'Big man with a big horn' retiring from Hagerstown Municipal Band

August 01, 2008|By JANET HEIM

HAGERSTOWN -- For 58 of his 87 years, Dave "Palsey" McFadden has been playing tuba with the Hagerstown Municipal Band. As far as band director Lynn Lerew can figure, it's the longest any musician ever has been with the band.

"I suspect Dave has more longevity than anyone else," said Lerew, who thinks 50 years was the record prior to McFadden. "He's a big man with a big horn."

The Hagerstown Municipal Band was formed in 1915. McFadden, who lives in Chambersburg, Pa., auditioned and was invited to join the band in 1950.

He's been making the drive to Hagerstown during the summer band season three times a week -- for the Monday and Thursday night rehearsals and Sunday night performances -- all of these years, and can't recall missing a concert.


"I've been really devoted to that doggone band," McFadden said.

Even during the 16 seasons that McFadden, his first wife and their two sons would move to their summer home in Caledonia (Pa.) State Park, Dave McFadden made the hour-long drive to Hagerstown for band practices and concerts.

He doesn't understand all the fuss his retirement from the band is generating.

"You people must be really hard up for stories," he said with a laugh.

McFadden started playing tuba as a sophomore in high school after the band director came to his study hall to recruit the biggest guy to play the tuba. At the time, McFadden was a football player, so his switch to the band didn't please the football coach.

He said the band director told him he probably would play football only through high school, but music could be part of his life long after graduation, advice that proved true for McFadden.

By his senior year at Chambersburg High School, McFadden was the instructor for all of the tubas.

"That was quite an honor," McFadden said of his musical career. "That's how it started."

After high school, McFadden was asked to audition for the U.S. Navy School of Music, which was the only school of music for all of the military branches at the time.

It required a one-year commitment as a single person. His high school sweetheart, who became his first wife, was afraid she would never see him again.

Instead, McFadden started as an apprentice at Chambersburg Engineering Co., working his way up to superintendent of the foundry during his 50-year career. From 1944 to 1946, McFadden left his foundry job while he served as an aviation cadet in the U.S. Army Air Force.

McFadden can't help but wonder where he would be now had he chosen the path of a professional musician.

He doesn't dwell on the past, though, since he chose to make music a big part of his life anyway. McFadden has been a member of his alumni band and just about every community band in the area over the years.

He and his second wife, Sue McFadden, are section leaders with the Hagerstown Municipal Band. She's played with the band for 37 years.

Both of McFadden's sons also were musicians. His oldest son loves the tuba as much as his father, and will travel from Appleton, Wis., to play in the Aug. 10 concert where McFadden's retirement from the band will be recognized at City Park.

Giving up the band means McFadden will have more time for entertaining friends and neighbors and keeping up with his responsibilities as secretary of Chambersburg Elks Lodge 600, which he has done for 20 years. He also will have more time for working out and playing with his black Labrador Jetta.

"I enjoyed it very much," McFadden said. "I hate to leave, but I've got to hang it up."

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