By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

'Music moves people'

Marcus Larson/News-RegisterBryan Shirley played with the U.S. Navy Band during the Vietnam War. He nows plays with Linfield and George Fox bands, Second Winds and the Frank Messina Big Band.
Marcus Larson/News-RegisterBryan Shirley 
rehearses with members of Second Winds and the Linfield College Concert Band.

Trumpeter Bryan Shirley has played a lot of national anthems — among them, the Japanese anthem, “Kimigayo”; South Vietnam’s “Call to the Citizens”; and, of course, our own “Star Spangled Banner.”

As a member of the U.S. Navy Band during the Vietnam War era, he often found himself performing for ceremonial events in Southeast Asia. When the band was playing in a foreign country, it played the host’s anthem first, then the U.S. anthem, Shirley said. Aboard ship or at home, it would play the “Star Spangled Banner” first, then the anthem of the visiting dignitary.

“It was an interesting four years,” said Shirley, who now plays in several Yamhill County music groups.

He will perform Sunday, Nov. 10, with the combined Linfield College Concert Band and Second Winds Community Band in a Veterans Day concert. The free program, featuring Civil War music and patriotic tunes, will start at 3 p.m. in the McMinnville Community Center.

Shirley is one of several veterans who will play with the band on Sunday. They will stand proudly during a medley of military anthems — the Navy’s “Anchor’s Away,” in Shirley’s case.

“For me, the military was a good experience. I wouldn’t trade one minute of it for anything,” he said.

He chuckled, adding, “Of course, you couldn’t pay me to do it again.”

Shirley was born in Portland, but grew up in New York City, where his father worked for NBC.

At 10, he asked his mother for a trombone so he could join the band. “But my arms weren’t long enough,” he said.

He started on a trumpet, instead. He loved it, though he recalled: “My mom said, ‘Couldn’t you play something quieter?’”

It was brass or nothing for the youngster. He loved the music of Louie Armstrong, Doc Severenson, Harry James and Al Hirt. He’d also been exposed to great trumpet players in the NBC orchestra when he accompanied his dad to work.

His high school on Long Island was arts-oriented. Almost two-thirds of the students were playing, singing or acting in theater.

“That made it very competitive,” he said. “There’d be four slots for trumpets and 20 guys competing.”

Thinking he might be drafted, Shirley volunteered for the Navy.

“I always loved water and sailing,” he said. “I can’t get too far from one coast or the other. Besides, the Navy had the better schools, the better reputation.”

He hoped to get into the Navy’s underwater demolition program, but there were no openings. Instead, recruiters suggested he audition for the band.

“I’d been playing trumpet for eight or nine year already, and my school music program was very competitive,” he said. “But I didn’t think I had a chance for the band. I was auditioning against music teacher and pros.”

To his delight, he was chosen for the trumpet section. And after completing the same boot camp as all recruits, he went to the Navy School of Music in Norfolk, Va.

It was an intensive program that packed several years of college-level music courses into a few months, he said. He put in long days in the classroom, learning theory and musicianship, then went home to practice at night.

“It was like trying to drink water from a fire hose — a huge education in a short period,” he said.

But he and his fellow students were highly motivated. “If we didn’t pass, we’d be chipping paint off the deck of a ship,” he said.

After completing the course, he became part of a show band that toured Southeast Asia. The band, similar to a big band, included four players on each instrument, trumpet, trombone and saxophone, plus a rhythm section. It played all sorts of music, from big band to pop to patriotic.

Officially stationed on the S.S. Providence, the group spent most of the time on the ground in Danang Province.

“The USO shows took place on the carriers, because the performers were civilians,” Shirley said. “We carried our instrument cases in one hand and rifles in the other, and played for the troops where civilians couldn’t go.”

And yes, he said, there were times when band members dropped their cases and used both hands on their guns.

The band performed for promotional events, as well as ceremonies. But playing for the troops was the most rewarding activity, Shirley said. “It was great.”

But performing in a war zone wasn’t without its dangers. Shirley recalled one concert scheduled for 8 p.m. in a large auditorium in the downtown area of a city.

On its way to the venue, his band was held up when road mines were discovered on the highway it was traveling. The concert was canceled.

At 9:15 p.m., when the music should have been in full swing, the auditorium was hit by mortar shells and leveled.

“If we had made it, there would have been 2,000 people inside,” he said. As it was, the place was empty and no one was hurt.

Shirley finished his stint in the Navy in 1970. He also put down his trumpet.

“I let it go for a long time,” he said.

He worked in and ran several companies over the years. He also managed a restaurant and held sales positions.

Nowadays, he owns and runs two businesses — a coin-operated laundry and a precision sharpening business that hones the clipper blades, shears for clothing manufacturers, surgeons’ tools and other instruments that need to be perfectly sharp. He bought the sharpening business after returning to his home state a dozen years ago.

Not long after moving to Dundee with his wife, Shirley, he decided he wanted to play his trumpet and be part of a band again.

“Music moves people, pure and simple,” he said. “It’s always done that for me.”

So when he heard the Second Winds playing at the U.S. Bank Plaza one day, he signed up.

One thing led to another. Soon he was playing regularly with the Frank Messina Band, the Linfield Jazz Band and the George Fox University band. He also plays “Taps” frequently at funerals and ceremonies.

These days, he figures he spends about 41 hours a week practicing and performing — even more hours than he put in when was in the Navy band. Alone or in a group, for a rehearsal or a concert, he simply loves to play.

“When I open my trumpet case,” Shirley said, “I get just as excited as I did when I was 10.”

Starla Pointer, who is convinced everyone has an interesting story to tell, has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996. She’s always looking for suggestions. Contact her at 503-687-1263 or


The Linfield College Concert Band and the Second Winds Community Band will combine for a Veterans Day concert at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 10,  in the McMinnville Community Center.

Admission is free. Food and monetary donations will be accepted at the door for Friends of Battery B 2-218 Field Artillery.

The concert will feature patriotic music and tunes written during or inspired by the Civil War. Army veteran Mike Donahue, retired news anchor of KOIN-TV, will narrate the program. The Northwest Civil War Council re-enactors will present an the honor guard and color guard and take part of an antebellum fashion show featuring apparel from 1860s.

Patriotic music is meant to inspire love of country, stir emotions and evoke memories, said Mark Williams, director of Second Winds, and Joan Haaland Paddock, director of the Linfield Band.

Some is based on marshal tunes written to rally troops and keep them in step, Paddock said. “It’s generally grand, with strong rhythms and harmonies,” she said.

It is meant to stir one’s soul, she said. People might feel their own anthem more than those of other countries, but patriotic pieces often have a universal appeal as the notes evoke memories and experiences we hold in common.

“Everyone can understand sacrifice and yearning for home,” she said.

The concert will include “When this Cruel War is Over” and “Hoist up the Flag” by Septimus Winner; “The Civil War Fantasy” by Jerry Bilik; “Ashokan Farewell,” featuring a violin solo of Linfield junior Sasha Meyer with community member David Clark on guitar; “The Silver Horn” by Henry Clay Work, featuring junior Delaney Bullinger on vocals, Meyer on violin and Debbie Schrepel on piano; “Battle of Shiloh March” by Charles Barnhouse; and “Stars and Stripes Forever” by John Philip Sousa.

For more information, call 503-883-2275 or visit

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