Sam Fardy '62 in his element.

Photo: Peter Julian

He’s with the Band

Clarinetist Sam Fardy ’62 has been performing with the BC Bands for six decades.

Sam Fardy ’62 has spent more than three quarters of his life involved, in one way or another, with the Boston College Bands. Aside from a two-year deployment overseas, the clarinet player has shown up for rehearsals for the past sixty-plus years, and at the age of 80, is eager to continue. 

“My wife thinks I should ‘graduate,’” he said, “but I've seen friends in their later years go stir crazy because they don’t have enough things to keep them busy.” (Not that Fardy, who lives on Cape Cod, is slowing down—he still works in the insurance business.)

As BC Bands celebrated 100 years of music-making on the Heights last fall, many current members learned about its history for the first time. Fardy, however, has lived much of it firsthand, watching as a fledgling group of student musicians grew into one of the largest organizations on campus. “The evolution has been interesting,” he said. “The bands are so much more professional now and the quality of the music is so improved. It was very different back when I got involved.”

Fardy’s entry into the BC Band came the day of his freshman orientation in 1958 when he introduced himself to the part-time director. The director asked what size uniform Fardy wore, and sent a manager to check the closet. “The manager came back and said, ‘Yeah we’ve got one of those,’” Fardy recalled. “And the director said to me, ‘Do you have a clarinet?’ and I said yes, and he said, ‘Well, bring it and a change of underwear tomorrow because we’re leaving for West Point and we have a game on Saturday.’” 

At the time, band membership hovered around thirty-five people. Occasionally, alternates from the City of Boston band were called in to bolster the numbers during parades and other high-profile performances. “We called them ringers,” Fardy said. “There was a sousaphone player who didn’t know how to play right away, but he made the marching band look full in the first row.”

The band performed at University sporting events and Commencement, as well as in local and regional parades. It received most of its funding from the U.S. military, and about half of its members, including Fardy, were enrolled in BC’s ROTC program. When Fardy became band president in the early ’60s, one of his biggest challenges was bridging the divide between the military and non-military members. “We had to convince the non-military people that it was in their best interests to participate in the parades,” he said. “But I think even they realized that we wouldn’t even have a band if it weren’t for ROTC.”

Still, Fardy occasionally ran afoul of military protocol. During a trip to perform in the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade, band members were put up in the army base on Governors Island. Shortly after they arrived, an officer ordered Fardy to create a duty roster to guard the instruments. But instead of appointing someone outright, Fardy asked everyone to either volunteer or chip in $5, which he used to pay the student guards. “I got myself in a little trouble for that,” he said with a laugh.

When the band wasn’t staying on a military base, finding accommodations during trips could be a challenge. During one poorly planned weekend, members of the Pep Band performed at a hockey game near the Canadian border with no plans for where they would spend the night. “It was wintertime and it was about 20 or 30 below zero and we had no place to stay,” Fardy recalled. “We were contemplating asking the police to let us spend the night in jail.” Instead, the musicians befriended some local college students who offered them space in the dorms.

By Fardy’s senior year, the band was gaining members steadily, adding cheerleaders and a color guard. Band members accompanied the football team to bowl games, and started bringing home prizes from marching competitions. “All of a sudden, being in the band was a desirable thing to do,” Fardy recalled. “We were traveling, doing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and it made it easier to recruit people.”

After he graduated, Fardy couldn’t imagine his life without the band. He continued to attend weekly rehearsals, eventually joining BC’s Symphonic Band, now affectionately known as SymBa. Open to students, alumni, and members of the community, SymBa performs several concerts annually, including a holiday show and a summer performance at the Hatch Memorial Shell on Boston’s Esplanade. 

All the pomp surrounding the BC Bands Centennial Celebration has Fardy nostalgic for the 1970s, when the band performed concerts in the recently opened McElroy Commons. “We would fill the place, absolutely fill the place,” he said. “We played marches and showtunes, which were quite popular, and people just loved it.”