by Senior Chief Musician Juan Vasquez
This month, Spotlight features Senior Chief Musician Bill Gray, the band's operations chief. His office is responsible for scheduling every performance by all of the band's ensembles. As you'll see, this is a huge job, but one to which he's very well suited.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born and raised in Toledo, Ohio, and began singing in the church choir as soon as I was old enough. While in high school and after a little trial and error with a cornet, I’d say the tuba chose me. There are no musicians in my immediate family so you can just imagine the looks on their faces when I brought a sousaphone home! My still unfulfilled dream was to dot the letter “i” in Script O-H-I-O at an Ohio State football game!
I didn’t actually play a real tuba until my senior year when my teacher loaned me an extra one he had while helping me prepare for a college audition. I completed a Bachelor of Music Education at the University of Toledo studying with Jamie Hafner, my mentor, who instilled a passion for music in me and guided me to attend the Brevard Music Center for several summers. I then completed a master’s degree program at Indiana University where I studied with the legendary Harvey Phillips.
My professional career began as tubist with the Orquesta Filarmonica in Santiago, Chile. I was extremely happy to be able to play in a full-time orchestra that performed concerts, ballet and opera. I was also able to develop a love of foreign languages which has continued to today and been useful in operations and in our home school environment.
What is your present position?
After eight years in Chile I joined the Concert/Ceremonial Band tuba section in 1992. In 2003 I had the opportunity to join the operations team. I was excited about the challenge because the operations office seemed like the center of activity and a place to make a difference. I haven’t been disappointed! Now, in my full-time staff role as operations chief, I am responsible for scheduling and coordinating logistical details for all Navy Band ensembles, such as ensuring venue and power requirements are adequate. We also set up funding and arrange transportation for every ensemble. We can usually be found with our heads buried in the working calendar that takes into account the many competing demands of every Navy Band ensemble. When evaluating a performance request we need to determine if it is of mutual benefit to both the public and the Navy. We never know who might be on the other end of that ringing phone but whether it’s an elementary school PTA parent or the secretary of the Navy’s office, we like to establish a great working relationship with our sponsors.
My predecessors, retired Senior Chief Musician Lynn Fryer and more recently, retired Master Chief Musician Mark Cochran, were experts at building great relationships and also putting Navy Band ensembles in the best possible performing environments. I’m fortunate to work with Chief Musician Greta Loggins and a dedicated team of assistants who make the office run smoothly. Believe me, there’s never a boring day!
Share with us three highlights of your Navy career.
Well, my number one highlight is easily the Navy Band’s trip to the 1999 Festival des Musiques Militaires de Québec, Canada, for it is there where I met my wonderful wife, who was a bassoonist with Les Voltigeurs de Québec. Our trip to Russia in 1996 to help celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Russian Navy also stands out.
But the most poignant and difficult performance personally was the memorial service for families of victims of the 9/11 attacks at the Pentagon in October 2001. Perhaps there is nothing more difficult to do as musician than perform when you feel such a deep personal loss as we all felt on that day.
What music are you listening to at the moment?
I’m usually listening to various interpretations of the Bach Cello Suites or some timpani concerto (yes, there are some) since we have two budding young musicians here at home. But, for a change of pace in the car I’ll grab some Alan Parsons Project or Tears for Fears.
What are you currently working on?
We have many performances in the planning stages! In particular, we’re looking forward to our participation at the Virginia Military Tattoo in Norfolk, Va., this April.
Personally, I’m happy to perform with a local brass quintet and enjoy working with a studio of students. As a homeschooling family we are always planning our next exciting activity and always looking for a way to get to Québec to visit family and friends!
How has the Navy Band evolved during your time here?
It amazes me how multi-talented our members are! From web design to stage productions, so many people give above and beyond their musical talent. I think that today’s Navy Band can literally perform any style of music. I see the band, from top to bottom, much more in step with the Navy’s priorities and vision. The way we prepare new chiefs for leadership positions has also been very positive and has set the band up for future success.
Share with us a typical day in Operations.
There is no “typical” day in “Ops” but we start off each day attending to all transportation needs for the band, and checking support for Arlington National Cemetery. We balance the day with checking details of imminent performances for events like arrival ceremonies at the Pentagon to public concerts and Music in the Schools educational concerts. We also review ethics and legal processes for our events to ensure that performances adhere to all current regulations and laws. But mostly, we monitor and respond to the myriad requests for performances. One thing is for sure in operations, the future is always just around the corner!
What do you enjoy doing when not working?
I’m most often found either in a swimming pool or at the pool’s edge acting as a “stroke and turn” official at swim meets. I also enjoy trying to master the imperfect art of “home improvements.”