Friday, July 4, 2014

USN Fleet Forces Band: "The Stars and Stripes Fovever"

When we're lucky enough to have an active-duty ceremonial band perform at our reunion, NMA President Terry Chesson always welcomes them with a warning, basically, "You're about to get applause like you never got before."

And why shouldn't this be so? We're honored to have a Navy band play for us; they're our brothers and sisters. We recognize excellence in performance; we're musicians. And we know the challenges of ceremonial band performance; we're MUs. We've all stood in formation on piers and quarterdecks, in hangers and ballrooms.

On June 28, 2014, the ceremonial unit of the United States Navy Fleet Forces Band performed for us. President Chesson, as always, warned them of the reception to come. Their performance, as always, earned our enthusiastic response. After the concert, as always, we wandered the ballroom in a collective daze, asking each other, "My god, could we have possibly sounded this good when we were in uniform?"

Here's their performance of "The Stars and Stripes Forever." I originally planned to post only the trio, because the piccolo soloist is so...I don't know, "outstanding" seems a little weak. You have to hear and see for yourself what he brings to the world's most well-known piccolo solo. But then I decided to include the previous breakup strain for context. Then I had to include the ensuing breakup strain so you could hear the applause. Then I wanted you to hear the band's balance and  precision in the first strain, their dynamics and--

Here's the whole damn march.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Fly Me to the Moon--It Would Be Quicker

I know I promised to post more about the NMA reunion when I returned to Illinois, but it's taken a while to recover from the flight home. While my ticket promised a short flight to Atlanta, GA, and another to Moline, IL, it did not include all the details or a definition of the word "short."

Diagram showing Frank Mullen's flight path home from Norfolk.

I boarded the plane in Norfolk, fastened my seat belt and the captain informed us we weren't going anywhere. Atlanta, where I was to change planes, was threatened by storms, so we'd have to wait.

In a concession to basic decency, passengers were allowed off the plane. It being likely I'd miss my connection in Atlanta--I was scheduled for an hour layover in which to navigate my way across an airport the size of Canada--I spoke with a ticketing agent. She booked me on an evening flight home out of Atlanta, but kept my original reservation active, just in case. I could see that my flight home might also be delayed due to weather, so I felt good about having two options.

After two hours of updates, we were finally invited back aboard, and off we went. The pilot made good time, but had to reroute around a moving weather system. This delayed us, but when I deplaned in Atlanta, I discovered the storm had delayed everything, including my connecting flight. But I missed it by minutes. The electronic schedule board treated me to the joy of watching the listing for flight 1523 to Moline flip from "Boarding in 5 minutes) to "Gate Closed."

This gave me six hours to kill in the Atlanta airport. I did a New York times crossword puzzle. That took eight minutes and fifty-five seconds. I had my computer and set up a chat room. I ate Mongolian steak. Finally, I got on an airplane. Life was good.

In Rio de Janiero or aboard the Cunard Queen of the Seas. On flight 1523, life wasn't so good. The captain told us storms had closed the Moline airport, so we'd have to circle the city in a holding pattern.

The city we'd circling, we soon learned, was Topeka, Kansas. You can only steer a plane in circles for so long before you take a look at your gas gauge and say, "Oops." Apparently that's what the pilot did, because he told us we'd better head toward Moline.

Kansas City, MO, evidently qualified as "toward Moline." We circle KC for a bit, and then the captain gave his longest and most-detailed speech of the long evening:

"Well, folks, we can't do this forever, so it's time we set this thing down. The weather has moved to the east, so I think I can get us down in about 15 minutes. Oh, by the way, we'll be passing through some convective weather patterns, so keep your seat belts fastened or you'll be throwing up Sprite and peanuts all over the passenger in front of you."

Long, yes, detailed, yes, but lacking in one specific and vital detail: he didn't tell us where we were going to land. Secrets are a big part of the airline industry; travel is so much more exciting when you don't know where you're going or when you'll get there.

But it truly was Moline. The well-kept secret fell apart when, thirteen hours after I left the hotel in Norfolk, I walked into the main concourse and found my wife waiting. Oddly, she wasn't terribly interested in hearing about my ordeal. It had something to do with the fact that she'd been sitting at a computer all day, tracking flights, trying to figure out where I was, and then spent half the night driving to the airport in pelting rain, dodging flooded roads in low-lying areas and swerving around panicked wildlife fleeing across the highways.

Jeez, what a complainer.