McSpadden makes music into tradition

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When students march down the aisle at Gadsden State’s commencement ceremony they are most likely thinking of their own college traditions and are oblivious to the unique tradition that is an essential part of the ceremony.  George McSpadden has been playing Mendelssohn’s Priest’s March for as many years as there have been commencements at Gadsden State. Beginning with the first graduating class in 1967, McSpadden has missed only one ceremony due to an illness. The first ceremony was held at Convention Hall.  Since then, traditionally ceremonies have been held at Wallace Hall in Gadsden, McClellan Center Auditorium and Word of Life Church in Anniston, and the Oxford Civic Center. For many years, Gadsden State Community College has had at least four ceremonies per year to honor the graduates at the end of each semester. 

McSpadden is a native of Nevada, Texas and came to Gadsden from Wichita Falls, in 1966.  He worked as a full-time music instructor from 1966 until his retirement in 1996.  Since then he has remained as a part-time music instructor, advisor, and organist. 

He began his career in data processing and was drafted during the Korean War.  Because of his data processing skills he was chosen to work for the 4th Army Division in San Antonio. Even though he was highly-skilled in data processing music was his passion. 

McSpadden obtained a master’s degree in music at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.  As fate would have it, he met someone from Gadsden at a music conference in Fort Worth who told him of an opportunity to teach at Gadsden State and the rest is history.

He fondly remembers walking with students to the site of the proposed Wallace Hall during a college event in 1966.  At that time he had no idea that he would be “at home” in the orchestra pit that holds the beautiful organ that he brings to life during commencement ceremonies.  With so many performances he took a moment to reminisce about some unique experiences.  The stage abruptly ends with the orchestra pit located near the stairs that students use to exit the stage.  During the first few ceremonies, McSpadden said that several students began walking toward the pit to exit. He had to verbally warn them to turn toward the steps.  Later velour stanchion ropes were positioned for the student’s safety and now remain as an essential part of the stage. 

Those fortunate enough to hear McSpadden practicing on the Wallace Hall organ know first-hand of the passion his talented hands exude.  But the magic doesn’t stop there.  Prior to a performance he puts on special glasses designed to make it easier to read the music in the dim light of the orchestra pit and special shoes made to enhance the movement of his feet on the pedals.  The original organ purchased for Wallace Hall had to be replaced a few years ago and the current organ is commonly referred to as the McSpadden organ.  

Mario Gallardo, the Division of Fine Arts Chair, remarked, “George McSpadden is one of the most talented individuals I know and his infectious smile has been a welcome part of our department for many years.”  

While time might have aged him a bit and he might not find everyday tasks as easy as they seemed long ago, one thing is still certain, when George McSpadden plays the organ Wallace Hall comes alive and the musical vibrations felt by all in attendance is extremely memorable and enjoyable.

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