WCU band director Bob Buckner receives Order of Long Leaf Pine

Bob Buckner, who will be turning in his director’s baton this summer after leading Western Carolina University’s marching band program for 20 years, received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine award in recognition of his contributions to the state of North Carolina.

N.C. Rep. Phil Haire presented Buckner with the honor on behalf of Gov. Beverly Perdue during a retirement party in Clyde.

“When you think about Bob Buckner, it reminds me of ‘The Sound of Music.’ You know, the hills are alive with the sound of music,” Haire said in announcing the award. “Except in Bob’s case, the mountains are alive with the sound of music. Bob has certainly done that for Western North Carolina.”

About 120 people were on hand for the event, including members of the first marching band Buckner directed at Sylva-Webster High School (now Smoky Mountain High School) and students from his last band at WCU.

Buckner, who has overseen Western Carolina’s marching band program as it grew from fewer than 90 students in 1991 to more than 400 last year, will be stepping down July 1 as director of athletic bands, but he will remain involved with the program even in retirement, writing the field formations for the band’s fall 2011 performances.

“One of the things I have tried to do throughout my career is to look at life through young eyes. The thing I will miss most is that part of the job,” Buckner said.

“If everyone in the world were in a band, this world would be a better place,” he said. “When you are in a band, you realize that sometimes it’s your time to shine, and sometimes it’s time to let others around you shine.”

Known as the Pride of the Mountains Marching Band, Buckner’s band participated in the 2011 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif., winning a Los Angeles television station’s fan poll as best in the parade.

In 2009, the band received the Sudler Trophy, presented by the John Phillip Sousa Foundation to “collegiate marching bands of particular excellence that have made outstanding contributions to the American way of life.” The nation’s highest and most-coveted award for college and university marching bands, the Sudler Trophy has been called the “Heisman Trophy” of the collegiate marching band world.

During Buckner’s tenure, WCU marching bands have performed five times at Bands of America regional championships at the Georgia Dome and three times at BOA Grand Nationals in Indianapolis. The band also has performed at halftime at an Atlanta Falcons game and its drumline took the stage with country music’s Keith Urban for a 2007 concert in Greenville, S.C.

A member of the Bands of America hall of fame, Buckner was recognized by MENC: The National Association for Music Education in 2005 as a Lowell Mason Fellow. Drum Corps International and MENC in 2009 presented him with the Excellence in Marching Music Education Award.

Created in 1965, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine is among the highest honors the governor can present to North Carolinians. It is designed to recognize individuals who have a proven record of extraordinary service to the state as exhibited by contributions to their communities, extra effort in their careers, and many years of service to their organizations.

 A 1967 graduate of Western Carolina, Buckner lives in Waynesville and is a graduate of Waynesville Township High School. His assistant band directors, Matt Henley and Jon Henson, also are products of that band program, having graduated from Tuscola High School.