In HCHS Band’s halftime show
‘Underdark’ encourages coal miners through music, dance and drama
Special to the Enterprise
Because of the continued economic downturn in our region’s main source of employment, the Harlan County High School band members and directors hope their halftime show presentation will offer encouragement to everyone associated with the coal industry.
For the first time, the band will present a complete rendition of “Underdark,” a 10-minute performance utilizing music, dance, drama and art to tell the story of a miner, his job, and the worry created for all miners when economic conditions force layoffs.
“Without coal mining, there is no community,” said Bryce Miller, one of the band’s directors. “And without community, there would be no band and certainly not the band we are now.”
In anticipation of presenting “Underdark” at the opening of the new football field, Coal Miner’s Memorial Stadium, Miller explained he has been developing the concept for two years. However, tonight “Underdark” will premier at halftime of the Harlan County vs. Whitley County football game at Big Man Davis Stadium on Ball Park Road. Kickoff time is 7:30 p.m.
“We hope ‘Underdark’ will breathe some hope into those associated with the coal industry which is really struggling right now,” said Miller. “We certainly hope everything works out for all our miners as it does for the miner in our show. At this point, from our marching band, we hope that even just a little bit of hope may be given to a miner and his or her family in attendance Friday night that things will be alright,” said Miller.
“‘Underdark’ aspires to encourage those associated with the struggling coal industry,” said Miller. “We hope everything works out for all our miners and their families as it does for the miner in our show.”
Miller said he believes now, more than ever, it is vital that the community support for the mining industry because everything here depends on it.
“We want to do our part to express our appreciation to the individual coal miners and to the coal companies for supporting us throughout the years,” he said. It is expensive to operate a band and the community has been very generous in various fundraisers and making donations to the program.
“There are 41 members in the band this year, and each of their lives are impacted in some way by the coal industry,” he said.
Miller said he “fell in love” with the term “Underdark” after reading it in a book. He recalled asking how that term could be used in such a band production. “We are in Harlan County and what is the one thing that truly is ‘Underdark’ all the time — our coal mines,” said Miller.
Now the term has a double meaning to him and the band as our region’s coal industry has been forced “into a dark place”.
Miller said the colors of gray and black in the guard’s and the field commander’s uniforms represent coal. Flags and other props bear the reflective safety tape so prevalent in the industry. He welcomes miners to wear their work clothes to the game as “we celebrate coal.”
Various props represent the mining industry. He said they will start off with a skeleton of a mine entrance made of PVC pipe and later that same pipe will change to home. Coal themed props painted by school principal Bob Howard are placed prominently, helping portray the show’s theme. Backdrops show a miner heading to work and then heading home.
Miller’s wife, Carla, a teacher at Rosspoint Elementary School, wrote the guard program and has been instrumental in different aspects of the program. She also serves as the Winter Guard/Color Guard director.
“We frequently tap into her talent,” said B. Miller. “She handles the visual package for many things, and she’s been paramount in making this show a reality.”
Miller complimented by the teamwork put forth by the band’s leadership to make this tribute to coal to fruition. In addition to the Millers, the band is led by Mike Shepherd, James Adams and Shelley Shepherd.
The program begins with various mining related news items which were broadcast on WYMT. A miner and his wife talk of their fears of a layoff. The wife then turns off the newscast, supporting her husband. The miner, portrayed by band member Tony Thomas, then leaves for the mines as the band plays “Nightwatch.”
The second song in the performance is “Back at Home.” The miner’s wife and her friends are consoling each other as they talk about their worries and fears on pending unemployment. Miller noted this anxiety is a large part of family live in the Appalachian coalfields.
The third song, a percussion feature, was written by Miller. It signals the good news that there are no layoffs at present. A celebration demonstrated through dance then follows.
The final portion of the show follows a clip of encouragement from the newscaster, noting that when the industry is down the coal miner not only gets himself back up, but helps up those around him. The closing narration states “the miner might be down, but it won’t be for long.”
The band performs “Amazing Grace” to represent the family’s answered prayers as the miner comes home from work, followed by “Sixteen Tons” as the “band rocks out with some fun staging and choreography,” said Miller. As the different voices of the band split up, the performance ends with the formation of a cross and additional playing of “Amazing Grace.”
Miller said the show is “intense,” noting that when stages have to be set and reset, extra demand is placed on band members. Narrators are Emilee Arney, Anna Jo Creech, Hanna Clem and Miller.