Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas, Navy Band Newport, 1984

For a number of Christmases in the early 80s, I was the St. Nick of Navy Band Newport. (Anyone who has trouble picturing me as a saint should try imagining John Farquhar as an elf. Now there's a stretch).

After delivering candy canes to the children of band members and caroling along the streets of Newport, Santa and his elves traditionally retired to Jeremiah's Pub. For the purpose of this discussion, the term "retiring to Jeremiah's Pub" may be defined as "crawling into the nearest bar and slamming down whiskey sours until 'last call' is announced."

Pictured here are Santa and a contingent of elves that may include Steve Rawson, Dave Czohara, Steve Parent, Steve Dimond, his wife Melissa and his mother, John Farquhar and his wife, as well as Paula Czohara the Red-nosed Reindeer. Granted, that's more people than appear in this picture. Keep in mind that one elf had to take the photograph while a few more were strewn about the deck in varying states of unconsciousness.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Here's a Memory For You

Click on the play button, and you'll be whisked back to a distant time when you stood in the hot sun on a crowded pier playing shitty ditties while nobody listened.

It's a ship arrival. I didn't say it was a good memory, did I?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Navy Tradition # 173: "Hurry Up and Wait"

"Hurry up and wait" is often thought of as the result of poor planning. Any MU, however, will tell you the truth: "Hurry up and wait" is the consequence of over-planning. This can best be understood by observing the intricacies involved in getting a Navy band to a gig on time.

Ensign Dipstick puts the ball in play. He's on the phone with the band's operations petty officer, booking entertainment for a dance at the officers' club at his naval base. It's in a neighboring state, and the band has never played there, so the OPs PO asks for an estimate of travel-time.

The ensign received top grades in his navigation class. His expertise, combined with common sense and an Exxon roadmap, tells him the band can make the trip in three hours. But he's an ensign, and needs to be absolutely, positively, definitely sure the band won't be late. So Mr. Dipstick tells the OPs PO it's a four-hour trip and, in a last-minute frenzy of paranoia, adds that, depending on traffic, it could take the band up to five hours to make the trip.

It takes a lot of teamwork to create an effective "Hurry up and wait" situation, so your OPs PO pitches in. Because he hates being chewed out by the band's chief for cutting corners on travel time, he's developed the habit of tacking on an extra hour. He gives the chief a job-sheet indicating a six-hour trip.

This chief didn't get his khakis by showing up late for the prom. He knows his seventeen-piece band needs at least an hour before a gig to unload the gear, set it up and run a sound check. And with the time needed for cleaning up and changing into uniforms, he wants his band on-site two hours before the performance. Add this to six hours of travel time--it looks as though the vans will have to pull out of the parking lot by noon.

Now one of the drivers lends a helping hand, reminding the chief that a six-hour trip will require refueling along the way. And it would be wise to top off the tanks again close to the destination, to ensure fuel for the return trip. The chief nods and factors in two quick pit stops.

Nothing slows down a Navy band more than a "quick pit stop." Typically, before the vans have come to a halt at the pumps, the lead trumpet and bari sax players will explode out the sliding doors screaming, "Head call!" The rest of the straggling MUs will invade the Quik-Mart, methodically stripping the shelves clean of Slim Jims and Yoo-hoo, eventually forming an unruly line that snakes from the cash register to the restrooms.

Getting seventeen MUs back in a van is like trying to squeeze nine ounces of flatworms into an eight-ounce soup can. When the LPO has finally herded everyone back into their seats, he'll notice that someone is missing. Marching back into the convenience store, he'll find the fourth trombone player is still trying to decide whether he wants a Hostess Twinkie or a Li'l Debbie Kreme-filled Kake-ette. By the time the LPO drags this buffoon back to the van, the MUs will have started slipping back inside for a second round of head calls.

Forseeing this, the chief adds an hour for two pit stops. Nine hours of lead time before a 2000 dance now requires an 1100 departure.

Whoops. This means the band will be on duty during the Navy's scheduled lunch time. This creates a "missed meal." The chief talks to OPs, who calls Mr. Dipstick. The ensign agrees to fund the band's lunch at a fast-food restaurant along the way.

Unfortunately, the phrase "fast food" has no meaning to a Navy band. When seventeen sailors storm into McDonald's, the fourth trombone player always holds up the line with his inability to decide between a Big Mac or a Quarter Pounder, so the frustrated sax section sneaks out the door and strolls across the highway to Burger King. When they return, the trumpet section has just sat down to eat. This makes the saxes hungry again, so they order another round of cheeseburgers. At this point, the rhyhm section is chewing on a third box of Chicken McNuggets and the chief is chewing on the LPO.

The chief allots an hour for this circus. Muster time is now 1000--ten hours before the dance. But before the chief announces this to the band, the LPO reminds the chief of an important detail: The band has been rehearsing this week, so the equipment is set up in the rehearsal room. It will take time in the morning to load the gear into the trailer.

The chief explores alternate strategies. "Why not pack up after rehearsal the day before?" he asks.

The LPO is on top of things. "No can do," he says. "The rock band won't have the vans back in time."

The chief adds an hour, for a total of eleven hours of lead-time before the 2000 gig.

Belay that. Ensign Dipstick has been back in touch with OPs. He wants the combo to play for the cocktail hour at 1800. OPs gives the chief this update. The chief subtracts those eleven hours from the new start time. Muster must now occur at 0700.

Cause, effect; yin, yang; sunrise, sunset. The requirement to spend two hours setting up before the 1800 cocktail hour creates another missed meal. Another hour-long pit stop at a burger joint coutesty of Ensign Dipstick. Twelve hours of lead time means a 0600 muster.

But the breakfast hour begins at 0600. This atomic reaction is unstoppable. Another missed meal. Another hour-long roadside food-fest. Another half-hour at Dunkin' Donuts, waiting for the bass trombone player to choose between glazed or sprinkles.

"Hurry up and wait."

A task force is poised for victory because each ship hurried to position, then waited for the battle flag to be hoisted.

A weary sailor knows he'll be relieved of the midwatch on time because his relief hurried out of the rack and is waiting to go on duty.

And a Navy band musters at five in the morning to hurry to an officers' club and wait to play an evening gig.

There's only one thing "Hurry up and wait" doesn't explain--one teeny, itsy-bitsy thing:

Despite the operational overload and multiple layers of contingency preparation that has gone into getting the band to this gig, it's still only three hours away, dammit. The band is going to arrive while the sun is still rising over the officer's club.

But try to explain that to a nervous ensign, a cautious operations petty officer, an experienced chief and an on-the-ball LPO. They'll all shrug their shoulders and tell you the same thing:

"It's the Navy way."

But that's another topic altogether.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Now Hear This: Andy Vermiglio on Hearing Protection

Prevention Magazine's September, 2006 "Anti-aging Guide" suggests 25 things you can do to slow down the aging process.

Number 22--"When you're around loud noise, wear earplugs"--was particulary important for those us of us who played in Navy bands in the 70s and 80s, when the music started to get loud. One such MU, drummer Andy Vermiglio (7th Fleet Band, Navy Bands San Francisco and San Diego, School of Music staff), ought to know about preventing hearing loss. Andy is a research audiologist in Los Angeles. In fact, Andy's one of the expert who contributed to the Prevention Magazine article.

You can read the entire article online or skip ahead to Andy's commentary.

Andy is also an active LA performer and teacher. His personal website includes his full resume, sound clips (including the SOM faculty concert band) and photos (including the 7th Fleet Band on parade).

Friday, August 11, 2006

Blue Eyes and Bellbottoms

Clicking on the links below will take you to five short clips of young Frank Sinatra performing on stage with a Navy band . They're short, grainy and have no sound. I found them by searching "Sinatra" at Google Videos. It looks to me like a real performance, as opposed to a movie.

Old timers: anyone got a clue?


Monday, August 7, 2006

Navy Band Video Online

Ever been to YouTube ?

It's a site that displays an astounding variety of videos: old TV show, movie clips, backyard films, anything that users submit.

Including this nine-minute production by the U.S. Navy Band: Evolutions.

It features:

  • Still photos from the early days of the Navy Band.
  • Television coverage of a 1992 Swedish Army Tattoo performance including Ceremonial Band performing "We Like to Be in America."
  • A live 1968 performance by the Commodores.
  • The Sea Chanters singing "Anchors Aweigh" in 1986.
  • A 1991 "Good Morning America" segment, filmed in the Navy Museum in Washington, D.C., featuring Country Current doing a song dedicated to troops in the Gulf, with what looks like the entire Navy Band doing the background vocals.

I'm tempted to tell the story of my record-breaking three-hour tour of duty with the Navy Band, but I'll save it for another day.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

What a bunch of Navy Lyres

Shipmates have been sending so many contributions to the Navy Musician's Dictionary, I've had to expand it into an entire Lexicon for Navy Musicians, a compendium of terms, expressions and phrases from the world of Navy bands. Keep 'em coming--I'll print the best of the best and try to fix up the rest so they're the best, too. (Check the fine print over on the right under the photo of Uncle Frank.)

Sunday, July 30, 2006

We Serve With Honor

It was my pleasure, at the 2006 reunion of the Navy Musicians Association, to read "We Serve With Honor" while Wilbur Smith conducted the NMA Concert Band in Carmen Dragon's arrangement of "America, the Beautiful." A number of people who were present have asked me about that reading: where it came from, where it can be found.

MUs who served in the 1960s may--or may not--remember "We Serve With Honor." It was printed on the back of their liberty cards, along with "Guardian of our Country" and "The Future of the Navy.

These three statements also appeared in the front pages of Navy training manuals. Naturally, nobody never noticed them; as the saying goes, if you want to hide something from a sailor, put in in his textbook.

But somewhere, sometime in the Sixties, an MU noticed "We Serve With Honor." And that bandsman or conductor made a fortuitous discovery.

Carmen Dragon published his band arrangement of "America, the Beautiful" in 1963. It's a good bet that it made its way quickly into the libraries of military bands. The arrangement is stirring, well-scored and, not incidently, playable. For many, Carmen Dragon's version is not just an arrangement of "America, the Beautiful"; it is "America, the Beautiful."

That unknown MU must have agreed. He discovered that "We Serve With Honor" could be read aloud to coincide with the phrasing of the second chorus of Dragon's arrangement. It must have had as captivating an effect on audiences as it does now, for the tradition was passed from band to band.

I first read "We Serve With Honor" at Navy Band San Francisco in 1976, our nation's bicentennial year. Navy bands were swamped with requests for patriotic concerts, the frenzy continuing past Independence Day--I recall performing five concerts in five locations on the 5th of July.

But even when the the band was exhausted and not at its best, we could count on "America, the Beautiful" and "We Serve With Honor" to bring an audience to its feet.

That's what I know about the tradition. Here's the text:


Tradition, valor, and victory are the Navy’s heritage from the past. To these may be added dedication, discipline, and vigilance as the watchwords of the present and the future.

At home or on distant stations we serve with pride, confident in the respect of our country, our shipmates, and our families.

Our responsibilities sober us; our adversities strengthen us. Service to God and Country is our special privilege. We serve with honor.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Speaking with Wilbur Smith before the NMA concert band rehearsal, I asked if I should do the reading in the past tense, since we're no longer on active duty.

"For instance," I suggested, "'Our adversities strengthened us...We served with honor.'"

Wilbur didn't wait a second before replying, "No: do it as written, present tense."

"You're sure?" I asked.

"Yes, " he said. "We're still serving."

Thanks for the reminder, Smitty.

Friday, July 28, 2006

A Reunion Remembered

Although it's been a month since I returned from the 2006 reunion of the Navy Musicians Association in Louisville, a day has not gone by that I haven't found myself recalling the joy of seeing old shipmates and making new friends.

The NMA is an organization of MUs: retirees, one-hitchers, in-betweeners like me (13 years of fun in the sun), and even a few active-duty Navy musicians. This was the first NMA reunion I've attended, and I was astounded by the cameraderie and music that are the hallmarks of annual reunions:
  • Big band rehearsals throughout the day.
  • Jam sessions at night.
  • Sea stories 'round the clock.
The Holiday Inn provided us with group rates (over 200 members, spouses and guests attended), as well as rooms for rehearsal, registration and display of memorabilia. Management also met the major, inflexible requirement of an NMA reunion: we take over the hotel bar for the week.

Our rhythm section gear remains set up in the lounge for the duration of our stay. Each evening, sometime after dinner, MUs begin drifting in. After some tall-tale-telling, a pianist spots a bassist, the two of them nab a drummer and the trio steps up to the bandstand for a few tunes. This is what the horn players have been waiting for. They put down their Miller Lites, pick up their axes and join in. The place is filling up, the MUs performing, taking in the music, telling sea stories--and the evening has just begun.

We had concerts, clinics, even a day-trip to the race track. The reunion culminated with a Saturday evening banquet that featured a patriotic opening by the NMA Concert Band and dance music by the NMA's own big band.

As a crusty old warrant officer asked me during the evening, "Who would have thought that, 30 years later, we'd be getting misty playing 'Anchors Aweigh' again?"

If you do not belong to the Navy Musicians Association, you can get more information--and download photos from the last few reunions--at the NMA website.

I urge you to consider joining us at the next NMA reunion: you will enjoy it!
Frank Mullen, USN 1974-1987

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Service Record: Frank Mullen III

NOV74-FEB75: Boot Camp, Great Lakes Naval Training Center.

Highlights included:

  • No bowel movement for the first ten days.
  • Arrived late to chow hall on Thanksgiving for holiday dinner of cold hot dogs and Jello.
  • Threw up during a training movie featuring extreme close-up shots of what can happen to your weenie when you consort with loose women while on liberty.
    • FEB75-JUN75: School of Music, Basic Course.

      Noteworthy achievement:

      • Named "Student of the Month" despite documented record of instrumental practice averaging 30 seconds per week.

      JUN75-MAY77: Navy Band San Francisco.

      Special mention by Commanding Officer, Naval Support Activity SanFran, after surprise inspection of enlisted barracks:

      • "Seaman Mullen's room is the filthiest space I have seen in 27 years in the Navy."

      MAY77-JUN78: Navy Band Newport.


      • As keyboard player for rock band Long Island Sound: break up fights.
      • As staff arranger: come to work on paydays.

      JUL78-DEC78: School of Music, Intermediate Course.


      • Reamed out by MUCM Jim Thumpston less frequently than other classmates.

      JAN79-JAN82: School of Music, piano instructor.

      Collateral duties:

      • Dirty Tricks Petty Officer: directed midnight raid on Army barracks that resulted in 300 soldiers waking up on the morning of the annual Army/Navy game with high hopes and no toilet paper.
      • Change-for-a-dollar Petty Officer of the Command: maintained adequate stock of coins so officers could purchase peanut butter cups from vending machines.
      • Petty Officer in Charge of Shaking Commanding Officer's Hand With Joy Buzzer While Receiving "Staff Member of the Year" award: self-explanatory.

      JAN82-JUN85: Navy Band Newport.

      Major achievements:

      • Developed miniature golf course in band office area. Operated tournaments culminating in sudden-death playoffs on the 18th hole, a par-4, teeing off from passageway outside gear locker, followed by blind dog-leg through MUCM Davenport's office, a risky rebound off the the wall into bandmaster's office and delicate chip-shot into the styrofoam coffee cup under Mr. Chesson's desk.

      JUL85-JAN86: School of Music, Advanced Course.


      • No.


      • Inability to control baton in subdivided 6/8 pattern due to weakness caused by loss of blood after being repeatedly stabbed in back by conducting instructor.

      FEB86-AUG87: 7TH Fleet Band, Yokosuka, Japan.

      Primary Responsibility:

      • Conduct band at concerts and ceremonies before high-ranking dignitaries.

      Tuesday, June 27, 2006

      Navy Ambassadors: Long Island Sound

      "How you look is as important as how you sound."

      As much as we wanted to be appreciated solely for our musicianship, we understood that Job One was to stand proudly before the public as representives of the Navy.

      Throughout the fall of 1977, Navy Band Newport's rock group Long Island Sound achieved a perfect balance of appearance and musicality. Consider the opening of our typical high school performance:

      1. Principal introduces band.
      2. Soundman plays tape of "The William Tell Overture."
      3. From various corners of the auditorium, band members rush to stage, creating the impression that they're thrilled to be playing a 0830 show at Podunk High.
      4. Fog machine pours smoke onto stage.
      5. As Lone Ranger musics fades, band opens with "Theme From Rocky."
      6. At beginning of trumpet solo, students in front row begin choking on airborne chemicals from fog machine.
      7. At final, sustained high F# of trumpet solo, performer decides to jam bell of instrument directly against the microphone "so it'll cut through."
      8. At final, sustained high F# of trumpet solo, soundman decides to maximize gain on trumpet microphone "so it'll cut through."
      9. Final, sustained high F# of trumpet solo cuts though 500 pairs of eardrums like a machete through a wet pack of Lucky Strikes. Freshmen run crying from their seats, math teachers drop to the floor with heart attacks.

      Undeniably, Long Island Sound looked as good as it sounded. It is noteworthy that we played in many schools, but never in the same school twice.

      Monday, June 26, 2006

      My Bands and Shipmates

      Click these links (or scroll down) for rosters of the bands I was stationed with:

      Navy Band San Francisco
      Navy Band Newport, 1977-1978
      School of Music Staff, 1979-1981
      Navy Band Newport, 1982-1985
      Seventh Fleet Band, 1986-1987

      When possible, I've included names and nicknames and instruments, even for CPOs and bandmasters who were not performing.

      This is to make this site more friendly for internet searching. For example, although Terry Chesson, a chief, did not play in a band during my 1977-78 tour, his shipmates from other tours would reasonably use the search terms Terry Chesson saxophone or Terrence Chesson saxophone.

      Also, for internet search purposes, I have omitted ranks. Although J.J. Connor was a master chief during my tour in San Francisco, a shipmate from his first band would not likely search for "MUCM J.J. Connor."

      (Actually, J.J.'s earliest shipmates would probably try to communicate with him using smoke signals, pocket mirrors and semaphore flags. That's not the point.)

      The band rosters are as complete as memory allows; that's not saying much.

      So, if you were stationed with me, but your name does not appear on the appropriate roster, you have 3 options:

      1. Whine about it. Whip yourself into a frenzy of red-hot resentment. How dare Frank Mullen forget you? He owes you so much, the damn SOB, how dare he...etc., etc.
      2. Get over it. Tell yourself, "Big deal; my life is in no way diminished by the fact that Frank Mullen has forgotten about me--even though I pulled him out of a few jams, and you'd think he'd remember me, after all I did for that rotten bum, etc . etc ."
      3. Do something about it. Email me and identify yourself ("Hi, Frank, remember the night we set off fire alarm in the barracks because we felt tremors and thought an earthquake had hit, but it turned out to be Chuck Looper snoring next door?")