The Navy Band Sea Chanters is a chorus that does it all — patriotic songs, Broadway show tunes, opera selections and plenty of contemporary fare. Making their upcoming gig an even better night is its unbeatable cost of admission: free.
The Sea Chanters, the official chorus of the United States Navy, will perform at the Fox Theater on Feb. 28. The concert marks the first time the chorus has performed in Bakersfield, and since it only tours the West Coast every five years, it could be a while before it returns.
"Our show covers a wide variety of genres," said Musician 1st Class Michael Webb. "We really do pride ourselves on providing something for everyone."
The chorus, one of six performing ensembles in the Navy, first started in 1956. The Navy band's assistant leader at the time, Lt. Harold Fultz, gathered a group from the Navy School of Music to sing at the State of the Nation dinner, according to the Navy Band website. In 1980, the chorus added women and widened its repertoire beyond sea chanteys and patriotic songs.
The chorus tours three to four weeks each year, and it is currently performing throughout California, Arizona and Nevada from Feb. 27 to March 14. The rest of the year, the Sea Chanters perform in Washington, D.C., for the president, vice president and congressional, military and foreign dignitaries, as well as at funeral services.
At the concert, Webb will act as narrator, in addition to singing bass in the chorus. The program will "tell the Navy story," he said, and guests will "walk away impressed by the sheer breadth" of the chorus' repertoire.
"It's a wonderful opportunity to see what we hope is world-class entertainment for the best price of all," Webb said, noting that all Navy Band performances are free to the public.
Performances by the Sea Chanters and other ensembles of the Navy Band are a way for the Navy to reach out to people across the country, both civilians and former and future members of the Navy. When people see the strength and precision of the chorus, Webb said, they know those qualities are in every member of the Navy.
For those who dream of being a musician for a living, "the U.S. Navy is a great way to do that and serve the country at the same time," Webb said.
Webb grew up in Reston, Va., and has been part of the Sea Chanters for 14 years. He said he's always been a student of music and was aware of military choirs but didn't audition for the Sea Chanters until his friend told him about it. Just like everyone else in the Navy, members of the Sea Chanters go through bootcamp.
In his time with the chorus, Webb has a lot of memories, but one really stands out: the inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009. From his place at the top of the Capitol, Webb saw "a sea of humanity."
"There wasn't a blade of grass not covered by a person," Webb said, calling it the biggest crowd for which he had performed. "That stands out because of the sheer scope and emotion."
Webb said Sea Chanters concerts, whether they are large Capitol events or part of tours like the one in Bakersfield, are an opportunity to remember those who are currently serving in the Navy and those who have served in the past. Guests will walk away feeling not only entertained but proud of the Navy in general, he said.
"They are going to see a wonderful show," Webb said. "Even if you don't know what to expect, you're guaranteed to be pleased."