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York College Music major doesn’t miss a beat during summer job at Hersheypark

Max Wagaman stands in front of Campbell Hall holding trombone.

What could be better than spending six-and-a-half hours a day, six days a week, all summer, marching and dancing around a jam-packed, blazing hot amusement park, playing a trombone?

If you ask York College of Pennsylvania senior Music major Michael “Max” Wagaman, nothing.

“It’s the perfect gig. You finish school, head right to the band, then right back to school. You haven’t missed a beat,” says the trombone player of spending the past two summers with the Hersheypark Band.

Max says the 10-piece group; consisting of two trombones, three trumpets, an alto sax, tenor sax, tuba, bass drum, and snare drum; plays a variety of music, ranging from jazz standards, to some modernized classical tunes, to older pop hits, all arranged for the small band. “We play at eight different places in the park throughout the day, three- or four-song sets, and play a song or two on our way to the next stop,” he says.

It’s a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. “Folks walking around the park will say, ‘Oh, I know that one,’ when we play something recognizable like the can-can,” he notes.

The music is chosen to hit a chord with grandparents and grandkids alike, all for one purpose. “We contribute to people having a good time,” Max says. “We entertain and put smiles on people’s faces.”

Becoming a better musician

Hershey is paying him to entertain parkgoers, for sure, but Max says he has gotten much more than a summer paycheck out of his time in the band the past two years.

“I’m definitely a better musician having performed there,” he believes. “It combines marching band — we have drills — with playing different types of music. With jazz, we can do some improvisation, which is good practice.”

Beyond that, there is experience he’ll use as a performer. “I’ve been learning to play in front of and interact with a live crowd,” he notes. “It’s different from a stage show. Folks are taking pictures, we’re high-fiving kids. It’s helping me learn to interact with an audience.”

Max says this experience has also taught him how to exist with a group as a performer, how to figure out how others play, and to function as part of a unit. He’s had to figure this out on his own because the band has no director, relying on each member to be a professional. “Each of us is an important part of the machine,” he says. “You have to pull your weight, or the performance will diminish if someone is not putting in 100 percent.”

The skill level of the members, all college music majors, also pushed Max to up his game. “Playing with other serious music students, with everyone having a different pool of knowledge, makes you play better,” he says.

‘A fantastic experience’

Band members come from various schools, including Penn State, Kutztown, and even the Berkeley College of Music in Boston, MA. But Max says York College students hold their own.

“The faculty at York College is dedicated to music and the students who put the time in,” he says. “I’ve worked with jazz and trombone professors who have helped me learn about music and get life lessons I can carry into my performing career.”

This reputation has put York College on the annual recruiting itinerary of a group that auditions and places college musicians with amusement park bands. Max believes the solid music background from York College is preparing him for his future. “I feel the education is preparing me well for a performance career,” he says.

That background helped land him the Hersheypark Band gig, which is also laying bricks in that professional foundation. “It’s a fantastic experience for a musician,” he says. “It’s unique in what you play and how and where you play, in the middle of an amusement park, right there in the action with the audience.”