Bland Competition Offers Local Talent Chance To Shine

By Victoria Kidd

We often talk about the talent of professional musicians and entertainers who perform at venues in the area, but we should also recognize that Clarke County has its own share of talent. Our community fosters that talent in a number of ways. One such way is the upcoming James A. Bland Competition at the Barns of Rose Hill. The competition is a music scholarship event and performance opportunity for area youth. This year’s event is scheduled for February 11th at 6pm.

The effort is part of a larger Lions Club International program that benefits and assists youth by providing performance opportunities and scholarships to gifted vocal and instrumental music students. Lions Clubs International is one of the largest service organizations in the world. These clubs (with their 1.3 million members worldwide) serve communities in need by providing vision and health screenings, building parks, supporting eye hospitals, awarding scholarships, assisting youth, and providing help during natural disasters. This scholarship program is but one of many worthwhile endeavors the organization champions.

It’s a program with a rich and interesting history of its own. It’s named for James Bland, an admired African-American minstrel whose work was popular in the late 1800s. Bland was a prolific writer and is credited with creating more than 700 pieces. (One of Bland’s compositions once served as the state song of Virginia and is currently the “state song emeritus.”) Bland was a self-taught musician who attended Howard University. He became a regularly requested performer by the time he had reached his mid-teens. By most accounts, he was a “natural” musician with a consuming passion for music starting at a very early age. It is fitting that a competitive event showcasing the talent of young performers bears his name.

The scholarship program was established in 1948. Competitors must perform pieces that they have committed to memory and that are no longer than 8 minutes. The upcoming event at the Barns of Rose Hill is what the Lions call the “club-level” competition. The first place vocalist and the first place instrumentalist will be invited to compete in the “zone-level” competition where winners of that competitive level will move on to the “district level.” There are six district level competitions within the state, and these events will designate six competitors who will battle it out at the state-level competition.

Performers who make it to the state-level event will be competing for prizes ranging from $1,000 to $2,500, but participation is about more than simply the pursuit of scholarship funds. Local Lion Sharon Hart explains that the simple act of participating, even if it is only at the club level, is beneficial for these young musicians. “It’s a long progression from the club level up,” she says. “These entertainers have a chance to polish their presence while performing in front of their parents, peers, and community.”

As they progress through the competition, they are gaining experience performing, and that can only benefit those wishing to continue on to a career in music. Those talented enough to be asked to compete at the state level will find themselves in good company. “At the state level,” Hart says, “the performers are simply phenomenal. The talent these young people have is really impressive. Those who compete at the state level almost always go on to careers in music.”

According to the official website of the James A. Bland Music Scholarship Program, finalists who have competed in the competition are enrolled in prestigious schools such as the Peabody Conservatory of Music of the Johns Hopkins University, Cornell University, Carnegie Mellon’s Musical Theater Program, The Julliard School, Yale University, and others. Seeing the success of these talented young musicians has left Hart and her husband Greg (also a Lion) feeling very proud and privileged to be able to support the endeavor.

The Harts have been involved with the scholarship program for years, and they have seen their share of talent over that period. They are joined by between thirty and thirty-five other Lions Club members who will volunteer or participate to some degree in the upcoming program. Hart says that the club feels fortunate to have the opportunity to partner with the Barns of Rose Hill to showcase the talent of the county’s youth within a setting that is truly beautiful.

“The Barns is the perfect venue for this event,” she says, “and they have been the perfect partners. It’s a beautiful space, it’s a community space, and we truly think that it is fitting for what we are doing. The community as a whole is saying we are invested in the talent and the future of these young people—these musicians who are living right here among us locally. It’s really great to be a part of this, and we think those who want to see something really special happen should plan on attending. We think it is also special that this program and the support of the Barns gives these young people a chance to perform at a place where so many talented performers have also entertained audiences. It’s a great place to start for them.”

The opportunity to start one’s performance history at the Barns is open to Clarke County students and home schooled students alike. Registration information is available at Hart also invites individuals with questions to call 540-955-6229.

If you know a school-aged vocalist or musician whose talent needs to be shared with the community, invite them to visit the club’s page or call Hart for more information about what she calls a “uniquely Virginia scholarship program.” In doing so, you may have just provided them with the first step towards a lifelong career sharing their music—and representing the talent of Clarke County—with the world.