Sunday, December 9, 2018

Frank Mullen vs. The Singing Sergeants

The Air Force's Singing Sergeants gave an evening concert at the base theater in Little Creek when I was an instructor at the SOM in the early 1980s. Attendance was mandatory for staff as well as students, so I put on my dress  blues and showed up, taking my usual seat at the end of the third row, a seat that allowed a quick getaway through the side door to the parking lot when the concert ended.

The concert featured a Broadway-wannabe solo singer who did some sappy, dipstick number from The Carpenters' Songbook ("Sing, sing a song, Make it simple to last your whole life long). During an extended instrumental interlude, the guy took his microphone out into the audience, sharing the mic with audience members as he interviewed them: "Hi, what's your name? Susan? Nice to meet you, Susan." You get the idea.

The spotlight followed him as he worked his way up the aisle in my general direction. "Please," I said under my breath, "don't come my way." But he kept coming, sticking his mic in people's faces:"Good evening, and what is your name? Dick? Have a great night, Dick."

I sent out a final plea to the universe; "Please, please do not let this guy stick his microphone in my face, for I cannot be held responsible for my actions." (I'd come to the theater straight from The Brass Bell Lounge on Independence Boulevard. I was planning to be back on my stool within five minutes of the concert's close.)

My plea to the universe went unheard. The guy game up to me, stuck the mic in my face and said,  "Hey there, sailor, what's your name?"

"Ron Van Hoose," I said, invoking the name of the commanding officer of the School of Music.

When the audience's howling finally died down, he said, "Are you having a good time tonight, Ron?"

The guy clearly didn't know why the crowd was enjoying the repartee so much, but when your shtick is getting a thunderous response, you go with it.

"I'm having the time of my life," I said.

"Well, I hope you have a good night, Ron."

"You can count on it, pal" I said.

I learned a lot from this experience. Specifically, I learned that a Command Master Chief may be a nice guy to have a beer with in the evening, but he's not so jolly at 0800 the morning after you've publicly impersonated your commanding officer.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Still an MU

A few weeks after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, I was painting my porch while listening to a radio broadcast of the "United in Memory" ceremony at the Pentagon. Since the day of the attacks, I'd been feeling what all Americans had been feeling: anger, grief, shock, fear. Now, as the US Navy Band played through the tinny speaker of my radio, I added to my woes the feeling of uselessness.

I'd been out of the Navy for 14 years, but I knew that across the fleet, Navy bands were at work honoring America, consoling the nation and stirring its resolve. Not all these performance were broadcast nationally but each was vital locally.

And I wasn't a part of it.

I was no longer the sailor called to action by a national tragedy. I was a middle-aged guy in a sweatshirt painting his front porch while listening to a Navy band on a transistor radio.

A few years later I joined the Navy Musicians Association and have since become a happy cheerleader for the organization. I'm always willing to share the benefits of membership, the camaraderie, the reunions, the music and stories.

But overriding all of these is the knowledge that through my membership in the NMA, I remain a part of our Navy's history of musical service. I'm a member of an incredible band of veterans and a shipmate to those who still play the music that accompanies our national celebrations and sorrows.

All these years later, I'm still an MU.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Taps 2018

Taps. Taps. Lights out. All hands return to their racks and maintain silence about the decks.


Here's all you care about...

The Town the NMA Will Make Famous
Nobody threw silverware and nobody got pinned in a figure-four leglock. The 2018 General Membership Meeting of the NMA went well.

Of course, one concern dwarfed all the others: the location of next year's reunion:

The answer: Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Details on dates and hotel are still being hashed out, but you can checkmark June on your 2019 calendar.

And now I head downstairs for the final event of the week, the Saturday night dinner and dance. We'll have a lot to talk about. And over the next few days, I'll have plenty more to talk about here concerning this year's reunion, the friends I saw, the stories we told, the music we played.

But tonight, everyone's talking about just one thing: Milwaukee in 2019.

I'm off to the Membership Meeting

I'm heading down to the ballroom for two traditional NMA reunion events.

First, the break-out breakfast. This is, essentially, a gabfest accompanied by coffee, pastries and fruit.

After an hour or so, our spouses and families will depart and members will stay in place for the second and important event.

The General Membership Meeting is an hour of reports from directors and, questions from members. We review the reunion that's coming to a close and discuss the year that's heading our way.

I think we'll get the answer to the three biggest questions on everyone's mind: location, location, location. We all wa.nt to know where we'll be headed for the 2019 reunion.

We've all got the questions, Reunion Coordinator Carl Gerhard has the answers and I've got a laptop.

So, this afternoon,, you'll have the answers.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Gettin' serious around here

For three days, present and former MUs have had a lot of fun playing, jamming and telling stories at the NMA reunion.

Now things veer onto a different course. Soon begins our Friday night concert band performance. This tradition is a time to show off, to demonstrate what a few days of hard, enjoyable work can do.

It's also time for reflection. We'll honor our former shipmates with The Navy Hymn, our country with "America, the Beautiful" and our comrades-in-arms.with  an Armed Forces Medley.

This is the real thing. Until later: Anchors Aweigh.

Meet the new guy.

Last night I walked into the lounge looking for a jam session. Instead, I found Jake.

Jake Stith is a new member of the NMA and well-qualified; he's an active-duty MU currently serving as an instructor at the Naval School of Music. We shared a few stories about SOM staff duty until the bandstand filled up with eager players.

Petty Officer Stith's youthful exuberance and mature chops kept us on our toes all night.
Any guitarist that can play unison lines with Marty
Nau and not fall behind deserves a medal.

Talk, talk talk

Cecil Strange is talking about you.

There's always something going on at an NMA reunion. Except when there isn't.

Bill Hocke is talking about you.

And when we have a free moment, you'll find us catching up with old friends and meeting new friends.

Even my wife and David Blakeley's daughter
are talking about you. Sorry, but that's
 how it is. You're only avenue is to show
up and defend yourself in person

For those who aren't here in Virginia Beach, here's a secret: what we mostly talk about is you.

Crisis Averted

A tense, edgy mood pervaded the Holiday Inn yesterday, a low-grade terro caused by the widespread belief that today's concert band rehearsal would feature NMA President Terry Chessson on clarinet.

Fortunately, band director Wilbur Smith diffused the situation, by striking a deal with Terry. In a nutshell, Wilbur told Terry:

"If you promise not to bring your clarinet, I'll let you conduct."

Evenings at Ashley's

After a day of music and sea stories, we gather in Ashley's Lounge, a short walk down the hotel corridor.

It's a comfortable place--our living
room, really--where we can unwind with--you guessed it--more music and sea stories.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Takin' a break

No one works harder in planning our reunions than Kim Holl, Carl Gerhard and Deb Holl. In gratitude for their diligence, we allow them a few moments of relaxation. Not too many, just a few.

Like a leaky faucet...

...they keep dribbling in.

Long time, no see.

Truly, the best part of sitting in my room overlooking the lobby is the view of friends running into each other.

When it's been a year since you've seen someone--or a quarter of a century--that first "hello" is quite a moment.

Unlock your hotel room door the Shipmate Frank way.

Your pal Shipmate Frank shows you how to simplify the process of opening your hotel room door with an electronic key card.


A Guitar in the Big Band

We have a guitar player this year. He's a welcome addition, though I'll admit his presence is startling.

I was not aware that Satan had ever served as a Navy musician.
Jim Robo with a guitar is pure evil. 

NMA Dance Band

So many of us want to play in the NMA dance band that we play in shifts. We play a handful of tunes then stop for a couple of minutes to rotate a few players in. Switching people around keeps things moving, keeps everyone involved and, most of all, keeps rehearsals fresh.

When I say we play dance band music morning  and night, I am being absolutely literal.
Morning. And. Night.

A failure to communicate

The NMA Concert Band was short on high woodwinds at rehearsal yesterday, so Director Wilbur Smith asked President Terry Chesson to play clarinet today.

Terry said okay.

Wilbur said wait, I was only kidding.

Terry said what, you think I couldn't cut the part?

They're still not speaking to each other.

NMA Reunion ; Day Two

Welcome to the 24th annual John Hancock Patriotic Signature Competition.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

NMA Concert Band -- Day One

We haven't played together in a year, we're seeing the music for the first time, the rehearsall hall still has empty seats and--guess what? The performance is the day after tomorrow. We cross our fingers, whisper a few prayers and take it from the first bar.

The NMA Concert Band is a motley crew of professional musicians, amateurs, and occasional players. Our director, Wilbur Smith, understands this and challenges us accordingly. We work hard and enjoy the work.

The fruits of this joyful work are on display at our annual Friday night performance. Every year, I am astonished by the show this bunch of salty MUs can put together in a few days.

But during those few days, yeah, there are a lot of crossed fingers.


Jo Knox spent yesterday afternoon setting up merchandise in the Registration Room.

We do a brisk business every year as our Small Stores feature a variety of NMA apparel and accessories.

Though it's hard to believe anyone will be interested in these insulated cups. It's not as though MUs have ever displayed an affinity for frothy beverages that are best enjoyed at cool temperatures.

The Blu Bar

We wish we could all congregate in Ashley's, the hotel's lounge and popular meeting place for MUs,

Realistically, this is impossible. Thankfully, the  hotel has put The Blue Bar in the lobby--to handle the overflow.

Poor John

Last night, poor John Clemmer wandered into the lounge looking for musicians.

Instead, he found drummers.


The Levys

Barbara and Sheldon Levy are regular attendees. Barbara seems as happy to see me as I am to see her.

Sheldon is better at hiding his emotions.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Carry Me Back to Hell

It is beyond hot  here in Virginia Beach. It is a record-breaking, heatstroke-inducing, sun-scorched inferno.Naturally, we sensible MUs are staying inside in the deliciously air-conditioned hotel.

I am reminded of the worst days of my life, those days that, as a student at the School of Music, mere miles from here, I was forced to exercise with Marines, who relished running in formation through the golf course in August. Nothing, not triple digit temperatures, jungle-like humidity or monsoon warnings, stopped these hideous afternoon drills.

Fortunately, not all Marines are clinically insane. I owe my life to SSGT Scott Johnson, who, as PT leader, generously told us before each golf course marathon: "Fall out only if you feel dangerously weak."

I never made it past the sand trap next to the green on the first hole.

Final Warning


If you hang out in the lobby, you are fair game for capture by The Eye in the Sky.
If I had a nickle for every photograph I've ever taken of
Jim Richards laughing, I could buy a case of San Miguel.

Gotta say "Hi" to Dick

I just spotted Dick Bonenfant in the lobby and I'm heading down to greet him.

My relationship with Dick shows the joy of NMA reunions. Chief Bonenfant was among the legends of Navy music when I showed up for the Basic Course. To MUs of my era, he was a monster, a mentor, a model of musical professionalism.

Now he's a friend.

Things are getting serious.

It's a Holiday Inn, but there's not much of a festive mood among members of the reunion preparation team.

Deb Holl has the pre-registration jitters.

David Blakeley is already worried about the next issue of Leger Lines.

Stephanie Rowland is weighing reunion expenses and NMA assets.

And then, there's Jim.

Prep Day for the Reunion

The NMA reunion begins tomorrow, but there's lots to accomplish today.

Our planning team will meet this morning to hash out the final details.with  hotel management.

Deb Holl and her crew will prepare the registration desk to handle the onslaught of MUs that will file in over the next few days.

The Small Stores must be set up, combo gear moved, computers hooked up.

The magic doesn't happen by itself; a crew of magicians are working behind the scenes.

The Eye in the Sky

Wilbur and Ben scan the lobby, looking for hidden observers.
Fools! There is no escaping The Eye. 


I have taken the room directly above the front desk in the Holiday Inn. My window provides clear sight lines. There is no hiding.

When you check in, I will know.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Truth in Advertising

The Holiday Inn has provided us with a new "welcome" sign.

Terry Chesson must be here...

...I just saw his car parked outside.

2018 NMA Reunion Live-blog

The Navy Musicians Association 2018 Reunion begins on Wednesday, but the Live-blog starts today..

I quit drinking 30 years ago, but the sight of
underutilized libation facilities still makes me sad
It's mostly quiet around the Holiday Inn, but a few "early birds" are already in residence. I spent some time with David Blakeley in the lobby while my wife was out running errands. David and I poked our heads in the lounge, which was empty of MUs, music and b.s. This will change soon.

It's quiet, but the preparations have begun. Warren Weiss was seen hauling equipment into the building and Leon Harris has brought a boatload of gear from the School of Music. It's worth remembering that truckloads of equipment do not magically appear at reunion. Santa's helpers do not haul kettledrums and amplifiers. Dedicated volunteers perform hours of hot, sweaty, dirty work most of us never see.

And I'm setting up for NMA Live-blog 2018. I'll post coverage of goings-on throughout the reunion. You can find it here or through Facebook's Navy Musicians Association group.

I look forward to seeing old and new friends soon. And if you can't come this year, I look forward to hearing from you as a comment here or on Facebook.

MON, 18JUN18 - The Daily Poop - Up at the Crack of Noon

12:01 p.m.

Inside that grumpy old man is a young
stud just bursting with enthusiasm.
We arrived at the Holiday Inn yesterday evening after a drive from Beckley, West Virginia. Most of our time was spent crawling at seven iles per hour on I-64 around Williamsburg. Some things never change.

I'm ready to face the day, the new, invigorated, optimistic and energetic Man of the Future, ready to storm the gates of the Holiday Inn and grab life by the neck.

Who am I kidding? I'm a 69-year-old codger on blood thinners who hobbles around with a cane and a bad attitude. (See yesterday's Special Self-pity Edition.)
From my room overlooking the lobby, I've already seen  Leon Harris and Warren Weiss. Jo went down to say hi, and learned they'd just finished hauling the NMA gear to the hotel. They'll be back at 1:30 to move something--Jo wasn't sure what it was, but Leon referred to it as "The Widowmaker." I don't know what it is, but I'm not going to lift it.
Despite any possible negative editorial slant the reader may have perceived over the last few days, I am thrilled to be here and look forward to seeing old shipmates and meeting new friends. I am to pitch in to make this reunion a winner.

But I'm not lifting The Widowmaker. Whatever it is.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

SUN, 17JUN18 - The Daily Poop -- Special Self-pity Edition

"Maybe a few drops of rat poison
will shut the whiny S.O.B. up."
Beckley, W. Va.--
Sunday, 8:45:a.m.

The nurse thinks I'll be able to take solid food today.

"What the h'--" you ask.

Okay, let's back up a bit. Yes, this is supposed to be a few day of lighthearted blogging about my trip to Virginia for the NMA reunion. But it's turning into something darker,

Yesterday afternoon, while heading east on I-64 in West Virginia, I began bleeding from the mouth. Don't know how it happened, but generally, not a big deal, according to Nurse Jo, my travel companion and wife.

Trouble is, I'm on blood thinners, which slows clotting and can allow minor bleeding to last for hours. Why blood thinners? To get my heart working right. Why the heart problem?  Because I just had a stent put into an artery in my heart. Why the stent? Because the artery was blocked.

Nurse Jo travels with a variety of medical supplies, so we got to a hotel here in Beckley and she went to work with bandages, gauzes and, of course, incessant blood pressure monitoring.  The bleeding continued into the evening, during which time I dined on things that don't irritate oral wounds, Applesauce and V8 juice were made to go together..

So, we're now getting ready to go downstairs to the the hotel restaurant for breakfast, but I still need to be careful. Jo thinks maybe liquified scrambled eggs or yogurt puree will be acceptable.

If all goes well and I don't bleed out, we expect this handbasket to reach Virginia Beach this afternoon. I can't wait for this trip to end.

I look forward to a rousing good time at the reunion, though I'll have to restrain myself. With this ongoing bleeding problem, I'll need to avoid the sort of behavior that could get me punched in the face.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

SAT, 16JUN18 - The Daily Poop - My Old Kentucky Home

Saturday Morning

It's hot. It's still morning and it's still hot. It's hot everywhere. Hot as hell.

Except in our hotel. Jo and I left the Mississippi River Valley yesterday, drove across sun-baked Illinois and sun-baked Indiana until we reached our day's destination, sun-baked Louisville, Kentucky.

We'll drive today to Beckley, West Virginia. It will be hot. It's hot everywhere. Hot as hell.

Which makes me wonder: what will the weather be like in Virginia Beach during the reunion next week? It's always hot, but this year, it's hot everywhere. Hot as--well, you get the picture.


I'm sorry to hear that Bob Grindle has to stay home this year. Apparently, I'm not the only person in the world with medical problems. We'll miss you, Boomer--aye!.


On the other hand, I hear that Marty Nau will be here this year. A last minute medical event kept Marty home last year. I missed hearing him play, tho' I'm lucky; the radio host of the late-night jazz program on WVIK, Rock Island, plays Marty's recordings Marty can make a clarinet worthwhile listening to.

Friday, June 15, 2018

FRI, 15JUN18 - The Daily Poop -- First Edition

Five days and the fun begins. Music, laughter, old shipmates, new friends, Basie charts and sea stories galore. It's the 2018 reunion of the Navy Musicians Association.

 And thus begins the Daily Poop, my annual, pre-reunion pep rally of news and slander. I'll keep this up daily until the reunion starts on Wednesday the 20th (or maybe the day before) at which time Live Blog 2018 will kick in. That'll be round-the-clock coverage of the NMA action in Virginia Beach. More about this later.
I'm looking forward to this NMA reunion like never before. It's been a crappy year--cat scans, ekgs, stress tests heart blockages--I was afraid I wouldn't be able to make the trip. But a coupla weeks ago, the doc put a stent in my heart. Yesterday he gave me the okay to travel and said I could hope for improvement soon.

So my wife and I are about to hop in the car and head toward Virginia. (Actually, Jo will "hop" in. I'll "dodder with my cane.")
Usually, I spend about month before the reunion in a quivering state of high anticipation. Because of my aforementioned medical uncertainties, haven't experienced such high drama this year. Until now. I'll have to pack it all in during the next few days.
Got news? Slander? Are you coming to the reunion? Do you have to stay home for your grandniece's first dance recital? Let me know. Giving me news to share helps the Daily Poop cover more than just me, me, me.

So, away we go. Our course is set for the Holiday Inn in Virginia Beach.

Anchors Aweigh!