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Band of Brothers: Graduating Twins Keep Cameron High School’s Band on the March

Cameron High School Band Director Christian Oliver, center, poses with twins Joshua and Jacob Meneely, from left. The band director and the two dedicated students have been credited with helping to not only keep the band program afloat but to turn it around. (Photo Provided)

CAMERON — It is hard not to notice the Meneely twins. They tower over a lot of their classmates and teachers at a height of 6’4 and 6’5, respectively.

Being very tall and identical twins, they make for an unmistakable duo walking around the halls of Cameron High School. Soon, however, they will embark on their college journey after graduation, leaving the school’s halls behind them. In their departure, they are leaving the school and community a gift that will live on long after they are gone. During their time at Cameron High School, Joshua and Jacob Meneely saved the school’s band program.

When Joshua and Jacob joined band in 2017 in fifth grade, there were around 10 other new members in their class. But as time progressed and the band saw a frequent change of band directors, the numbers began to dwindle rapidly.

The twins saw a total of three band directors between fifth grade and their sophomore year, which makes it hard for kids to stay interested and committed. But the Meneely boys never thought about quitting even as friends left, and eventually they were the only two members left in the band.

“I didn’t want to quit,” said Jacob, who plays baritone saxophone. “I really enjoy playing.”

With his twin Joshua on trumpet, suddenly the Cameron High School Band was just a band of two twins.

What does a high school band even do when there are only two members?

For one, they still played the National Anthem at home football games.

“The Legion wanted us there to play The Star-Spangled Banner,” Joshua explained, so the two of them would march on the field with the Legion members and flags. Other aspects of the football game were not as enjoyable for them, however, as a two-piece.

“We sat in the bleachers far away from the crowd, and I remember we would start playing the fight song after a touchdown, and they would start playing a recording of the same song over top of us,” Joshua remembered. “Mainly because they probably couldn’t hear us!”

It takes special dedication to stick with something when everyone else has thrown in the towel.

One aspect that makes the boys so special is simply just being brothers. They had each other to go home and practice with and to hold accountable, becoming better musicians all along. Jacob was playing tenor sax when he was younger with the goal of someday wanting to play baritone sax. Joshua mentioned how they were fans of Ohio State’s marching band, and they often watched videos of the funk band Lucky Chops, trying to learn the songs.

“We were just trying to hold everything together, pretty much. Because if we would have quit, they probably would have done away with the band.”

Other classmates were not even sure what the band room was used for in the school – or from year to year, if there even was a band.

There were rumors of taking the band room and turning it into two different rooms to be used for other classes. When it was just the twins in class, they often spent the band period working on music individually with the band director.

High school bands losing members is not something unique to Cameron, and when the pandemic hit in 2020, it wiped out numbers of band students across the nation. And still, the twins did not give up.

“We were kind of just waiting for something to happen with the band,” Jacob said.

Finally, something did happen in 2022 with the arrival of Band Director Christian Oliver. Josh and Jacob signed up for band not knowing if there would even be a program their junior year because their third band director was leaving. It takes two special students to stay in band when everyone else has quit, and it also takes a special teacher to agree to a job with only two students.

Oliver remembers being told during his interview for the position that the school was thinking of closing the band program for good because there were only two members. Rather than passing on a program others might see as being hopeless, Oliver saw a challenge he wanted to take on.

“The best advice I was ever told was to not take over a successful program,” Oliver said, recalling what his mentor, West Liberty Music Instructor, Pat Garrett told him.

Oliver knew it would be an uphill battle to grow the program, which lead him to reach for some unorthodox methods for help, such as opening the band up to fourth graders for the first time in the school’s history, as well as letting anyone join band in any grade, regardless if they had played before or not.

These ideas, along with his genuine charisma, immediately worked in his favor.

“That’s all it took. A good attitude and the right energy,” he explained.

The twins knew they were in good hands when they met him.

“He actually cared and promoted the band,” Joshua said.

In just two years, Oliver has grown the initial band of 2 kids to a total of 70 grade school and high school band members combined.

“When you don’t have something for kids for a couple of years, and suddenly you are serious about offering it again, the kids will want to do it,” he said.

Marching in parades, having a halftime show, jazz band and competing at local competitions are all back for the Cameron band and community.

At the end of the 2023 school year, Christian held a band awards banquet and explained to those in attendance that he wouldn’t have a job if it were not for the Meneely twins.

“When I pointed that out, they got a standing ovation – I’m not even kidding – a standing ovation that night for being the only ones who stuck around.”

It is bittersweet for the twins to be graduating right when things are picking back up for the band.

“I wish we could have done more stuff,” Jacob said.

Joshua echoed this, saying “I wish this all could have happened freshman year when we could have been more appreciative of it.”

As far as words of advice for anyone trying to get through a difficult situation without quitting, Joshua said, “I would just say don’t give up on the things that you want to do just because others don’t support you.”

Jacob agreed, adding, “Don’t give up on things just because other people do.”

Cameron High School will definitely miss the Meneely twins as they leave the school behind, but all it will take to remember them is hearing the first few notes of the school’s fight song every time the band plays it on the football field, in the stands, and down the streets of the town for years to come.

Their parting gift to the community is something every Cameron resident will be proud to hear.

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