I was a weird kid. I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up – always. Be a Naval Officer. And to do that I knew that I wanted to go to the Naval Academy in Annapolis. One of my persistent daydreams as a boy and a teenager was to march in the Drum & Bugle Corps. When I started Plebe Summer in June of 1965, that was the first activity that I checked into – and my first of many disappointments. The midshipmen in the D&B Corps all were accomplished musicians, usually first chair in their high school band or orchestra with at least four years of top-level playing. I was not even eligible to apply.
But I liked music, and I noticed an announcement on the Chapel bulletin board about auditioning for the three Choirs (two Protestant and one Catholic). Chief Musician Joseph McCuen, USN, the organist at the Naval Academy Chapel, directed the Catholic Choir. He also directed the Naval Academy Glee Club. Slim, short and almost always smiling, the silver-haired musician made an announcement about auditions at our first Sunday in Chapel. I genuinely liked church, and I liked participating by more than sitting in the pews. I wrestled with my pessimism about auditioning after the D&B Corps experience, but my roommates encouraged me to try for it. The delay put me at the very end of a line that stretched out into the street. The odds looked terrible, I thought. It wasn’t that big a choir. At least while we were standing in that line, no upperclassmen would harass us, so I stayed.
Chief McCuen was sitting at the upright piano in his office. He motioned to the chair at the end of the piano, then asked me why I wanted to be in the Choir and about my musical background. My answers took less time than the questions, though today I cannot remember what I said. He pulled an Armed Forces Hymnal from the pile on top of the piano and opened it to a hymn near the middle.
“I’ll give you the first note, then you sing the bass line,” he said, tapping his finger on the lowest line of notes.
“Don’t sir me. I’m a Chief. You’re an officer.” He hit the note. I noticed that all the lowest notes were on the same line and that they were all round circles. Nothing sticking out of them.
“Eternal Father, strong to save…” I sang in the steadiest monotone I could muster, careful to make each note the same length. He stopped after one line.
“That’s good.” He said, closing the cover on the keyboard. “You’re a second tenor. Rehearsal is at 20:00 in the Choir Loft. White Works uniform.”
“Yes, sir,” I said.
“Don’t sir me. Everyone in my choir calls me Joe.” He smiled and shook my hand. “It’s going to be the only four hours of sanity you get every week for a year. Welcome aboard.”
Back in Bancroft Hall, my roommates were elated. I did not understand why they were so pleased for me.
“JT, you’re such a dummy sometimes,” said Larry, who was in the Drum & Bugle Corps. “You have just gotten out of all Sunday morning formations and marching to Chapel forever!”
“Because the Choirs have to muster a half-hour before the services to warm up. Didn’t you realize that’s why there were so many guys lined up to audition?”
Thus began fifty years of singing in Choirs, Music Shows and Choral Societies. Joe asked me to join the Naval Academy Glee Club at the end of Plebe Summer, and I have been studying music and singing ever since.
©2020, JT Hine