Ohio County Schools Teacher Profile: Wheeling Park High School’s Ben Podolski

Wheeling Park High School Orchestra Director Ben Podolski never imagined Festival of Sound would continue to exist nearly three decades after it was first envisioned.
Yet he and Wheeling Park High School Music Department staff and students are now hard at work in preparation for the twenty-eighth edition of the beloved annual holiday musical event. As many as 400 Patriot band, strings and choir students will take part in the performance that is beautiful both musically and visually.
Festival of Sound, which will be held Dec. 8-10, has become renowned for its professionalism. Concertgoers often leave saying, “I can’t believe those are high school students.”
Podolski, along with former Wheeling Park High School music teachers Pat and Leslie Garrett, created Festival of Sound in 1990. The event was first held in the Wheeling Park High School gymnasium. The festival grew consistently in its early years and moved first to the Capitol Music Hall and then to WesBanco Arena. Podolski believes Festival of Sound now has its true home.
“We’ve come full circle,” he said. “The (J.B. Chambers) Performing Arts Center is our venue. (Festival of Sound) was so small when we were in the gym, and then we went from the Capitol to a hockey arena. Now, we are where we should be. The sound is wonderful (in the Performing Arts Center), and it makes Festival of Sound amazing.”
Judging by the sound of the strings coming from the Wheeling Park music room Thursday morning, Podolski’s students are already prepared for their Festival of Sound performance. The students were energetic and focused. And after a nearly flawless number, Podolski seemed pleased.
“They just started working on that song two days ago,” he said.
Podolski said Festival of Sound wouldn’t be possible without partners beyond Wheeling Park High School. He said parent groups volunteer to help in the production of Festival of Sound, and Vance Church, C.A. House Music, West Liberty University and other organizations contribute to the effort.
Podolski said the students practice hard each year to ensure they perform their best. He said the Wheeling Park music teachers put in a great deal of effort as well. He said there is much more to Festival of Sound than the music.
“It takes a lot of cooperation,” Podolski said. “The strings, band and choir (teachers) have to work closely together to make it work. Each year there will be a song we (strings) want to do, but band or choir may want to perform that song. There has to be some compromise, and we are willing to do that.
“A lot of work goes into the stage, lighting and wardrobe,” he added. “We have to fit the students for tuxes and dresses. We have to work with the community. This year, for example, Vance Church is providing the bells that we will use. We all come together for this event.”
Podolski has taken the stage before thousands of people over the years at Festival of Sound. He said he does not get nervous. However, he knows the students do. But, Podolski said they are also excited for the performance, and that excitement is contagious.
“We are doing this for the students,” he said. “Festival of Sound is for them. It’s great to see them excited before the performance, and it’s wonderful to see their adrenaline after it.
“The students love it, and the people in the community must like it,” he added. “They come back every year.”

Photos 1 and 2: Wheeling Park High School Orchestra Director Ben Podolski is shown with strings students as they prepare for the annual Festival of Sound. Festival of Sound will be held at 7 p.m. on Dec. 8 and 9 and at 2 p.m. on Dec. 10.
Photo 3: Patriot strings teacher Ben Podolski celebrates his students’ excellent performance at a past Festival of Sound.