Sunday, June 30, 2019

2019 NMA Reunion Wrap-up: Final Edition

As we resume our lives at home, we'll think occasionally about the 2019 reunion, the old friends we shared the week with, the new friendships we forged, the music we played.

For me, reunion memories never totally disappear. I spend six months thinking about the last reunion and when Christmas is over, I start looking forward to June again. If you've been to a reunion you understand; if you haven't, well, all I can say is: Come to a reunion, and, pal, you'll understand.

As time goes by, I'll edit and post recordings of our 2019 performances, rehearsals and a visit from Navy Band Great Lakes. Until then, I leave you with this:

We're musical professionals and part-timers. We're on active duty or we took off our dress blues decades ago. We perform for a living or just for the fun of being in a municipal band. We play every day or dust off the horn case once a year.

But when you put us together on the bandstand, we play like we pulled into a foreign port this morning, performed an afternoon concert in a packed town square and now we're at the embassy ball, halfway through the third set, arguing under our breaths about who's gonna drive the bus to colors tomorrow morning. 

We used to call it "work." Now, it's something we voluntarily fly halfway across the country to do every June.

And here's a little bit of it:

2019 NMA Reunion Wrap-up #2: Big Band

The Friday Nite Saxes: Jim Hayward, John Polites,
Ray Ascione, John Clemmer and Dennis Bear.

Friday night is a musical blowout at an NMA reunion. Our concert band's performance opens the evening, we break to enjoy the buffet and then our dance band finishes the evening.

I count 3 generations of MUs in the
trumpet section. Your count may vary.

Triple threat, pianist Tom Wholley anchored rhythm
sections in the lounge, concert band and dance band.

2019 NMA Reunion Wrap-up #1: Lounging Around

David and Willean Blakeley join Sherry Church in the lounge
 for a few moments of temperate, responsible behavior.

Big band, concert band music, straight-ahead jazz and even some Dixieland. This year's NMA reunion had it all.

Party animals Rick Jebavy, Deb Holl, Dennis 
Allard, Leon Harris and John Polites.

But the music is only part of a reunion. We gather together, old friends and new friends, telling old stories and sharing the news of the last year.

 Woodwind doublers Dennis Bear and Ray Ascione recuperate 
from an afternoon spent juggling clarinets and saxophones.
We find the lounge a convenient spot for such socializing. This has certainly be true for me. My bandmasters always knew: If you can't find Frank Mullen in his office, go look in the bar lounge.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Old Vet in the Audience

He sat in his lawn chair in his Navy unit cap and applauded respectfully. He saluted when you played the National Anthem and stood proudly when you played Anchors Aweigh. And when the concert was over, that ancient Navy veteran hobbled up to the bandstand and pestered you:

"Did you know Bill Deckler/Jack Portsworth/Ed Hallerman?"
"When did the Navy do away with/bring back crackerjacks?"
"Do they still have a band in Boston/San Francisco/Charleston?"

You needed to change back into civvies, tear down the gear, load the truck and take off. But you put up with the old guy's meandering, trying not to let him see how often you were checking your watch.

This week, at Navy Band Great Lakes' Navy Week performances in Rock Island, I asked my wife to take a few pictures. I've just perused her photos and learned something shocking:

That old Navy vet is me.

Left: Chief Tommy "One More Hill to Climb" Horner
Right: Lieutenant Patrick  Hill
Center: Over the Hill Frank Mullen

I don't know how this happened. Maybe I'm in the Twilight Zone. All I know is, I sat enthralled by the sounds of our Navy's finest and, when the show was over, there I was, harassing the band's members and leaders with those same Geriatric Questions of Old.

One difference, though: all the MUs I met--before the show, after the show, in and out of uniform, from the oboe player, to the CPOs, to the bandmaster himself--were unfailingly interested and engaged. They made me feel like a young sailor shooting the breeze with his shipmates.

Well, except for the part where the chief and the lieutenant had to help me up out of my chair.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Lucky me; I get another reunion..

This year, we extended our NMA reunion by starting on Tuesday, rather than the usual Wednesday.

This year, we liked the extended reunion.

This year, Frank Mullen gets an extended, extended reunion.

Once again, it's Navy Week in the Illinois/Iowa Quad Cities. Navy Band Great Lakes will be here all week, because this Illinois/Iowa location falls in their area of responsibility.

2015 Navy Week performance by Navy Band Great Lakes.

And I'll be here all week, because I live here. And, because listening to Navy bands fall in my area of enjoyment.

The ceremonial unit from Great Lakes knocked us out on Saturday night. This week will feature performances by the entire concert band, the brass group and the jazz and rock bands.

It'll be like another NMA reunion, only with more crackerjacks and fewer Hawaiian shirts..

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Bravo Zulu, NMA

The 2019 Reunion of the Navy Musicians Association is now entered into the log book as an unqualified success. I'll have much to report: the music, the performances, the stories, the guest performers from Navy Band Great Lakes.

But not now. My wife and I will now head down to the hotel lobby, check out, say a few last goodbyes and head home.

In a day or so, I'll be back with a wrap-up.

Until we meet once more here's wishing you a happy voyage home.  

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Off to the Ball

I'll be out of touch for a while. It's time to prepare for the Saturday-night dinner/dance.

This is the highlight of the NMA reunion. Beyond the dining and dancing, we'll enjoy a performance by the ceremonial component of Navy Band Great Lakes, and, certainly, thank Terry Chesson for his many years of diligent leadership

And, because some members need to head home during the zero-dark-thirty hours, we'll begin saying our goodbyes, leaving each other with the best wishes until we meet again next year.

Great Saturday Nights of the Past


2019 NMA Membership Meeting

The 2019 All-Hands Meeting was competed without serious injury of loss of life. Two notabMost notably:

Job #1 is to sign in so as to form a quorum.
Reunion Co-ordinator Carl Gerhard announced that the 2020 runion will be held in Virginia Beach. While out-of-town reunions provide new experiences and attract new members, we have an affinity for our "homeport" reunions at the Beach.

Members sit enthralled and entranced by
the nuances of parliamentary procedure.
Terry Chesson having announced his intention to retire from the presidency of the NMA, the membership, by unanimous vote, chose Dwaine Whitham to take that office.

Concert Band: Accolades and Changes

Rehearsal for this year's concert. Video clips
of the performance will be posted soon.

The 2019 performance by the NMA Concert Band will be long be remembered.

Singer MUC Audra Ratliff, an NMA member currently attached to Navy Band Great Lakes, brought the audience to its feet with "America, the Beautiful." Jim Hayward's tenor sax rendition of "When a Man Loves a Woman" drew equal enthusiasm.

But memories of this concert will be tinged with the bittersweet recollection of the announcement that, with this concert, Wilbur Smith has ended his tenure as conductor. This was not a sudden decision; Wilbur has more than once agreed to organize, rehearse and conduct our annual concert for "one more year."

His departure does not leave us in a musical wilderness, however. Wilbur announced that Ray Ascione will assume the duties of concert band conductor. Ray's experience as a Navy bandmaster alone would qualify him for the job. But, just as much, his reputation as an NMA shipmate and frequent guest conductor make him the ideal conductor.

Thanks Smitty, for steering the ship so well, and thanks, Ray, for agreeing to take the helm

Off to the All-Hands Meeting

The 2019 All-Hands meeting of the Navy Musicians Association will soon get underway. This is a time for reports, questions, answers, decisions and elections.

We'll elect a new president to succeed Terry Chesson. I also expect that Carl will announce the time and place of next year's reunion.

I'll be back in the afternoon with a complete report...

Friday, June 21, 2019

Shipmates Through Music

Soon, I will head downstairs to prepare for tonight's concert. As I consider spending the evening in a ballroom filled with MUs, I ponder the many ways by which we are acquainted with each other.

We know each other because we served together, because we've met at so many reunions, because of our fleet-wide reputations.

And we know each other by our music. I never met Connie Younger, but during tonight's concert, we'll play his march, "Sea Wise," and, though Connie is gone now, for a few minutes I'll know him.

Liberty Call

So far at the NMA reunion, individual members have had free time to enjoy a meal with a shipmate, to tell stories in the lounge while other members are jamming, to sit and watch bands rehearse.

Now, for the first time, the entire membership has been set free. Liberty commenced with the end of morning concert band rehearsal at 1030 this morning and expires at 1845 muster for the 1900 concert.

Members are reminded to behave in a manner that brings credit to the NMA. Your demeanor reflects directly upon our organization, your sharp appearance signals your pride and professionalism, your...

Oh, this is so pointless. We're all grownups. Just be back in time for the concert, dammit.

Musicians Everywhere

The NMA provides members the rare opportunity to perform for an audience comprised primarily of musicians.

We rehearse in front of musicians, too. Here, Doyle Church, Leon Harris and Tom Wholley watch the concert band preparing for our performance tonight. They won't be in the audience tonight; they'll be in the concert. Doyle will conduct a piece, Leon will run the sound board and Tom will play the piano in a few contemporary numbers.

Welcome, Chief Ratcliff

Carl Gerhard leads the band in 
rehearsal with Audra Ratcliff.
The NMA is not a retiree's organization. While many members served full careers, others left the Navy after a hitch or two.

And yesterday, we were reminded that some of us are still on active duty. MUC Audra Ratcliff joined us for concert band rehearsal. Although Chief Ratcliff is detailed to Navy Band Great Lakes as a trumpet player, in the NMA, she's a vocalist.

At our concert this evening Audra will sing "America, the Beautiful." If the number goes half as well as it did in rehearsal, it will be beautiful, indeed.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Takin' a break

We've been working our Navy butts off, preparing for tomorrow night's concert, jamming in the lounge and trading sea stories with a vengeance.

In half an hour, many of us, including me, will head out to Miller Park to watch a game. Those hooting owls will soar like eagles tomorrow at our 0900 final rehearsal.

So, for now, good night; I'll be back tomorrow with more. The good ship NMA is cruising at full steam and there are more stories to be told...

New concert band instrumentation

Navy concert bands have always shown flexibility of instrumentation. It's common to add a rhythm section to a certain piece, a full sax section to another.

This year, we've added something new and dangerous to our concert band:

Terry Chesson.

Dangers abound with such a risky innovation, but things could be worse--at least Terry's not playing the clarinet.

Play ball!

Tonight, some of us will take a trip to Miller Stadium to watch the Milwaukee Brewers play against....well, I don't know who they're playing. Nor do I care. Because it's not about baseball; it's about comrades united in common purpose.
Terry "Ticketron" Chesson

Chicago Cubs fan Terry Chesson organized this event so NMA members from across the country, from all walks of life, from a variety of faith traditions and political persuasions can firmly unite in the pursuit of a single goal:

To watch the Brewers lose.

Change 14(c)5

See that part on the rehearsal board that says "Check Daily for Changes"? That's a misunderestimation. NMA members, like active-duty fleet musicians, learn to monitor the schedule on an ongoing basis. Plans can and will change. It's the nature of a Navy organization

But the chances of missing an update are slim. MUs pass the word in rehearsal, at mealtime, in the lobby, lounge and passageways.

Sound familiar?

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Aloha From Milwaukee

Don't ask why Jim Richards brings his ukulele to reunions. In particular, don't ask why he brings his bass ukulele. Whatever that is.

Just accept that people have their quirks, and Jim's quirk involves traveling around the USA with a bass ukulele. Whatever that is.

But, when the dance band was ready to rehearse and the regular bass player hadn't arrived yet, Jim's quirk wasn't a problem; it was the solution. He played a set on the uke, and it worked out fine. Jim gets plenty of power and punch out of the bass ukulele.

Whatever that is.

Who's the other piano player?

Tom Wholley and I followed each other around the fleet, from Newport to Little Creek to Yokosuka. Every time one of us reported to a new band as the other was transferring out, the newcomer would become known as "the other piano player."

Following Tom wasn't easy. He's a fine pianist with an intuitive understanding of jazz. It's great to have him here at an NMA reunion, though I'm still not sure which of us is "the other piano player."

Swingin' at 0900

What kind of musician, you ask, will fly across the country in order to slide out of bed before the sun has fully risen, clean up, scarf down breakfast and start playing  Maynard Ferguson and Count Basie charts at nine in the morning?

The answer? MUs. After you've spent years playing 0600 inspections in drill halls, 0730 concerts and colors ceremonies at flagpoles and 0800 shows in high schools, a 0900 downbeat isn't odd at all.

MUs have turned on the swing before civilian musicians have turned off their alarms clocks.

Sax section formidable: Jim Hayward, Ray Ascione, Terry Chesson, Dennis Bear and David Blakeley.


Stephanie Rowland provides this photo of the NMA percussionists on a break during their annual conference. 

Shortly after this picture was taken, discussion returned to this year's topic: methods of ensuring that the snares cannot be turned off during performance, so as to allow them to rattle annoyingly during soft woodwind passages.

WED, DAY 2 - Members continue to arrive

Our registration room is open and
ready for members to sign in.

MUs reported aboard throughout yesterday and the parade will continue today. If you're marching in that parade, check in at the hotel's front desk and then follow the hallway on the left to the NMA registration room.

We've added new shirts to our small stores this 
year, though NMA unit caps are still favorites.

Get your raffle tickets early to
beat the Saturday rush.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

First Concert Band Rehearsal

The first concert band rehearsal is always, well, interesting. We've got folders full of music, hearts full of high hopes and chops full of rust. And we've also got a performance in a few days.

Of course, we'll bitch, laugh and complain about this; we're MUs, after all. But, this is why we came: to face a challenge, surmount it and have a good time all the way to the last measure.   

Special Rules for the President.

Haze gray and underway

The registration room was busy even before its 0900 scheduled opening. Dance band kicked off promptly at 0900.  The Board of Directors met semi-promptly at circa 1000. The concert band rehearsal hall is ready for a 1300 downbeat.

All ahead, full steam.

And away we go!

0900, Tuesday, Day 1.

Open up the horn case, warm up, tune up, listen up:

Take it from the top, second endings all the way; the last guy to reach the coda buys a round in the lounge tonight.

The 2019 NMA Reunion has begun.

Anchors Aweigh!

Just a couple of hours to go

You can feel the excitement in the air around here; the reunion starts soon, a new, Tuesday beginning, an extra day of music, camaraderie and sea stories. But this schedule change alters the usual sense of anticipation.

The runup to an NMA reunion has traditionally run on a reliable rhythm. A few early birds show over the weekend. By Sunday evening, a low-key "reunionette" is in progress.

On Monday, the tempo increases. More arrivals throughout the day. A truckload or two of equipment may pull up to the loading door. A lot of hard labor goes into reunion preparation.

On Tuesday, the fruits of that preparation come to flower. The set-up crew hauls gear around the hotel while our cadre of volunteers gets the registration room and small stores in order. Members pour into the hotel day and night and, by evening, we generally have enough MUs on board to form a pre-reunion jam session.

But, with the reunion beginning  earlier, everything has moved up a day. The lounge was filled with night-before arrivals last night, Monday night! The dance band gear and concert band stands were in place and it was only M-M-M-Monday! The reunion starts soon, and it's only Tuesday! 

Though it feels odd, it'll work out fine, probably better than ever. I'm just having a hard time dealing.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Any members of Unit Band 182 out there?

Our registration room also serves as our NMA apparel shop, Navy Music history collection and Lost & Found center. 

We're not sure which of these categories this hat falls into. It's a Unit Band 182 unit cap, and we're not sure whose it is. Have you lost your unit band cap? Were you in Unit Band 182? Do you have a clue as to the owner? Let us know.

In the front door and take the hallway to your left.

After you check in at the hotel's front desk, march down the hallway on the left and sign in at our registration room. Should the room happen to be closed, don't worry; find your shipmates, join the fun and sign in later.
Deb didn't like the picture of her I
posted yesterday. So, this.

Have a quick peek behind the NMA curtain.

Concert band director Wilbur Smith 
really hopes this carton contains 
concert band music.

Because our reunion starts on Tuesday this year, we're at work a day earlier than usual. It bears repeating that an NMA reunion is a lot of fun because a lot of people put in a lot of time and a lot of work beforehand.

Kim Holl knows how to get the answers.

The setup crew has already made great progress in turning a ballroom into a dance band rehearsal hall and concert band stage. Our volunteers have put the registration room together and plan to be open for business after lunch. We have meetings, agendas and plans, plans that fall apart and are quickly mended.

Leon, Carl and Dennis plan to haul another
cart-load of gear to the ballroom.

In other words, it's NMA business as usual.

The Annual Argument

A Cubs sweatshirt and a Cardinals ball cap.
This can't end well.
Whenever a Cubs fan and Cardinals fan meet, you can expect fireworks and fury. Here we have the traditional first reunion encounter between Chicago-born Cubs fan Terry Chesson and lifelong Cardinals fan Jo Knox. I believe the controversy pictured above concerned pitching statistics, though it may have centered on the moral fiber of right fielders; I don't know because I ran away as soon as the flash went off.

Terry is my dear shipmate. Jo is my wife. This will be a long week.

MON, 17JUN19 - The Daily Poop - Final Edition

Jo and I 20 arrived in Milwaukee yesterday afternoon, found our hotel and, within moments, a few other early birds.

Left to right: Deb Holl, Stephanie Rowland, Jim
Richards and the Fists of the Mighty Terry Chesson.
So, although the reunion doesn't officially begin until tomorrow, it's time to say goodbye to the once-a-day Daily Poop and launch NavyLyres LiveBlog 2019, round-the-clock coverage of the NMA Reunion. A lot will be going on today. Members will be checking in, stories will be told and--who knows?--maybe we'll get a jam session going.

If you can't come this year, check in here throughout the week. We want to share all the fun.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

SUN, 16JUN19 - The Daily Poop -- Outta Here

NMA shirts--check.

Decent clothing for Saturday night--check.

Extra piano pedal, just in case--check.

Concert band music, spare glasses, electric razor, video camera, tripod--check, check, check, check, check. 

The car is packed. Milwaukee is just a few hours away. Now, I'm just dithering? Should I bring a cup of coffee? Do I need that penknife? 

Oh, to hell with this.

Make all preparations for getting underway.
Set the special sea & anchor detail.
Single up all lines fore & aft.
Let go all lines.
Underway! Shift colors!
Band: Sound Anchors Aweigh.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

FRI, 14JUN19 - The Daily Poop -- Effin' A Sea Bag

Effin'-a sea bag.
If I remember correctly, packing for a Navy band cruise or road trip took about 12 minutes.

You folded your uniforms, put 'em in your sea bag, tossed in socks, skivvies, toothbrush and razor, and you were done. Okay, maybe the socks went in first, uniforms last. The point is, you could do this with one hand while holding a Budweiser in the other, and when the Bud was done, so was the packing.

That was then, this is now. Yesterday, I started packing so I can get out of here tomorrow. I spent a half hour trying to decide how many shirts I needed; I'll be gone for eight days, but I'll want to change into nicer clothing for the evening functions. But I could wear the Friday-night shirt again the following day, and who cares what I wear for the trip back home? And short sleeves are great, but I'm going to an evening Brewers game, and it might get chilly. So another long-sleeved shirt goes into the mix.

In other words, I spent yesterday picking out a stack of shirts. Today, I'll do the pants. This could take all day, as I need trousers that (a) aren't torn or ragged and (b) fit.

Not so sure I'll get out tomorrow after all.

Friday, June 14, 2019

FRI, 14JUN19 - The Daily Poop - "24 ≠ 25"

Add Terry Chesson to the list of Sunday arrivals for the NMA reunion. Anybody else?


Is it safe to wear your Chicago Cubs gear at a Brewers game in Milwaukee? Asking for a friend.


A topic that will come up during the reunion is the fact that next year will be the NMA's 25th anniversary. However, let it be noted here that next week, for our 24th anniversary, we'll be holding our 25th reunion. Do not offer other opinions. Faith-based math carries no weight. The first reunion was held in 1995. In the following year, 1996, we held the second reunion on our first anniversary. In 1997, we had our third reunion on our second anniversary. Keep counting and you'll come to the ironclad fact that this year,  2019, we're holding our 25th reunion on our 24th anniversary and next year, at our 26th reunion, we'll celebrate our 25th anniversary.

We had a similar argument five years ago while looking forward to our 20th anniversary, celebrated at our 21st reunion. Voices were raised. Fists were shaken. Truth was denied.

Fortunately, reality doesn't care about your opinions.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

THURS, 13JUN19 - The Daily Poop

Our day-earlier-than-usual reunion this year means I won't be the only member arriving on Sunday. Kim and Deb Holl, key players in reunion preparation, plan a Sunday arrival. I have great respect for the Holls. Kim sponsored me during CPO initiation and pinned on my anchors. Deb could pin me to the deck if I get out of line.

Sunday arrivals a few years ago:
Me, Bill Sterck, Wilbur Smith, David Blakeley.
Wilbur Smith also arrives on Sunday, to organize band music, work on concert preparation and, I would assume, sample the sort of beverage that made Milwaukee famous. Smitty was one of the many MUs with whom I crossed paths now and then but never served with. How common it was to sort of know someone in our small program.

David Blakeley also arrives on Sunday. I never served with David, but have come to know and respect him through the NMA.

Altogether, three tours with Kim: once in Yokosuka and twice at the School of Music. Two brief overlaps with Wilbur: first in Newport and later, at the School. Zero tours with David, who I know only through the NMA.

Yet, they're all shipmates I look forward to seeing every year. That's how the NMA works.