- Associated Press - Monday, December 15, 2014

GREENSBURG, Pa. (AP) - Percussionist Edwin Mason was behind his white bass drum one recent Tuesday evening as other members of the Jeannette Community Band filtered into the city’s American Legion for rehearsal.

As he chatted amiably with his friend and fellow percussionist, Byron Gottfried, other musicians assembled their instruments and positioned their music stands.

When practice began, Mason, who turned 95 on Nov. 9, gazed intently at his sheet music, his right hand holding his bass beater, the fingers of his left hand tapping atop the drum.

“I’ve been playing since I was 12, when I went to Harrold Junior High School. We had a player piano at home. One year I saved some of my Christmas money and went into Troutman’s and bought a $2 toy drum,” he said during an earlier visit to his Hempfield home.

Mason pumped the piano’s pedals with his feet and tapped on his drum, forming his own one-man band.

“That’s been a few moons ago,” he said.

By the time he entered high school, he played with the concert and marching bands.

Mason has lived in different homes, but on the same street in Hempfield’s Carbon section since his birth.

“I didn’t get very far in life,” he joked.

A widower, Mason resides with his daughter, Betty Daverse. She is his ride to practices and gigs with the Jeannette Community and the Delmont Concert bands.

“I never miss a rehearsal,” he said.

“We usually plan our life around the bands,” Daverse said.

After playing with the Delmont band for more than 50 years, Mason was recruited by a friend to play for the Jeannette band a few years ago.

Ron Stemple, one of Jeannette’s two conductors, said that Mason is the oldest performing member in the band’s 26-year history.

“I feel that it is important to him and the band that he still contributes and enjoys the music and the interaction with the other members,” Stemple said.

During his high school years, Mason played with a few combos.

“We played in some beer joints, dance halls, me and some buddies, Big Band type music that got people out on the floor. We got paid, but not much. I can remember getting $1.50 a night for a three-hour job - 50 cents an hour,” he said.

Mason met his late wife, Jean, when they worked at the former Westmoreland Glass in Grapeville. The couple married in 1944; she died in 2010.

He later worked for Elliott Co. in Jeannette, retiring in 1982 after 37 years.

Mason was an early member of the Carbon Volunteer Fire Department, serving as chief for a time.

“I served more than 20 years. In those days, you trained on the job,” he said.

He still recalls one of Greensburg’s most horrific fires, at a busy La Rose Shop on South Main Street on the evening of Oct. 19, 1961.

Storeowner Alex Cohen and four of his employees were killed.

“I was at band practice at the American Legion in Greensburg when the alarm came in,” Mason recalled.

“We got up and left and went to the scene. People were being evacuated. We set up a triage there at Joe Workman’s (a former department) store,” said.

Mason formerly belonged to a firefighters’ band in Southwest Greensburg called The Red Devils.

“They dressed like devils and marched in holiday parades,” Daverse said.

“We wore red long underwear,” Mason said.

Although he still enjoys the bands’ rehearsals and performances, Mason acknowledged that all of the activity can be wearying.

“I’m getting older,” he said. “I’m thinking about slowing down a bit.”

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