Sea story: my first musical audition (1965)

2014-05-10 15.11.19

Plebe year: endless disappointments

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.

Cramming for another trivia test

Cramming for another trivia test

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 like 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.

“Yes, sir.”

“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.

USNA Catholic Choir, 1965

Catholic Choir, 1965

“That’s good.” He said, closing the cover on the keyboard. “You’re a second tenor. Rehearsal is at 2000 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!”

Sixth Feet Music Show -- 7 years after that first audition

Sixth Feet Music Show — 7 years after that first audition


“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.


IMG_20150930_145138Trip update: I had an appointment at the US Naval Hospital Naples (which is near Aversa actually) at 0830 on Wednesday of this week, so last weekend, I decided to make a week-long trip of it. On Monday I rode to Pescara, and spent the night, so I could take a faster train to Aversa on Tuesday. Most trains up and down the Adriatic Coast don’t stop in Fossacesia; the ones that do stop everywhere. I got to Aversa in two hours less time than ever before.

After the hospital appointment (every was OK, all part of my checking into the system), I rode to the train station at Aversa and went to Formia to choose an apartment. IMG_20151020_150526One of the two finalists rented before I got there, so yesterday, I signed a contract for a two-room, ground-floor flat in the historic center of Formia. Not much if you want a permanent home, but quaint, with easy access for my bicycle. It will be a perfect base of operations for my wanderings around Europe. Today, I am on my way back to Rome and Pescara. Then back to Piane d’Archi both to pack up and say goodbye, and to plan my travels this spring. It should take a couple of weeks to touch all the bases (while the Formia landlord finishes having the new flat painted, and the utilities turned on).


Until next week,

Smooth roads and tailwinds,


3 thoughts on “Sea story: my first musical audition (1965)

  1. Loved the pics, and how well i remember you singing in the Sixth Fleet Choir. Was that first pic in the opening of this blog of Formia? Gosh, it was gorgeous, except for the graffitti on the wall. I envy you getting a flat in Formia…good memories there!! Be safe and have fun…Far and Mac


    • Thanks, Far. The first two photos are: 1) the biike-ped bridge going into Pescara (the beginning of the week) and 2) the valley far below the train between Rome and Pescara, high in the Apennines (the end of the week). I will remember to post pictures of Formia and Gaeta next month, when I make the move.


  2. Ann Folger: Did you actually have a beard like that? You had no hair in the picture where your cramming. Love the story.
    Jonathan T. Hine: The cramming was Plebe summer. After graduation and commissioning, I grew the beard and kept it for the first half of my career.
    Ann Folger: I didn’t think the Navy allowed that. I liked your hair when you had the “buzz” cut. The beard made you look a lot older. Good luck with your move.
    Jonathan T. Hine: Those were the “Zumwalt years.” We were allowed to look like sailors back then.
    Ann Folger: That was the “good old days”.


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