Saturday, June 24, 2017

Sat. Afternoon: Going Dark

The live-blogging of the 2017 NMA reunion now goes dark for a spell.

We're suiting up for the closing banquet and dance. We'll celebrate our friendships, remember old shipmates and think about those good, difficult, rewarding and challenging days of service. Then we'll say goodbye for another year.

And in the morning, we'll get in cars and on airplanes and head home.

Amidst all the farewell frenzy, I will not have time to share more with you from Virginia Beach. I, too, will close down the lounge tonight and rev up the car tomorrow morning.

In a few days I'll be home and ready to share much more with you about this wonderful week. Until then:

Fair winds, following seas.

To Absent Friends

Amidst the joy and excitement of meeting up with all the old friends at every reunion I start thinking about those who aren't here, those who could't come for reasons of time, distance, work, family and community obligations. You guys are in our thoughts this week. I know this is true because we've been talking about you.

Don't worry, it's not all bad-rapping. For instance, when the topic of the 7th Fleet Band comes up, I am obligated to talk about Mike Burch-Pesses. LCDR Pesses was my bandmaster when I was a boot chief. The poor guy didn't just have to oversee operations of the COM7FLT band. He had to oversee the operations of Chief Mullen,
Sorry, sir, but I couldn't
control myself. 

I recently heard from the commander. To his regrets over not being able to attend the reunion this year, he added, "I can still see you playing "Eve of Destruction" as a bossa nova during a reception aboard Blue Ridge."

I don't recall this particular event, but I'm sure it's true. The story has Frank Mullen written all over it. It's the sort of thing I'd been doing since I wore seaman's stripes and didn't have the sense to curtail when I put on anchor devices,

But Mike's ability to discuss this calmly sums up this fine officer's ability to know where to draw the line. I remember those receptions on the Blue Ridge, formal affairs in the officer's wardroom and the double-holy admiral's wardroom as well as ultra-formal, topside affairs with flag officers and civilian dignitaries. And there's poor Mr. Pesses, cringing in fear and hoping that no one will notice that his piano player, a chief petty officer, for God's sake, is jazzing up anti-war protest songs from the Sixties.

But he was also willing to laugh when it was all over and nobody wound up in the brig. Of course, 30 years gives a guy plenty of time to get over things.

Friday night

Rehearsing for the Big Gig.
An NMA reunion is like a Sousa march; a big start and a big finish separated by a lot of highlights.

One of those highlights is the Friday Night Gala. Our concert band gets better every year and can put on a dynamite performance with a minimum of preparation time. Of course we can--we're all MUs.

NMA Big Band in Concert

Our Big Band puts on a show, too. This generally turns into a dance, and why not? That's what swing was designed for.

Concert Band conductor Wilbur Smith after
another successful performance.

Eventually, the stalwarts adjourn to the lounge for a last round of jazz and sea stories.

And yet, it's not over. This evening is the Saturday Night Dinner/Dance. This often features a concert by an active duty Navy band--the highlight of four days of highlights.

2017 NMA All Hands Meeting : True Rumors

The 2017 General Membership meeting of the NMA went smoothly. We filed in, poured coffee, sampled the pastries and when we'd reached a quorum, excused our spouses from the room and got down to business.

With one exception, our Board of Directors was re-elected. We offered a hearty round of thanks to our Treasurer Cecil Strange, who has retired his position after 16 years of faithful and diligent service to the NMA.

In is place, Stephanie Rowland was elected Treasurer. Stephanie, a former Sea Chanter, is now the comptroller for the U.S. Navy Band. I'd say she's qualified to monitor our finances.

And, yes, it's now official:. For once the rumors proved to be true:
the 2018 reunion will be held here in Virginia Beach.
Because our "homeport" reunions are well-attended, they build up our treasury so that we can sometimes afford to travel to other cities.

The meeting concluded without bloodshed. Members are now on liberty until the evening's concluding dinner and dance.

Getting ready for business

This morning, members of the NMA will gather in the ballroom for our annual all-hands business meeting. Our board of directors will bring members up to date on plans and directions and members will have the opportunity to present comments and questions.

And we'll hold the election of officers. The NMA may sometimes resemble a pleasure cruise, but someone needs to steer this ship.

Later today I'll report on the proceedings, particularly on the one thing that everyone wants to know: where will we hold our next reunion?.

In preparation for our the meeting, Legal Adviser Bill Sterk (r) is helping President Terry Chesson (l) brush up on the fine points of parliamentary procedure.
"If a motion has been offered and seconded and subsequent
discussion proves that the maker of the motion wishes to
withdraw the motion, he or she, the maker of the motion,
may move that the motion be withdrawn, but such
withdrawal shall be effective only if the motion to
withdraw is seconded, discussed and passes with
a majority of votes."

Friday, June 23, 2017

They're still coming in.

It's Day Three of the NMA reunion and the MUs keep arriving.

And just a reminder: if for any reason the registration room is closed when you arrive, don't worry. Join the party and sign in later. We want you involved, not worrying.

Liberty Call

Friday afternoon, 23JUN17--
This is the first break in the non-stop frenzy that has been the  2017 reunion of the Navy Musicians Association. 

This morning the concert band sailed through its final rehearsal. Wilbur Smith has arranged a program that challenges us but also contains a few old favorites. It's been a long time since we've played "Victory at Sea," but, somehow, the notes can still be coaxed out of our horns.

We'll perform at 1800 for the annual Friday Night Gala. This evening of music, hors d'oeuvres and stories is a highlight in what is actually four days of highlights.

So we're now on liberty until muster at 1745. Until then, we'll try to stay out of trouble, but you never know--this is a Navy town.

A Terrifying Memento

Norfolk's CINCLANT band was known for its busy schedule. Those guys had little free time and lots of spit and polish.

Interestingly, MUs who were stationed at CINCLANT loved it. But spit and polish were never my thing; I am still grateful for the many opportunities I had to not belong to this band.

Trouble in River City

Pick a little, talk a little, pick a little, talk a little, 
Cheep cheep cheep, talk a lot, pick a little more : 
Pick a little, talk a little, pick a little, Talk a little, 
Cheep cheep cheep, talk a lot, pick a little more.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

True confessions.

Okay, I confess. You've probably noticed, anyway:  I don't take new pictures of MUs in bars every year.

I recycle...


Those who are no longer with us are, in a certain way, still a part of NMA reunions.

Leafing through memorabilia on display in our registration room, I came across this photo from the 1997 reunion.

Jim Thumpston was--and still is-- a legend in Navy music. Hundreds of MUs remember "Thumper" from his long tour at the School of Music as Head of the Theory Department and Head of Advanced Courses. But Master Chief Thumpston's influence was greatest as our instructor in Leadership. He taught it the old-fashioned way: by example.

And oh, what an example he was. "I Was Chewed Out by Thumper" stories abound. The details of each story differ, but they all follow the same 4-step format:

  1. I screwed up.
  2. Thumper chewed me out royally.
  3. I was P.O.'d at Thumper.
  4. Years went by and I realized Thumper had been right. 

As a member of the school's staff, I finally got to know Jim not as an authority figure but as a shipmate. For a few months I even shared an office with this guy who turned out to be warm, personable and who cared deeply about every student in every one of his classes.

His office was right down a busy passageway from his third-deck classroom, but it was always surprisingly quiet in the environs.

Students tiptoed carefully past Master Chief Thumpston's office.

DId I say MUs are dribbling in? It's a torrent.

By noon of this second day of the 2017 NMA reunion, the joint was starting to get crowded.

Secret talents

Our members display a wide variety of abilities. Bob Montgomery, for example, is an advanced alto saxophonist, not only technically but in his understanding of complex harmonic extensions.

Yet he is even more adept at "selective comprehension." Bob will have difficulty finding a concert band rehearsal that's in progress sixteen feet down the hallway, yet he can smell a bebop jam session six miles away.

Still looking good.

We're grateful that Ray Ascione is willing to help Wilbur Smith with his conducting duties this year. My viewpoint is that anyone who was good enough to lead the Naval Academy Band is good enough to conduct the NMA concert band.

Ray looks as good as he did when he was my boss at the School of Music. Back then, the only thing worse than a Friday morning inspection was a Friday morning inspection conducted by LT Ascione. It's not he was a nitpicking pain in the butt. The problem was that he looked perfect.

Ray always looked as if his uniform had floated down from heaven on a golden breeze and, to the sound of celestial trumpets, draped itself upon his form with the sparkling clarity of an illustration from the Bluejacket's Manual.  You could spend hours washing and pressing your uniform for inspection, but the moment the lieutenant stepped in front of you, you felt like you were wearing a rag that had been used to clean a leaky valve in a cesspool truck.

I'm glad Ray is here. I'm also glad we don't wear uniforms at NMA reunions.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

To My Shipmates

To every present or former US Navy Musician who is not in attendance at the 2017 NMA reunion:

 I wish you were here.

At NMA reunions we renew old friendships and launch new ones. We pick up where we left off five or forty years ago,

A reunion is a time of fellowship. We share a common bond of service to our country, our Navy and to each other. These things are not quickly forgotten.

We share a love of each other's company, sometimes more truly than we did when we worked together, played together ate, slept and fought together,

We share these things through a camaraderie that is, for us, sea stories with musical accompaniment.

Maybe you can come next year. I hope so, but keep in mind that every parade has an end. You can only keep saying "Maybe next year" for so long.

Meanwhile, rest assured that even though you're not here, we're thinking about you. And we're talking about you. It's mostly good stuff. Some of it is slightly exaggerated. Actually, a lot of it is b**ls**t.

What else would you expect from a bunch of MUs?

A-one and a-two

At the first concert band rehearsal, the first thing conductor Wilbur Smith does is pass out the music. The second thing he does is remind everyone that we'll be performing this music in two days.

That's the nature of NMA reunions. Once things get going, there's no stopping. We're on a schedule, time is tight and a gig is coming up, so quit the skylarking and shape up, sailor,

Sound familiar?

Fratelli Italiani

Terry and Pete, or should I say,
"Terrino e Pietro."
These guys who were stationed in Italy are all the same, They loved Italy, they loved the duty and they love each other.

Since 1975 I've been dealing with guys who were stationed in Italy. They're still in love with everything Italian and each other.

MUs of all eras

I can't stress it enough or too ofter: the NMA is for all MUs, whether active duty, former one-hitchers or retired.

And we are of a variety of eras. Here, Ron Wilder is catching up on the news with Cecil Strange. I'd like to point out that MUCM Strange retired in 1968. You're welcome to guess when he enlisted...

Enter and sign in, please.

It's Day One of the 2017 NMA reunion and MUs are pouring in to the Holiday Inn. And sometimes they even remember to register.

And awaaaay we go.

In eight minutes, the 2017 reunion of the Navy Musicians will be in progress.

Make all preparations for getting underway. Set the special sea & anchor detail. Single up all lines fore & aft. Muster the band on the fantail.

Anchors aweigh!

Good morning, sunshine.

Ah, a new day.

Fresh challenges, blossoming opportunities. And when your reunion coordinator springs into this new day with unbridled optimism and vigor, you know good things are coming..

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Pre-reunion jam session.

Here's a four-year-old photo of the lounge with no one in it. I have no photos of tonight's jam session. I was too busy playing walking bass lines to run around with a camera.

Trumpeter Don Junker was a good sport and played piano while I played bass. The two of us are really hoping more bassists and pianists will be here tomorrow. As of this moment, I'm in carpal tunnel pain. Don, I assume, is in bed.

Attention all former and present Navy pianists and bassists:

Shipmate Frank wants you.

Before the jam session starts...

We're winding up this busy pre-reunion day, getting ready for the pre-reunion night. Members have been pouring in all day and will continue to arrive even while we're having a pre-reunion jam session. Mike Vax says his plane gets in at midnight and he hopes we'll still be at it. We'll see. Taps seems come a little earlier in the evening than it used to.

And quite a day it has been. The lobby and registration room have been overflowing with MUs checking in, meeting each other and getting a head start on the story-telling. This pre-reunion day always presents me with the challenge of finding new angles, new ideas, new stories to tell in new ways.

And what I wand up with every year is photos of MUs and beer.
I could publish a coffee-table sized book of
photographs of Wilbur Smith in bars.

Varied Talents

You don't often hear words "ukulele" and "bass" used
together. Unless Jim is around..

Musicians are more than mere instrumentalists. Our means of artistic expression are varied.

Here, percussionist Jim Richards introduces Ron Wilder to the intricacies of the bass ukulele.

Ron, too, is more than a musician; we enjoy the graphic artist's work in Leger Lines and now at the reunion.
Ron's portrait of the NMA Board of Directors is in the recent issue of
Leger  Lines. Can you spot the one MU who, you might say, outranks us all?

Not a glitch to be seen.

You know things are going well
when the glitch-count is 0.0.
Like planning a Navy band tour, putting together an NMA reunion involves months of hashing out details and just when you think everything is squared away, six hundred more questions pop up.

But our organizers are up to the task. Today our organizational staff met in the lobby with hotel management to finalize the absolutely last, final, this-is-it details. I am told that zero glitches popped up.

The privileges of seniority

"Back in Unit Band 3, we lashed our upright piano to the
mizzenmast and hauled timpani on our shoulders."

We have no rank in the NMA. We welcome past and present enlisted folk and officers, career MUs and one-hitch wonders.

Still, age confers a certain status.

"Ha ha, it worked."

If you play your cards right and don't press your luck, you can get younger members to do the heavy lifting.

Preparing to get underway

Deb Holl knows what goes where--
she's done this a few times before.
The first thing you'll do when you arrive is sign in in the NMA registration room. So, the first thing our volunteers do is get that room ready for the onslaught of MUs that will start pouring in today.

The registration room is our headquarters. During the reunion, this is where you'll find coffee, schedule changes (on the rehearsal board by the door), merchandise, conversation and the all-important check-in sheet. You check the check-in sheet to check up on who has arrived since the last time you checked the check-in sheet.
Your name tag will be waiting for you.

Gettin' ready.

An NMA reunion doesn't just happen. It takes work and a dedicated crew of members and volunteers.

Many of them will be here this morning with our gear. Music stands. Amplifiers. PA equipment. Computers. Percussion gear. Small stores items. Pianos. You name it, they'll bring it.

And MUs will begin pouring in today. With luck, we'll have enough members for a jam session tonight.

And the best news of all: with all the members and equipment coming, you won't have to look at any more of my photographs of empty rooms.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Internal combustion memories.

As the sun sets and I gaze out my window over the Tidewater area, I think about the things I miss about my time here: the friends, the challenges and satisfaction of doing an important job, the excitement of serving in the Navy's capital.

I also think about what I don't miss:

Chow time.

Once the reunion gets going, we're on a tight schedule. But we're still in the warm-up mode. Today and tomorrow, there'll be a lot of jaunting out to various restaurants.

A favorite with MUs, former and present, is 

I'm hoping to get there soon. Soon like tonight.

This is how it starts.

What I've actually seen around the
hotel so far is a lot of furniture,
This morning I saw David Blakeley from my hotel room which overlooks the lobby. But I wasn't dressed yet, so I haven't talked with him.

I also saw Cecil Strange down there, but haven't met him yet.

While heading out for a walk, my wife met up with David. She told me his wife isn't here yet. David said he'd text me.

I talked on the phone with Terry Chesson. He's coming to the hotel this afternoon, so I haven't seen him yet.

My wife saw TJ in the parking lot, but didn't talk to him because she didn't know who he was. I have spoken with TJ because when I was walking through the lobby, I did know who he was.

I have been to the registration room, but I didn't see any of the Debs because they're not here yet.

This is in no way boring. An NMA reunion is, to me, a lot like Christmas; it involves a lot of expectation and preparation. I've been here for two days, working out a few technical things, resting up, getting ready. More members will arrived today and the pace will pick up even as we await the official start of the reunion.

And there's David down in the lobby again. If I hurry, I'll catch him.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Daily Poop - SUN18JUN17- A Scenic Drive. Sort of.

My wife and I arrived in Virginia Beach late yesterday. The last leg of our trip, Lewisburg, WV to Virginia Beach, VA was scenic. The scenery I refer to was, essentially, a license plate, VA plate VXR-427, on the back of the car in front of me that I stared at for the two hours it took to travel the last mile and a half before the Hampton Bay Bridge/Tunnel.

I live on the edge of an Illinois town a block from a cornfield. To me, a traffic jam is two tractors plowing the same 600 acres. You can imaging what Tidewater is like for me.

The saving grace is that once an NMA reunion gets going, there's not a lot of driving involved. There's too much going on, too much to do, stories, music, jam sessions, bull sessions. Things can only get better.

Today, wife and I will do some shopping, some sightseeing. Then we'll park the car for the last time until the whole shebang is over.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Daily Poop - SAT17JUN17 - Last Leg

Leg 2 of 3 took us to Lewisburg, WV. After you've spent the night in a West Virginia Motel 8, you know the rest of the trip can only get better and better.


I got a voicemail message from JJ Connor who will have to miss the reunion this year. I'll miss his presence, his stories and his incredible memory.

JJ is special to me. He was my first master chief at my first band in my first year as an MU. He still calls me Mullen.


Today will bring us to Virginia Beach. In on sense, the homeport of Navy music.

In another sense, the scene of the crime.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Daily Poop - FRI16JUN17 - The Loadmaster

Now that we're retired, my wife and I do more things together. She's coming to the NMA reunion again this year, something she rarely had time for in past years. We' spent the night in a Louisville, KY motel, 1/3 of the way to Virginia Beach for the Navy Musicians Association  reunion. But even though we now have more time to spend together, there's still one thing we don't do as a team:travel

We don't pack the car together. When we're leaving on a trip, the Loadmaster does the packing. There is no helping. There is no advising, critiquing or complaining. It is not a team effort.

Certainly, much discussion takes place. Luggage that will not be needed until final arrival is identified. Things that will come into motels en route are listed. Personal items that must be accessible at all times are set aside.

But when the packing begins, there is no more discussing. There are only orders. The Loadmaster calls for items in the order in which they must be packed.

I learned from the best. John Derby, loadmaster of Navy Show Band West, demonstrated the art, leadership and firmness that can pack the equipment of a nine-piece band into a trailer the size of a footstool.

And, of course, upon arrival in Louisville, my expertise was confirmed was confirmed. Everything we needed for the night was accessible and the long-distance materiel remained undisturbed.

The Loadmaster has very few other marital responsibilities, but he is good at what he does, a vital task that contributes greatly to domestic harmony.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Daily Poop - THURS15JUN17 - Anchors Aweigh

Now set the special sea and anchor detail. All hands make preparations for getting underway.

I'm packing the car and in a few minutes will leave western Illinois, my course set for Virginia Beach for the 2017 reunion of the Navy Musicians Association. It's a three-day, two night cruise; I'm not nearly as fond of driving 18 hours straight as I used to be. Tonight's first port of call will be Louisville, KY.

"Drive faster, Frank; I can't wait to spend a week listening
to you and your buddies rehash ancient sea stories.".
My wife and I will arrive in Virginia Beach late Saturday for a few days of pre-reunion sightseeing. We won't be alone; a number of NMA regulars always show up early.

I hope you'll be there. If you can't make it, I hope you'll come next year. An NMA reunion is a medley of camaraderie, sea stories and music only MUs can understand.

Anchors Aweigh!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Daily Poop - WED14JUN17 - Gotta Get a Move On.

"Hurry, dear; I can't wait for you to show me all those
places in Virginia Beach where you used to get bombed."
To put it in family-friendly language: holy smokes; I'm leaving tomorrow for the NMA reunion in Virginia Beach.

I generally like to arrive a few days before the reunion. And my wife is coming again this year, so we're building in a little time for sightseeing. (Our last sight-seeing trip to VA Beach was in 1992, the year before we got married. I took her to the Brass Bell so she could get a feel for how I'd lived before we met. She married me anyway. The Brass Bell is still standing, although my other haunts--Dave's Casino, the Duck Inn and a few other places of that high caliber--are long gone.)

So, because we plan to spend two nights on the road so as to arrive in Virginia Beach sometime Saturday, I have to pack today: Clothes. Camera. Video equipment. Music. Gig bag. Musical equipment. Computer. Computer accessories.

And a mask. The Reef may still be in business, and I wouldn't dare walk into that dump without a disguise. Someone might have a long memory.