Mon Oncle

Photo by Kendall Hoopes on

I don’t think I ever mentioned this. I had a great uncle on my mother’s side. His name was Marshall Rowe. He played in a marching band in New Bloomfield, Pennsylvania. Every weekend in the summer for the time he was 14 until he died at age 68.

He played the clarinet. Everyone, apparently, compared him to Woody Herman. But look, anyone who can play anything heavier than “Old MacDonald” on the clarinet gets compared to Woody Herman. “Uncle Marsh” as he was known to me, simply “Marsh” to everyone else, fancied himself more of a Benny Goodman.

He payed clarinet on a daily radio program in the 40s. That’s where people started calling him Marsh. Following the lead of daytime disc jockey “Horwitzer Harry.”

‘This is Horwitzer Harry howling and hollering from the mean streets of Harrisburg for you cats out there! I’m feeling capitol in the capitol. Let’s get slow, let’s get low, The Marsh Man has crawled from the backwater to play something sweet for your Tuesday afternoon treat.”

The dream was, of course, that he’d leave central PA. The joke among relatives was that he should join Fred Waring’s outfit, seeing as he was already a “Pennsylvanian”.

He met Fred Waring and he met Duke Ellington, but he never left Perry County. He felt he’d be abandoning his mother who was alone by this time.

He composed beautiful orchestral pieces. Eventually taking over the town band that played at the shell in the park in the summer. I was thinking of him today for this reason. The sultry August air tends to do that.

He composed an estimated 145 songs in his years working with the band, Leading the ragamuffin outfit to 12 state championships. People called him the “Paterno of marching bands”, a tribute that has not aged well.

He taught band at the high school. He never went to college, but that apparently was not a deterrent when he started there.

He retired in 1993, and died in 1996 when I was a small child.

I have faint memories of him.

Greensleeves on the clarinet at Christmas, detailing the majesty of watching the Duke perform “Take the A Train” live.

He was cremated and his ashes spread around the band shell.

He chose creation because, according to his wife, Aunt Emily:

“The idea of de-composing was too much for him.”

One response to “Mon Oncle”

%d bloggers like this: