Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Peace be unto you, Sea Chanters

I knew the Sea Chanters would be good. They're a unit of the U.S. Navy Band, so excellence was a given.

And if I was going to expend the effort to drive an entire 33.5 minutes to see them in Rock Island, Ill., they'd have to be good. I'm a former fleet bandsman, and I'd been blogging for days about my typical fleet bandsman's love-hate relationhip with the U.S. Navy Band. To keep this old MU happy, the Sea Chanters would have to put on a hell of a show.
Hat in hand, former MUC Frank Mullen III apologizes to Sea
Chanters leader MUCS Georgina L. Todd for his recent salvo
of crude carping about the Navy's premiere musical units.

They did.

Their performance in Augustana College's packed Centennial Hall moved brisky and hitchlessly, alternating choral numbers with songs and medleys by smaller vocal groups and soloists. In fact, each member of the ensemble is a capable and professional solist.

They had everything. Props. Sets. Choreography. Broadway tunes, pop songs, oldies and newies, all delivered with enthusiam.

And pacing. The performance flew by until, after perhaps an hour, the leader, MUCS Georgina Todd, addressed the audience,stressing that the U.S. Navy Band sends units like the Sea Chanters to remind America of the professionalism of its Navy. Then they let loose the musical guns of patriotism and fired away until the audience was on its feet.

Including me. I admit it: I was enthralled by the Sea Chanters.
Don't get me wrong--I haven't changed my mind about the professionalism of the Navy's fleet bands. There's nothing second-rate about them; they're top-drawer units, every one, and I'm proud to have served in them.

But my first encounter with the Sea Chanters was an eye-opener, and I'm willing to drop some of my bias. In fact, I'll offer this group the highest accolade I can think of:

The Sea Chanters are as good as any musical unit in the fleet.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Let me be perfectly clear

I'm going. Tomorrow night, my wife and I will drive up to Rock Island to see the Sea Chanters in concert at Augustana College.

Perhaps my earlier announcement was less than clear. I do not doubt the musical excellence of this group. The U.S. Navy Band and its units have always been excellent.

Point is, I'm a fleet musician. I know how hard a fleet MU works to make his way to Musician First Class--there are no giveaways. And I particulary know what it takes for an MU1 to make Chief. I did it, and it wasn't easy.

In those days, the results came out annually: 5 MU1s promoted to MUC, and 4 of them were from the Navy Band. In a big year, 7 MU1s were promoted to MUC, 6 of them from the Navy Band.

I absolutely understand Tim Foley's high regard for members of the U.S. Navy band and the hard work they do (see his comment to my earlier post.) Coming from a fleet MU, Tim's obervations mean a lot.

But fleet MUs work hard too, and they don't get chevrons and chief's anchors handed out to them like Mars Bars and M&Ms on Halloween.

I am very aware that not all members of the U.S. Navy and Naval Academy bands walked in off the street. Many members of special bands have fleet experience. I maintain ongoing, treasured relationships with shipmates who were accepted into one of the special bands.

But I wasn't. Call me biased, if you will. The fact is, they wouldn't take me; not that that's any reason why I should feel the way I do. Certainly not. No way. Negatory on that.

Actually, I was sort of transferred to the Navy Band in 1977 for a tour that lasted approximately three hours. I won't tell the story here--it is necessary to name names--but the tale got good reviews in the lounge last year at the NMA reunion, and I'd be glad to reprise it, names and all, in Orlando. Come on down.

I'll also tell you what I thought of the Sea Chanters concert.

Friday, March 9, 2012

There's a first time for everything.

Never, ever, ever thought I'd do this. Ever.

I was a fleet bandsman. None of those special bands for me. No sir, I was the real thing, a salty, bag-band playing, urinal-cleaning fleet MU who earned every stripe the hard way. Those D.C. folks were a special, high-class, uppity breed of semi-civilians in sailor suits.

But my wife sees in the paper that the Sea Chanters are coming to our area. We really should go, honey, she says. These are your "peeps."

Merely touching these tickets makes me feel disloyal to the fleet.
I try to explain that the U.S. Navy Band 's Sea Chanters are not my peeps. It's not just that these are special bandsmen. It's not just that these kids were in junior high school Glee Clubs while I was conducting unreps on the Blue Ridge. It's not just that I was a real MU and these people are-- whatever they are. It's--it's hard to explain.

Okay, I'll admit it. I resent the Navy Band and all its units and personnel. It's not a baseless prejudice. I dislike them all for a good reason: they wouldn't take me.

So I'm torn. I should keep this all to myself. after all, I blog for the fraternity of Navy Musicians. I bring us all together. We are one. Kumbaya.

On the other hand, if I can't bitch, whine and moan, what's the point of having been an MU?

So, okay, I'll do it. I'll go to the Sea Chanters concert next week.

But I won't like it. I promise.