As 'The William Tell Overture' ends, so does 30-year conducting career ANNAPOLIS/SOUTH COUNTY -- Davidsonville * Edgewater * Shady Side * Deale

August 02, 1993|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Staff Writer

He was a 17-year-old French horn player from landlocked LaJunta, Colo., who enlisted in the Navy and never expected to stay.

Cmdr. Mike Burch-Pesses recalled his father, a chief petty officer, encouraged him to join "the Outfit," as he called the Navy.

Now, after some 30 years of conducting Navy bands from Pensacola, Fla., to Italy and the 7th Fleet in Japan, Commander Burch-Pesses is moving once again, from his four-year post as director of the Naval Academy Band to manager of the Navy Music Program in Washington.

"The only place I haven't been is Africa," said the 48-year-old Bowie resident.

He will step down from the academy band tomorrow after an 8 p.m. concert at the City Dock in Annapolis.

He is leaving a post rich in tradition. He headed the Navy's oldestband -- founded in 1852. And it was a predecessor in that post, Charles Zimmerman, who wrote a march for the Class of 1907 that soon became the Navy's theme song: "Anchors Aweigh."

The commander estimates he played the national anthem 5,000 times, but says it's still a "thrill" to pick up the baton, see band members snap up their instruments and hear those crisp notes.

And his favorite tune?

"If I don't say 'Anchors Aweigh,' they'll keelhaul me," he says with a smile. But he acknowledges his top choice is the "Semper Fidelis" march -- "The Marines' Hymn" -- followed by "Stars and Stripes Forever," the famed John Philip Sousa march.

In his new post, Commander Burch-Pesses will be wielding a pen more than a baton. He will oversee 17 Navy bands, everything from budgets to instruments.

And while the commander said he will be doing some guest conducting, he quickly noted that the Navy band is near his new office in case he suffers from "musical withdrawal."

His replacement will be Cmdr. Thomas Metcalf, who will be passed the baton -- literally -- tomorrow night.

But that won't be before the familiar march tunes float above the nighttime sky of Annapolis, along with a favorite show stopper -- "The William Tell Overture." It is better known to the TV generation as the theme from "The Lone Ranger."

"The last thing I conduct will be the finest overture -- in my opinion -- ever written," the commander said.

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