Attending a Navy Musicians Association reunion for the first time is like reporting to your first ship; you're not quite sure what to do, where to go, who to ask. Here's what you need to know to get underway on your first cruise:
Arrival Time. While the reunion officially begins on Wednesday morning, some members can't come until later in the week. Don't worry, you will not be assigned extra duty if you arrive on Thursday or Friday. Early is okay, too. Some of us arrive on Monday or Tuesday. It is not unusual for spontaneous jam sessions to erupt in the lounge the night before the reunion begins.
Reporting Aboard. You'll find someone to welcome you in the Registration Room, which serves as our quarterdeck, crew's lounge, coffee mess and small stores. The room often gets crowded, and Deb Holl sometimes wishes we wouldn't all hang out around her desk while she and her staff are trying to register new arrivals. She's been wishing this since 1995, which shows you what wishes are worth.
Rehearsals. Where two MUs are gathered, you will find three opinions about the proper tempo of a British march and the standard key of "Stella by Starlight." However, there's one thing we all agree on: there's never enough time at an NMA reunion. Our weekend performances are, at most, a few days away. Our rehearsal directors want to get the music started as soon as possible. At Wednesday's first concert band rehearsal, you won't likely hear director Wilbur Smith say, "Let's put this piece away until tomorrow when we'll have a fuller instrumentation." You're more likely to hear, "From the top, play all cues, first and second endings. Ready?"
Our bands make impressive music, but, make no mistake, we're not aiming for perfection. Our goal is camaraderie, a bond that we express through music.
Schedule. The Rehearsal Board in the lobby shows the times and locations of rehearsals, performances and social events. This is our "Plan of the Day." You will recall from your days in crackerjacks that the POD is always subject to revision. Check the schedule frequently, and avoid the embarrassment of showing up at a dance band rehearsal with your oboe.(Some readers may remember an abrupt scheduling glitch in San Antonio that caused an evening concert band rehearsal to be interrupted by a cocktail hour. Some may not remember. Wilbur Smith remembers.)
Uniform of the Day. The NMA's daily routine does not begin with a personnel inspection. We dress for comfort, so casual attire is appropriate. If you wish, you can shop through an assortment of NMA shirts, caps and other garb in the Registration Room. The Saturday night banquet is slightly different. Many of us choose to dress up for this occasion, though it's not required. In fact, for those who travel by air, toting along a coat and tie can be difficult. Be assured, there's no Saturday night dress code, and you'll see folks in tropical t-shirts mingling with others in sport coats.
Membership Meeting. Saturday morning is devoted to the General Membership meeting. This is a members-only gathering, at which our Board of Directors delivers reports, announces plans and solicits input from members. Putting a hundred or so MUs in one room is risky, but, so far, no fatalities have been reported.
The Spinning of Yarns. No specific time is allotted for lying, exaggerating and embroidering ancient truths. The telling of tales is a naval tradition and, thus, always in order. NMA reunions have been described as "four days of sea stories interrupted by occasional outbursts of 'Autumn Leaves.'"
Performances. Throughout the reunion, we play for the greatest of audiences: the Navy musician family.
Jam sessions are scheduled for evenings in the lounge, but they actually occur through spontaneous combustion. A bassist spots a drummer at the bar, an unwitting pianist stumbles in, and suddenly, horns fly out of cases and it's "A Night in Tunisia."
The Friday night concert and Saturday night banquet are the highlights of the week. Each is a celebration, for sure—we've worked and played hard and are proud of our musical accomplishments. But these are also times of remembrance. Through ceremony and music, we remember who we are, the country we have served, the shipmates who marched beside us and those for whom the parade has ended.
When military scheduling permits, the Saturday night banquet opens with a performance by a ceremonial unit from an active duty Navy Band. We enjoy this performance like no other, for in those young, polished Navy professionals, we see ourselves.
The banquet is followed by dancing. After the last set, we pack up the music stands, stow the gear in the van and the reunion is over—well, almost. There's may still be time for friends to gather in the lounge for a last round of farewells, a discussion of plans for next year and a final chorus of "'Round Midnight,"
In Conclusion. We'll do whatever we can to make your first reunion a rewarding experience. In fact, the only thing we won't do is tell you to make yourself at home. We don't have to--you're already at home. You are surrounded by shipmates, some you remember from long ago, others you're meeting for the first time. But we've all shared the challenges and rewards of serving as United States Navy Musicians.
Welcome aboard, sailor. Stow your gear and haul your axe down to the ballroom; rehearsal is underway.