Band marks 100 years of marching in time 2 members recall half its history CENTRAL -- Union Mills * Westminster * Sandymount * Finksburg

June 14, 1993|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff Writer

Thomas S. Diffendal of Finksburg has been beating a drum in the Westminster Municipal Band for 58 years. Sterling Byers of Westminster has been playing clarinet in the band for 56 years.

Through millions of musical notes and hundreds of miles marched at 120 beats per minute, the two men have seen the Westminster band survive while many of the other local bands that flourished in Carroll County in the 1930s, '40s and '50s have hung up their instruments.

The band marks the 100th anniversary of its incorporation this year, although old newspaper clippings that Mr. Diffendal has found mention a local band as early as 1861. Mr. Diffendal and Mr. Byers are the only members still active who have been with the band for 50 years or more.

Mr. Diffendal, 80, still marches with the band, although he is gradually opting for the color guard instead of the heavy drum.

Mr. Byers, 74, is unable to march in parades because of a back problem, but he plays at concerts.

Mr. Diffendal didn't know anything about music in 1935, when he was a 22-year-old volunteer firefighter hanging around the Westminster fire hall, where the municipal band practiced.

The band needed a snare drummer, and someone urged him to try it.

Mr. Diffendal didn't read music -- still doesn't -- but he stood beside the snare drummer and listened. The notes stayed in his head and he could reproduce them. When the band bought a glockenspiel in 1937, he learned the music for it by

ear. When a bass drummer quit, he picked up the bass drum.

Mr. Byers came to the band with a musical heritage that stretched back three generations. He had learned to play the saxophone in second grade and was marching in the Pleasant Valley Boys Band before he was in high school.

Westminster High didn't have a marching band when Mr. Byers was a student, but he played in the orchestra and planned to make music his career.

When he graduated from high school in 1937, he joined the Westminster band and enrolled in Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore to study clarinet.

Mr. Byers had to drop out of Peabody when his father died. He became a cabinetmaker. "My father was one before me, and I just picked it up," he says.

Music became an avocation. "I had my clarinet with me the whole time I was in the service," Mr. Byers recalls. An Army warrant officer wanted the clarinetist for an ordnance band, but the Air Force refused to allow him to transfer.

Instead, he wound up in the motor pool on a base in Alberta, Canada, playing on weekends for dances at the officers club.

His talent kept him from being shipped to Nome, Alaska, where he had no desire to go.

Mr. Byers brought the clarinet home from the military in 1945 and fell back into step with the Westminster band.

Mr. Diffendal attended Westminster High but quit to go to work as a Linotype operator for his father, who was managing editor of the Democratic Advocate, a local weekly newspaper. He left the Advocate for The Sun in the 1950s, saw the demise of the Linotype and the advent of cold type.

He retired as composing room news foreman in 1978.

The band is called the Westminster Municipal Band, but is not financed by the city government. Payments for parade appearances cover travel costs and maintenance of the 1947 Chevy van that carries the band's equipment and uniform replacements.

Members are not paid, except in satisfaction.

"It's a fun organization. It has a family feel to it," says Sandy Miller, assistant director and a clarinetist who has been with the band for three years.

The band rehearses from October to mid-April, when the marching and concert season begins to get busy.

The approximately 75 members vote on requests for performances, but the annual firefighters convention in Ocean City, the Westminster Memorial Day parade, Fallfest and summer concerts in the city parks are always on the schedule. The band does not charge for appearances in Westminster.

The band's two senior players plan to keep on playing into its 101st year and beyond.

Mr. Diffendal says he'll quit "when I'm not able to keep up with them."

He really doesn't want to retire and says he hates even to think about it.

Mr. Byers says he'll keep on "as long as they let me play when I can manage. . . . I don't plan to get out unless they kick me out."

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