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“The sun was hot and the band was hotter. That was evident by the reaction of the crowd assembled to enjoy the sounds of the Navy Band Great Lakes Horizon. We’ve spent the last 12 plus months watching the band perform in mini concerts on Facebook. What a treat it was to be able to go see them live and in person. The Sailors of Navy Band Great Lakes are so talented and so committed to our Navy, I am really excited for them to be able to get back into the public and showcase for America’s Navy,” said Naval Service Training Command (NSTC)’s Command Master Chief Rick Mengel.
Mengel made those comments following an outdoor warmup concert held by Horizon, Navy Band Great Lakes’ popular music group, next to the band’s building, June 18.
The Horizon concert was one of the first held before a live audience since restrictions were eased due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Other concerts, so far, have included a Navy Band Great Lakes Ceremonial Band performance at the Hyman G. Rickover Navy Academy High School graduation in Chicago, a performance by the Brass Quintet for Vietnam Veterans at the James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago, Illinois, and two Navy Week performances by various Navy Band Great Lakes ensembles, including Horizon, in Kansas City, Missouri, and Fargo, North Dakota.
“In the civilian world, we would call the Horizon June 18 event an ‘open dress rehearsal,’” said Lt. Patrick Hill, Navy Band Great Lakes director, noting due to the significant passage of time since the last live performance, Horizon leader Musician 1st Class Michael Oliver “…wanted to do a run-through that encompassed the totality of a real-world performance -- setting up the tents, sound system, sound check, show, tear-down, etc. I reached out to the base and NSTC to see if anyone would want to come see what we’re working towards. The audience and the heat gave them another level of a ‘real world’ experience.”
Assistant Director, Master Chief Musician Jason Gromacki, added, “As much as everyone has been longing to go to concerts since the pandemic had shut it all down, we had been equally eager to perform. Having a small audience added a dynamic that a private rehearsal does not. It’s synergistic. The band puts out energy, the audience gives it back and the band puts out more!”
During the pandemic shutdown, the band had been relegated to practicing at home and couldn’t rehearse together in their building. But they did manage to keep busy by producing music videos that Oliver and other band members were able to meticulously and musically piece together.
Those videos were used for ceremonies and during Fourth of July celebrations. In the videos, each participating band member would play their portion of the music while digitally recording their parts. Then Oliver and his music engineers would lay the video music pieces together. All the videos can be seen and heard on the Navy Band Great Lakes Facebook page at facebook.com/NavyBandGreatLakes.
“Working from home has been a challenge,” acknowledged Oliver. “Working remotely and in shifts has slowed our processes down. It feels great to be performing in front of audiences. We thrive off audiences and that’s something that has been lacking in our lives for the past year and a half, so we are super excited.”
Naval Band Great Lakes is also a big part of the weekly Pass-in-Review graduations at the Navy’s only boot camp, Recruit Training Command (RTC). The band’s live participation at the weekly graduation ceremony has also been shut down due to COVID-19.
“We provided some recordings of ‘Anchors Aweigh’ and ‘Stars and Stripes Forever’ and others so the recruits and RTC could have some semblance of the old graduation. But, mostly we were doing the virtual recordings and putting out virtual content,” Hill said.
In the current COVID-19 world, it’s unclear how long Navy Band Great Lakes will continue to perform in-person before live audiences. But the band with a history dating back to John Philip Sousa, one of the fathers of U.S. Navy bands, will continue to be ambassadors of music for the Navy in the Midwest.
“It is a great relief to, right now, be doing what we not only enjoy doing but what the Navy asks us to do,” said Musician 1st Class Carl Schulte. “We basically are connecting with people again and that’s what we look to do. We are here to make people smile and get engaged in a way that only music can connect with people.”
“Pride in Service” has been the theme for Navy Band Great Lakes for more than 100 years. From 1911, when the first bugler reported for duty to bandmaster John Philip Sousa to today, the music of Navy Band Great Lakes represents the pride and professionalism that is synonymous with the United States Navy.
Homeported on Naval Station Great Lakes and serving Commander, NSTC’s mission of transforming volunteers into 21st century Sailors, Navy Band Great Lakes performs ceremonies to honor recruits, active duty and retired Sailors, and their families. Also, as the Navy’s “Ambassadors to the Midwest,” Navy Band Great Lakes performs for thousands of spectators annually. They provide musical support to communities of all sizes as well as supporting Navy recruiting in a nine state area stretching from Michigan to North Dakota.
For more information about Navy Band Great Lakes log on to the band’s website at www.netc.navy.mil/nstc/navyband/index.html/
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