The U.S. Naval Academy Men’s Glee Club marched into Merrill Auditorium on Saturday night to the cheers of a large and enthusiastic audience. They sang a highly varied program with the Portland Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Robert Moody, and the coordination of forces sounded as if they had been rehearsing together for months.

The chorus numbers 89 midshipmen, all amateurs, but Dr. Aaron Smith, director of the musical activities department at Annapolis, has molded them into a coherent entity that sounds virtually professional. There is none of the muddiness that one usually encounters with a large group of untrained singers. Dynamics, articulation and part singing were all first rate. The soloists weren’t bad, either.

Another unexpected virtue of the Glee Club is its spontaneity. They danced and postured in “With cat-like tread,” from “The Pirates of Penzance,” and made a sort of cheerleaders’ tower at the finale of “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame.”

Their discipline showed, however, when part of the chorus went to the balcony for an antiphonal section of Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria.” They disappeared from the stage and appeared almost instantly in the third balcony, like the Tasmanian Devil in a Disney cartoon. That performance, by the way, was one of the most moving of the evening.

The first half of the program was devoted primarily to music of the sea, beginning with Edvard Grieg’s evocative “Landsighting,” which combined orchestra and chorus to paint a striking tone-picture of landfall on the Norwegian coast.

The solo orchestra was featured in a fine rendition of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship” from “Scheherazade,” one of the great masterpieces of orchestration and musical imagery. It seemed rather unfair to Richard Rodgers to present it on the same program as the made-for-TV “Victory at Sea.”

The first half concluded with three operatic selections: the “Norwegian Sailor’s Chorus” from “The Flying Dutchman,” the “Pilgrim’s Chorus” from “Tannhauser,” and the “Soldier’s Chorus” from “Faust.” The first showed the power of the chorus, while the second illustrated their wide dynamic range. The “Soldier’s Chorus,” while well done, has always been spoiled for me by a music box I owned as a child.

After intermission came the “Victory at Sea,” the ever-popular “Armed Forces Salute,” with a large number of veterans in the audience, and an austere rendering of John Williams’ “Hymn to the Fallen” from “Saving Private Ryan,” that was enough to make one reconsider the definition of movie music.

Following the “Ave Maria,” the chorus sang “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” one of my favorite hymns that sounded just right a cappella.

The evening concluded with a wonderful arrangement of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” that included the double-time march rhythm of the French army in the “1812 Overture.” Even if it was badly sung — which it wasn’t — I would have to give it an A-plus for the use of the correct last line of the hymn: not the PC “live” but “die” to make men free.

After extended cheering, the encore was “America the Beautiful.”

Christopher Hyde’s Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be reached at

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