BOB'S SEA TALES
Navy School of Music Staff
During my second tour of duty at the U.S. Navy School of Music I successfully completed the refresher course. Instruction included individual French Horn lessons and concert band performance. Gordon Taylor was our chief instructor. He was excellent in his presentation of advanced harmony and arranging classes. I enjoyed the ear training classes.
Upon completion of the course I was assigned to the Band Library on the staff at the school. It became my job for the next seven years to maintain the files upon files of music utilized by the bands at the school. Duties included proper indexing of music for the many concert, dance, combo, ceremonial, and parade bands. There were over 10,000 titles in the collection. Also the music selected for concert, rehearsal, marching, etc. was prepared for the correct instrumentation. I also worked with the fleet music section which purchased and distributed music to some 50 Navy bands throughout the nation, on the seas, and around the world. All this work was done without the aid of computers, which did not exist at the time. The file cabinets containing the music were mostly the five drawer type and were located in the basement in a room that originally housed the boilers for the building. That was the only location that could support the extreme weight in the wooden WWII building. The cabinets were stacked two high with the upper drawers accessed by using a ladder. It was not uncommon for the cabinets to come tumbling over if more than one drawer was opened at a time. To be pinned on top of a ladder by a pile of music was not a pleasant experience. The index to all the music was cross referenced by title, composer, arranger and type, on three large floor model rolodex files which found the cards constantly falling off the wheel and in need of retrieval from the bottom of the contraptions. After a while the locations of many favorite arrangements were memorized and referral to the index became unnecessary.
As with most military duties, I also stood watch on a rotating basis. During the period of time our country was involved in the Cuban missile crisis the base was in transition. The school and the rest of the Anacostia Naval Station Annex were due to be demolished to release the land for freeway construction. The perimeter fence was down across the back of the base and we were subject to roving bands of curious kids which needed to be kept at bay. We were armed on watch with 45 automatics and the basic Music School students that guarded the auxiliary power plant had M-1s. The idea was if saboteurs knocked out the main power plants for our government buildings on the other side of the Anacostia River, we would be able to provide power for essential services.
That was a grand and noble idea. The reality of it all was that I felt inadequately trained. We were given instruction and target practice, all in one afternoon. The target range was backed by a high bunker, but the weapons were old and loose. One shot after another seemed to kick and the bullet sent on its way over the bunker and across the river. On the other side, planes were rising into the air after taking off from National Airport. I cringed to think that I could somehow be responsible for an emergency landing.
One morning as I was making my rounds in the old pickup truck with the hole in the floorboard, I did my usual check of the gate sentries to make sure they did not try to put a clip into their 45s. I was driving up the perimeter road along the river when I came across the unthinkable. Someone was climbing up the fence to enter the base. Quickly I stopped the old truck, got out and crouched behind it, and called out in my bravest voice for the intruder to halt. Luck was with me, and he froze on top of the fence. He said he was a sailor who was late getting to work at the swimming pool. I had him throw down his ID card and got him to back down on the outside of the fence. We marched to the gate, where I proceeded to write him up and escort him to the pool. They claimed that he was already in so much trouble that if he saw the Captain once more he would get brig time. That was ok with me, but I told them to do with him as they would. I felt lucky that I didn’t have to shoot at him, as I probably would have missed!
The Kennedy years produced a number of events that Navy Bands were involved with. Queen Elizabeth came for a state visit and as her car passed our vantage point I remember the sight of a most regal young lady wearing a blue dress and hat. We escorted the remains of the Korean War Unknowns, from the ship in the Navy Gun Factory to the Arlington Cemetery. When Kennedy was shot I was working on music in the Band Library. The XO, Lt. Maurice Ford came down the hallway giving everyone the word and we headed to the lounge to watch the events unfold on the TV. Even though I hadn’t cared for Kennedy, I found myself choked with emotions anyway, that someone would do that to our Commander-In-Chief. We were busy the next few days preparing for our participation in the funeral. All of us who weren’t selected for the huge combined Navy Band were utilized as a cordon to line the route from the capitol building to Arlington cemetery. As the caisson approached and passed our position we came to a slow rippling salute. Once the procession was several blocks beyond us, we filed onto buses on a side street and went further down the route to repeat the performance. My last location was at the end of the Arlington Bridge, near the entrance of the cemetery. From there we all got a good view of the dignitaries assembled from around the world. Most impressive on my mind was when General Charles De Gaulle unfolded from his small sedan, put his tall uniform hat on his head and stood head and shoulder above all others.
This is the view from above JFK's grave site, taken several weeks after the assassination.
With my boss, Danny Richardson getting his assignment to a Unit Band, I found myself with responsibilities both in the Band Library and the Fleet Music section. I prepared my section for the move to Little Creek, Virginia, while completing all the requirements of conducting and arranging, to be recommended for the Chief’s exam.
We loaded two semis with the hundreds of file cabinets full of music. They were grossly overweight, but the drivers knew the routes to travel and they completed the trip without being stopped. I followed along a week or so later and found my music stashed in the first deck corridors of the new Armed Forces School of Music. The CO, Commander MacDonald, had purchase all new file cabinets for the library and the music was transferred over the next few weeks to their new home on the third deck. In the meantime, I was cramming for the advancement exam. I did find time one evening to go bowling with Skinny Morris and others of the instrument repair department. Although I had not bowled in several years and told them so, I found myself bowling a perfect game. Skinny Morris in a fit, filled in my score at the end of the ninth frame and I went open the final rolls. Best game ever! I passed the chief’s exam the following week.
A number of years passed with many improvements introduced to the library. We could find any of the arrangements by memory, (sometimes).Then we got a new card index file system several years before everything became computerized. That piece of equipment equaled the cost of a new Volkswagen Beetle. I had a fine crew assigned as assistants. Ed Rogers took care of the Fleet Music in an industrious manner. One Army assistant was a Mormon. Another was a twin who was actually older than me. I also had the good fortune to have Clint Holmes helping when he wasn’t needed as a vocalist. A one-of-a-kind guy, Clint (with a broken foot in a cast) agreed to come to our small community church in Princess Anne Plaza and sing “His Eye Is on the Sparrow”, which I will never forget. Yes, this was the Clint Holmes of New York TV fame and now a pillar in Las Vegas entertainment.
The School sponsored the Eastern Band Clinic every year. We had the cream of the crop guests, such as Arthur Fiedler and Doc Severinsen, along with other noted clinicians and the finest of military bands. In this photo we see Capt. J.D. McDonald introducing Arthur Fiedler (The Boston Pops) to the faculty band.
Finally the day came when I knew I must move on in my career. So after eight years on the staff and a promotion to Senior Chief, I packed up the family and we were on our way to Guam.
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