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Band director Harry Wacker ends a career of note

June 10, 1998|By DAVE McMILLION

by Ric Dugan / staff photographer

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Harry Wacker

SMITHSBURG - A chapter in Smithsburg High School's history closed Tuesday when Harry Wacker, known for his creativity as head of the school's marching band and other groups, stepped down after nearly four decades.

Friends of the school's music program say they hope the tradition will continue, but that no one would be able to copy Wacker's style exactly.

Wacker used props with his shows, and wasn't afraid to take chances on the field with new ideas.

"We're a little off the wall, but it makes it interesting," said Wacker, who has been the instrumental music teacher at Smithsburg High for 37 years.

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At the annual Showcase of Bands at South Hagerstown High School last fall, Wacker's band took to the field under a "flying saucer." The blinking lightweight craft spewed smoke onto the field as the group performed numbers from movies such as "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "2001: A Space Odyssey."

"I think he's the most creative band director that has hit the county," said Nancy Bushey, a friend of Wacker's since 1974 and the organizer of the flag and rifle corps in the bands.

Wacker's accomplishments are known outside the school. A trombonist, he has backed up the likes of Tony Bennett and Robert Goulet, and since 1993 has led the Baltimore Colts marching band.

Wacker said he had planned to stay at Smithsburg only for two years to gain tenure. After that, he figured he would join his friends who were performing live shows in Las Vegas."Two (years) turned into 37," Wacker said.

"I just fell in love with the community, the parents and the students. I never thought about leaving. It was probably the smartest thing I ever did," he said.

Life here was quite a bit different than in his hometown of Philadelphia, but the difference was something Wacker could appreciate.

He said Smithsburg High has always been a well-balanced school where students can play sports and music and still excel academically.

Wacker preferred not to take his marching band on the road every weekend to band competitions, fearing it would burn out the young musicians. He preferred community appearances like the annual Mummers' Parade in Hagerstown, local benefits, and half-time shows at Smithsburg High football games.

The school's jazz ensembles also shined under Wacker. The group took a number of first place awards at events including the Montreal Jazz Festival in 1983 and the Orlando Festivals of Music in Orlando, Fla., in 1992.

Wacker's group also captured top prizes at jazz competitions at Six Flags in New Jersey, Hershey Park in Pennsylvania and Kings Dominion in Virginia.

Wacker was tough on his students, but he also treated them like human beings, Bushey said. "And I don't know how you pull that off, but he manages to do it."

In his early years of teaching, Wacker performed in his free time. He appeared at Valley Forge Music Fair in Devon, Pa., where he played in a backup band for top performers like Bennett and Goulet.

Wacker's connection with the Baltimore Colts marching band started when a teaching friend at Towson State University told Wacker the group was looking for a new leader.

Wacker accepted an offer to lead the group, which continued to play at Baltimore area events after the Colts football team left the city. Now the band plays at Baltimore Ravens football games, Wacker said.




A retirement celebration will be held for Harry Wacker on July 26 at the Ramada Inn and Convention Center in Hagerstown.

The social hour begins at 4 p.m. and dinner is at 5 p.m. Tickets are $15 per person.

For more information, contact Terri Martin, president of the Smithsburg Band Boosters, at 301-824-5272, or Sue McCarney at 301-824-7569.

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