Mid-West International Band and Orchestra Clinic, Rose Bowl parades and national tournaments.
“The best thing has been working with wonderful students and getting to be a part of their lives,” Edge said. “I’ve been teaching students for over 35 years and to see them achieve is one of the greatest things in life.”