NEW LONDON, Conn. — With his final performance in Leamy Hall behind him, Stephen Wade found the perfect words on Sunday to describe his 30 years in the U.S. Coast Guard Band.
"I remember somebody once describing this group as a wild horse just waiting to let go," Wade said. "That's very much the sensation."
Sunday afternoon provided one final chance for Wade to experience that thrill.
He and the U.S. Coast Guard Band Chamber Players provided a riveting hour-long performance for a crowd of about 150 people. A chief musician and principal oboe, Wade will retire Nov. 1 from active duty with the Coast Guard.
In an interview after the performance, Wade, 53, recalled a summer day in 1982 when he had just finished a summer concert tour. He returned home to Massachusetts on a Monday morning to realize that his checking account was nearly empty.
He then came across an audition notice for the Coast Guard Band and that was the start of three decades in which he performed in 48 of the nation's 50 states.
Wade also performed in several foreign countries and was part of the Coast Guard Band when it traveled in 1989 to the then-Soviet Union and played a joint concert with the Leningrad military band. The concert came near the end of the Cold War and two months before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Sunday's performance also allowed Wade to join with the Coast Guard Band Woodwind Quintet, which played Heitor Villa-Lobos' "Quintette en forme de Choros."
Wade later rose from his chair and took center stage as he joined with pianist Kevin Murphy in Astor Piazzolla's "Oblivion."
"To do a recital where you play great music with great people — that's all I wanted to ever do," Wade said.
Colleagues said they will remember Wade for his work ethic and dedication. Commander Kenneth Meagan, the director of the Coast Guard Band, said Wade treated each performance the same — whether it was a gig on the academy football field or at New York City's Carnegie Hall. Meagan also presented Wade with a letter of commendation from the academy.
Rebecca Noreen, who played bassoon alongside Morgan and Wade in Sunday's final piece by Francis Poulenc, said Wade is known for his sense of humor. He typically starts practices with a joke.
She also recalled a performance on a pier once in which Wade during a warm-up used his oboe to mimic the sound of sea gulls. Noreen followed suit by impersonating a fog horn with her bassoon. She also spoke Sunday of Wade's kindness and effect on those around him.
"He's a very thoughtful person and he works very hard at what he does. Everybody knows that," Noreen said.
Wade, who was recently married, said he intends to continue working as assistant principal oboe with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. He also teaches at Westfield State University in Massachusetts.
He'll leave the Coast Guard with an indelible connection to his colleagues.
"We have a lot of shared experiences," Wade said. "Ten years from now I could end up bumping into somebody on the street and laughing about something that happened like it was yesterday. ... I'm standing here knowing I'll never play here again and it's a great way to end."