In these divisive times leading up to another presidential election when it seems members of either political party can't agree on anything, Navy Musician 1st Class Michael A. Webb thinks it's good to have a group like the U.S. Navy Band Sea Chanters around.
Officer Webb, a member of the Navy's official chorus for eight years, has traveled to every state but Hawaii and Alaska, bringing music and a feeling of patriotism wherever he and his comrades perform.
"Regardless of the political turmoil that may or may not be happening in people's hearts and minds, part of our mission is to make them feel good about our military and the Navy, in particular. And if we've done that, I think we've done our jobs," he said.
The Sea Chanters will bring their repertoire of Brahms to Broadway to help start off this year's Dover Days Festival Friday, May 4 at 7:30 p.m. on Legislative Mall. The rain location for the free concert is Dover City Hall Council Chambers.
Judging from the response that Officer Webb has gotten from audience members over the years, the Sea Chanters have definitely filled a need.
"I can't tell you how many emails we've gotten from folks who will write and say ‘If this is the way our tax dollars are put to use, I'm cool with it,'" said the Reston, Va., native. "It's extremely gratifying to have people see the product we bring to them as an example of those who are fighting for the country's interests and having them not doubt for a second that this is a product worth holding onto."
The Sea Chanters were started in 1956 when Lt. Harold Fultz, then the U.S. Navy Band's assistant leader, organized a group from the Navy School of Music to sing chanteys and patriotic songs for the State of the Nation dinner.
An immediate success, Adm. Arleigh Burke, then chief of naval operations, transferred them to the Navy Band, named them the Sea Chanters and tasked the all-male chorus with perpetuating the songs of the sea.
In 1980, the group added women to their ranks and expanded their repertoire.
As the upcoming Dover concert will attest, the Sea Chanters sing a little bit of everything, from those sea chanteys and patriotic tunes to pop and doo-wop.
"You'll see traditional music that reflects the Navy heritage but we'll also mix it up a bit as well," Officer Webb said, adding that versatility is also what makes the Navy great. "We try to reflect the diverse skills that the Navy has in general," said Officer Webb, who sings bass and also serves as a narrator and section leader for the Sea Chanters.
"If we only concentrated on one type of music, I don't think it would reflect as well on the Navy goals and strengths."
Singing in choruses since he was in the fifth grade, Officer Webb earned a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from James Madison University.
"After college, I knew I wanted to join the military but I didn't know what avenue I wanted to take," he said Tuesday afternoon shortly after a performance in Bel Air, Md. "I had a friend who was in the group who was very pleased with it. I auditioned as a civilian and won a spot and then took on an enlisted position. I went to boot camp and then went on to Washington, D.C."
Competition for one of the 22 spots - 19 in the chorus plus the rhythm trio - is fierce.
Officer Webb said that recently the Sea Chanters chorus received 200 applications, of which 20 people were picked to audition and one made the cut.
Now under the leadership of Senior Chief Musician Georgina L. Todd, the Sea Chanters perform throughout the country and at home in Washington in front of the president, vice president and numerous congressional, military and foreign dignitaries and also at solemn ceremonies, such as burials at Arlington National Cemetery.
"We tackle the whole ball of wax," Officer Webb said.
Pointing to one highlight while he has been in the Sea Chanters is difficult for Officer Webb.
"We performed the national anthem for President Obama's inauguration in 2009. That was awesome. We also sang at the funerals for both Presidents Reagan and Ford. That was incredibly moving and a great honor," he said. "We've also had the pleasure of singing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir."
And now they will be in Dover for the first time in the history of the chorus.
While there is no need to RSVP, concertgoers are asked to bring a blanket or chair. The concert will be followed by a Zambelli fireworks show.
The festivities will begin at 6 p.m. with a scavenger hunt, DJ, carnival rides, rock wall climbing and bungee jumping and a bicycle stunt show with Chris Clark at 7 and 7:30 p.m.
Dover Days then continues in full force Saturday and Sunday with its traditional activities in this, its 79th year.
For a full schedule of events, visit the Dover Days website and be sure to pick up your 32-page program in Thursday's Delaware State News.
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