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Ruffles and Flourishes

"What if?"

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The other day, I was reading a piece on storiesspace, titled “Choices” and was struck by the thought that certainly my life choices have had far-reaching unforeseen consequences.

It was June, 1972. I had pre-registered for a summer seminar on Geomorphology of the North American Continent, so I decided to do my two week active duty for training before the summer semester began. I put in for, and was assigned to the Navy School of Music “Refresher Course” for the last two weeks of June. It was new and different for me. I was assigned to a conducting class, and to a class on arranging for big band.

Conducting consisted of knowing all the proper honors for US and visiting dignitaries, and being able to conduct the music for them. I learned the proper way to conduct the National Anthem, including subdividing the last two measures, giving the proper cutoff at the cesura, and how to avoid giving a cutoff following the second fermata. At the end of the two weeks, I had to perform the proper honors in front of a review board.

The board consisted of officers assigned to the school. They would say something like, “Secretary of State,” and I was to tell them how many guns he rated, how many ruffles and flourishes, and what tune was to be played.

When the time came, the first thing they said was, “Secretary of the Navy”

“Ninteen guns, four Ruffles and Flourishes and 32 bars of Stars and Stripes Forever,” I replied.

I then did an about face, and raised my baton, saying to the band, “Four Ruffles and Fluffles; Stars and Stripes.” I heard a snort from behind me, and saw smiles on a few of the band member’s faces, but I conducted it flawlessly, and when finished, placed my baton at parade carry, and did an about face.

“Ruffles and Fluffles” was what many of us Navy musicians called them, simply because it was a way of poking a little fun at authority. That we did so was well-known, and most of the brass looked the other way. By saying that, I had let the band members know that even though they were (mostly) lowly E-2’s, fresh out of “boot camp”, I was still one of them, even though I was holding the baton, and was wearing a few ribbons (including an E ribbon for rifle marksmanship, which was highly unusual for a musician) on my chest, and Musician Second Class”crow” and two four-year service “hash marks” on my sleeve.

“Secretary of State”

“In a foreign country, representing the United States, or on US soil, Sir?” I asked.

All four board members reached for their pencils and made a mark on the review forms in front of them.

“In a foreign country, representing the United States,” was the reply.

“Twenty one guns, four Ruffles and Flourishes, and the National Anthem of the United States of America, “ I replied.

“Suppose he was on American soil?”

“The Secretary of State does not receive honors in this country, unless he is returning from a visit to a foreign nation.”

“And then?”

“Seventeen guns, Three Ruffles and Flourishes, and 32 bars of Stars and Stripes, Sir.”

“Very well. Assume the preliminaries have been dispensed with, and conduct the band in the National Anthem.”

I did a smart about face, raised my baton, and saw with a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach, no one was poised to play except the drummers. “Star Spangled Banner” I said, quickly, and all the instruments snapped to the musician’s mouths.

How I made it through the rest of the conducting audition is something that to this day, I do not know. I cannot recall a single moment between when I told them what to play, and the following afternoon, when I was called into the Captain Worthylake’s office, to receive my grade. “Nice save, Kid,” was all he said as he handed me a copy of my official grade.

On it were written the following lines:

Honors: 4.0 
Conducting: 3.8

As I looked at it, he said, “No one gets a four point oh in conducting, even if they DO remember to tell the band what to play before they raise the baton.”

I broke into what must have been the silliest grin ever. “Thank you, Sir,” I said, and gave him my snappiest salute. He waved it off, meaning he didn’t think it was necessary.

On Friday morning, they told me I was checking out and being released a day early, because the Navy wanted all supernumeraries off the base. There had been a terrific storm overnight, and all essential personnel were being used to provide relief to the surrounding areas. We had had very little rain in Norfolk, but apparently hurricane Agnes had caused widespread flooding further inland. Interstate 95 was closed at the Potomac River Bridge, and US Route 301 was closed at Yorktown, because of flooding.

Because I was being released early, the Commander of the Navy School of Music had to sign my release papers. When I went into Captain Worthylake’s office, he welcomed me. We chatted for a bit about my last year of active duty in 1967, when he had been my commanding officer at the Band of The Commander In Chief, Atlantic Fleet. After he signed my papers, and I was about to leave, he said, “If you want to reenlist, I can get you a faculty position teaching flute and piccolo. Think about it, but I need your decision within two weeks, because I have to fill the billet.”

Driving back to Baltimore was pretty harrowing. What should have been a six hour drive, turned into nearly twelve. The Chesapeake Bay bridge tunnel was closed because of high water. Interstate 64 was closed to civilian traffic, so that military vehicles could use it as a route between Norfolk, Fort Eustis, and Richmond. I was forced to drive south, through Portsmouth, and south of Richmond. Since I-95 and US 301 were closed, the next Potomac River crossing upstream was the 14 th Street bridge in Washington. But I heard on the car radio that both it and chain bridge were closed to civilian traffic. So I went west, and crossed the Potomac River at Harper’s Ferry.

From there to my home in Owings Mills was an additional two hours.

I arrived home to find that the retaining wall below the barn had collapsed, and the mud had slid into the lower floor of the barn. We had ten thousand chickens on that floor, and lost about two thirds of them. The chickens on the lower floor of the big house hadn’t fared much better. We lost about fifteen thousand of the twenty on that floor. The twenty thousand on the upper floor were okay, but there was some water damage in the feed room. We lost about five hundred pounds of feed that had gotten wet.

During the next two weeks of cleaning up, I forgot all about Mr. Worthylake’s offer. In retrospect, I know I didn’t want to go back into the Navy. Forgetting his offer was probably a subconscious act on my part. Musically, it was something I could have lived with, but I had hated the spit and polish side of military duty, and the regimentation and requirements to perform on demand had worn me down during my previous enlistment.

Still, I have often wondered, “what if …?”

In the summer of 1975, I was still in the Navy Reserves. For my two week active duty for training, I was again assigned to the Navy School of Music. While I was there, the school faculty and staff played a concert in celebration of the United States bicentennial. Maestro Arthur Feidler was the guest conductor.

Because at that particular time, the faculty position of flute/piccolo instructor was again open, they asked me to fill in with the band to cover the flute and piccolo parts. After the concert, Mr. Feidler told me he had an opening for utility flute/piccolo with the Boston Symphony. “You should come to Boston and audition for the chair,” he said to me.

I had recently graduated from college with a degree in geography and a minor in geology. Like most new graduates, I was certain I was going to set the geographic world on fire. I had a pending possibility to go to Quito, Ecuador as a geologist, to study rock formations that were about to be inundated by a dam that was under construction. I also was in a new relationship; a ménage a trois that would, as it turned out, last for the next four years.

Consequently, I was not too keen on the idea of relocating to Boston. Also, while on active duty as a Navy musician, I had held the principal flute chair with the (then new) Norfolk Symphony for two years, and I was not particularly enamored of the idea of playing classical orchestral music for a living. So I didn’t take Dr. Feidler up on his generous offer.

And here’s the important part:

Because I did not do those things, in due course, I became a licensed professional engineer. In my professional capacity I have designed and seen constructed miles of roadways, sidewalks, and bike paths. I have seen designed and constructed over two hundred subdivisions. I have been instrumental in providing handicapped access to over fifty housing units for the Baltimore City Housing Authority, and to three major public buildings. I have been instrumental in insuring that Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant continued functioning with interim chlorine treatment facilities, and without harm to the Chesapeake Bay. I have been responsible for the reclamation of a “brown field” coal pier, and rehabilitation to insure clean runoff from that pier into the Baltimore Harbor. I designed and oversaw construction of a new bridge over Elk River to safely carry horse, pedestrian and light vehicle traffic through Fair Hills Natural Resource Area. I have reviewed and approved over two hundred subdivisions in Carroll County, thus providing new housing for thousands of people. I designed and saw constructed a beach reclamation project and sewer lagoon protection at Fort Smallwood Park. I surveyed and designed corrective measures for handicapped accessibility at twenty eight Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration testing facilities. As I write this, there are on-going construction projects to retrofit several major Carroll County storm water management ponds to provide water quality control. My engineer’s seal and signature is on the design drawings and computations for those projects.

I have also continued performing music. I have played thousands of free concerts in the Baltimore Metropolitan area, and I have performed (mostly for free) in hundreds of pit orchestras for community theater productions. I have played for hundreds of weddings, even more parties and bar mitzvahs, and a few funerals. I have played in strip clubs, in VFW Halls, and at private dances. I have played in churches and in bars. I like to flatter myself that occasionally, I made someone’s day a little bit better by my playing.

I have had loves and I have had lovers, none of whom I would have met, had I not been where I was when I met them.

Clearly, thousands of lives have been affected because I chose not to pursue music as my primary occupation.

And perhaps this is the most important part of all; I am happy. I have no regrets.

I am reminded of the late Satchel Paige who is supposed to have said, “Don’t look back; someone might be gaining on you.”

But sometimes, late at night, sitting alone in my house and listening to the stillness around me, I wonder ...

Was I really that good on piccolo?

Written by DLizze
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