We honor those who served in membership to help make VMEA and our profession a stronger place. We mourn their loss, support those who mourn with us, and reflect in gratitude for the gifts they shared with us to make music education in the Commonwealth a better place.
February 22, 1938-March 5, 2023
W. Bryan Wills died on Sunday March 5, 2023. He was born in Nuremberg, Germany. He began studying clarinet at the age of nine in the Maryland public school system. He is a graduate of Pikeville College, KY with a degree in Music Education. Mr. Wills has also studied at the graduate level at Butler University in Indianapolis where he studied with Achille Rossi, clarinetist, of the Indianapolis Symphony. Mr. Wills entered the U.S. Army Band program and performed as solo clarinetist with the 74th Army Band in Indianapolis, the 76th Army Band in Kaiserslautern Germany, and the 1st Cavalry Division Band at Ft. Hood TX. He then completed the Officer Bandmaster courses at the Armed Forces School of Music, Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base, Norfolk, VA and Aberdeen Proving Grounds, MD and was commissioned as a Warrant Officer. Bryan’s first command was the 101st Airborne Division Band, Ft. Campbell, KY. He subsequently led the 3rd Armored Division Band, Frankfort Germany; and the 493rd V Corps Band in Wiesbaden, Germany. Mr. Wills’s final assignment before retiring from the Army with 22 years of service was as the Director, Directorate of Training and Doctrine at the Armed Forces School of Music. During his military career Bryan was awarded the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal (3 awards), Army Commendation Medal (3 awards), and the Army Achievement Medal.
Immediately upon retirement, Bryan assumed the position as Director of Bands for the Currituck HS in North Carolina. In 1999 Bryan accepted the position of Director of Bands at F.W. Cox High School where he was honored as a Distinguished Educator twice and earned 2 Honor Band designations . Following his time at Cox he spent three years at Kempsville High School where he again was awarded an honor band designation. He accepted the band director position at First Colonial HS in 2010. Bryan retired in 2016 after 23+ years of service in public school music. His final gift to music education was in supervision of music student teachers through James Madison University. During his teaching career he taught Music Theory, AP Music Theory, Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced High School band, elementary string orchestra, and even had a pre-K music class. Bryan conducted and performed clarinet and saxophone professionally with numerous concert and jazz bands in the United States and in Europe and most recently performed with the Virginia Wind Symphony.
Bryan and his wife Ginger made their home in Virginia Beach until his retirement, at which time they "hit the road" with their beloved cat MiMi and their RV. After that they split their time between Virginia Beach and Florida.
Bryan Wills was the consummate music educator. He was kind, patient, and passionate about his work and his students. He led by example and those of us who were fortunate enough to have spent time with him were richer for it. There will be a Memorial Service in Virginia Beach at a later date.
-Marguerite Alley and John H. Brewington
February 22, 1938-February 25, 2023
On Saturday, February 25, 2023 VMEA and indeed our entire music education community lost a great musician, advocate, conductor, teacher and friend. John spent twenty-six years in music education; 10 years public school; 16 years on the university level as professor of music and director of bands at Virginia Commonwealth University. John served with distinction as a past president of the Virginia Music Educators Association. and as President/Director, Mid-Atlantic Camps. John was the Chief Executive Officer of Spectrum of Richmond, which he operated for more than 40 years, and included the Mid-Atlantic Band Camps, Fiesta-Val, and Musicale Music Festivals. Thousands upon thousands of students attended these great festivals Upon his retirement from Festa-val, the staff commissioned Virginia composer James Hosey to write a piece dedicated to John, titled Fiesta-Val. Fiesta-Val premiered at the 2004 Virginia Music Educators Conference with John conducting the performance.
John Savage established the very first VMEA conference more that 40 years ago. The first conference as held at The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia. Featured ensembles performed in the open lobby of the hotel. The Virginia Commonwealth University Wind Ensemble under the direction of John Savage was a featured performing group, and Colonel Arnald Gabriel served as a guest conductor at this inaugural conference. During John's time as a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, John taught conducting, advanced methods, and conducted the Wind Ensemble. His leadership, friendship and mentorship helped to shape a gereration of music educators and professional performing musicians.
John was the eighth and last surviving of nine children born to the last Dora Mae and Hervert M. savage. He is survived by his loving wife of 62 years, Sarah Savage; son, John D. Savage, Jr., daughter Grayson Savage as well as six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. His former students, friends, colleagues and all of VMEA morn the loss of this great gentleman and VMEA pioneer.
Mary Beth Hall
January 28, 1969-February 19, 2023
Merry Beth (Hyland) Hall of Richmond, Virginia died February 19, 2023, passing unexpectedly but peacefully, having lived a full and vibrant life as a musician, world traveler, and association management professional. She was a generous and fun-loving wife, daughter, sister, aunt and a devoted "Mom" to four rescue pups and two cats.
Born at Fairfax Hospital to Thomas and Donna Hyland, Merry Beth grew up in Vienna, Virginia, and attended Oakton High School, playing numerous sports and musical instruments. She carried her love of music throughout her entire life, including her college years at James Madison University, where she earned a Bachelor's degree in Music Education in 1990. She was a member of the Marching Royal Dukes at JMU where she met her husband Allen and mutual life-long friends.
Merry Beth played French horn with the Richmond Philharmonic for more than twenty years and in numerous ensemble groups including the Beltway Brass, performing Christmas Eve shows at the Kennedy Center. She was also a founding member of the Commonwealth Winds, a wind ensemble known for entertaining and educational performances in the greater Richmond area. She instructed several color guard groups across Central Virginia including Tucker and Glen Allen high schools, whose bands were under the direction of her eternally grateful husband. Merry Beth and Allen also led numerous youth band groups on international performing tours.
In addition to music education and performance, Merry Beth had a successful 25+ year career in association management. In 2002, she earned a Master's degree in nonprofit management from Virginia Commonwealth University. She quickly rose to top leadership positions in traditionally male-dominated building and skilled trades industry associations and acted as an advocate for apprenticeship and journeyman training and education. She most recently served as the Chief Operating Officer for the Concrete Masonry & Hardscapes Association where she was part of the strategic leadership team that merged two national associations under one new brand.
Merry Beth was fiercely independent and not content with a life defined solely by her professional accomplishments. She actively sought out new and different ways to have fun and forge friendships. From fly-ball to triathlons to Jimmy Buffet concerts, Merry Beth was game to try most anything and approached it all with a great sense of humor. She was also a fantastic cook, making even gluten-free and vegetarian options tempting.
Merry Beth is survived by her loving husband Allen Hall, mother Donna Hyland, brothers Stephen (Julie Neuber) and Timothy Hyland (Jan Hyland), niece Brett Hyland, sister-in-law Julie Hall and niece Katherine Hall. She was also a loving godmother to Jack and Finn Birdsong.
November 5, 1964-January 27, 2023
William Leon “BB” Prentiss Jr., who molded thousands of student musicians as the director of high school marching bands in Richmond, Chesterfield County, Norfolk and four other localities, has died. Mr. Prentiss, most recently band and orchestra director at Meadowbrook High School in Chesterfield, succumbed to illness Friday, Jan. 27, 2023. He was 58.
Six days before his death, his family said he took his final turn at the bandstand as the guest conductor of the Henrico All-County Band and offered this advice to the audience in his closing remarks: “We just have to be kinder and gentler these days, less stressful.
“So, from me to you, don’t let the things that don’t matter too much, matter too much,” he concluded.
Family and friends celebrated Mr. Prentiss’ life Saturday, Feb. 11, at Second Baptist Church – Southside.
Those who knew him described him as humble, kindly man with a great sense of humor and a deep and abiding passion for enabling students to become proficient in performance and field maneuvers.
A Richmond native, Mr. Prentiss began his musical career while in fifth grade when he was introduced to the flute. He would later learn to play the piano, saxophone and tuba, but the flute remained his first love. By middle school, he was performing with The Brass Connection, a band that his best friend, Anthony Anderson, organized. In high school, he played with the band and also was the drum major in the Jefferson-Huguenot-Wythe High School’s marching band. He began his 27-year career in music education after graduating from Norfolk State University, where he performed with the Marching Spartan Legion and other musical groups on the cam- pus. He later added a master’s degree in music education from NSU and took additional courses at Shenandoah University and Longwood University.
Before joining Meadowbrook’s faculty, he was band director for Huguenot High School in Richmond and other schools, including Potomac Middle School in Prince William County, Smithfield High School in Isle of Wight County, Booker T. Washington High School in Norfolk, I.C. Norcom High School in Portsmouth and Cardoza High School in Washington, D.C.
Under his baton, Huguenot’s band was the first and only city public school band to be named a Virginia Honor Band. Cumu- latively, the marching, concert and jazz bands he led received more than 23 superior assessment ratings in competitions at the district and state levels.
Mr. Prentiss also aided his students to secure auditions that led to their receiving scholarships to various colleges and universities. He did double duty at Virginia Union University, where he served as assistant band director and also taught students as an adjunct music professor.
He was a member of national and state as- sociations for musical educators, served on the Reynolds Community College Music Advisory Board, and participated in the Commonwealth Winds Community Band.
He also was a member two honorary band fraternities, Kappa Kappa Psi and Phi Beta Mu. Outside of education, he created two professional performance groups that he played with at various times, Opium Jazz, when he lived in Hampton Roads, and Quintessential Jazz in Richmond.
Mr. Prentiss also was an active member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, served as basileus or president of Norfolk State’s Pi Gamma Chapter as well as Gamma Xi Chapter in Virginia Beach and Pi Phi Chapter in Richmond.
Mr. Prentiss also was a past president of the Richmond Alumni Chapter of Norfolk State.
Survivors include his wife of 31 years, Diana “Dee Dee” Witcher Prentiss, whom he met at Norfolk State; daughters, Dara S. Prentiss, Jana N. Prentiss and Maya V. Prentiss; his mother, Rosa Prentiss; his sisters, Dr. Janice P. Bennett and Rosalind Hill- Bey; and his brother, Norman E. Washington Sr.