The walls are mostly empty now, pockmarked by tiny nail holes. There's not much on the bookshelves, either, and only a few stuffed packing cartons on the carpeted floor contain the photos, plaques, commendations and various bits of memorabilia accumulated over nine years in this office.
Behind his desk, Captain Kenneth Megan, director of the United States Coast Guard Band, dressed in crisp dress blues on a late August afternoon, has the pleasantly bewildered air of someone used to operating at peak efficiency - and suddenly finds himself without anything to do.
Nearly four decades after he joined the band as an arranger, Megan is retiring. The band's final performance under his stewardship takes place Sunday in Leamy Hall Auditorium on the Coast Guard Academy's New London campus as part of a celebratory farewell weekend. In fond acknowledgment of his legacy, 35 former members of the USCG Band will show up for a long weekend of commemorative events, parties, and to perform onstage with the present band. Such a turnout - along with an anticipated capacity crowd of friends, family, Coast Guard members and civilian fans - is a testimony to Megan's popularity as director.
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert J. Papp, Jr. notes,"Captain Ken Megan is an exceptionally accomplished musician and outstanding officer who has served the Coast Guard with distinction for 38 years. Under his leadership as director, the Coast Guard Band honored our profession during hundreds of performances, helping people to celebrate, honor and heal. Through his music, he reminded all Americans of what makes this country so great."
While Megan wouldn't put it in such flattering terms, it's true that his artistic and familial DNA strands are deeply interwoven in the organization and the band and that the feelings of loyalty and affection are mutual.
This is a big moment.
"Two months ago, when reality hit in that I was actually retiring, I went through a nostalgic period and I was a little blue," says Megan, who joined the band in 1975 as an arranger. "But I've turned the corner. I'm in a good place and it's reassuring that this is about the U.S. Coast Guard Band. Not me."
He leans back in his chair and takes a breath. "Let me tell you: this is a wonderful organization."
Over the years, Megan's roles have evolved. In addition to early assignments as an arranger/composer, he's played clarinet, bass clarinet and saxophone, and served as the band's radio host and as the longtime, collegial concert emcee whose commentaries and special event/holiday recitations were high points of assured whimsy.
In 1986, he auditioned for and was awarded the assistant director post under Commander Lewis Buckley, a position he held until assuming the reins himself in 2004. Throughout, in his role as a leader and teacher, and as an artist whose concert programs were clever blends of populist fare and quality but perhaps lesser known works, Megan's course has reflected his commitment to lofty goals and steady progress.
"When I first got in the band, I did some teaching in the area," Megan says. "I enjoyed it, but at the same time, the first time I walked into Leamy Hall, I thought, 'THIS is where I want to be.' I just naturally decided that my aim was to help our band improve in all facets - not just as an elite musical outfit, but also as a representative of the U.S. Coast Guard." He shakes his head and laughs. "If you'd told me all those years ago I'd end up in this chair, I'd have thought you were a lunatic."
Over the course of an hour, Megan discussed his life in the band. As always, he was thoughtful, well-spoken, self-effacing, and gently witty. Depending on the subject matter of the question or the memories evoked, his mood ranged from a sort of parental pride to a bittersweet, "I can't believe it's really over" melancholy.
Here are some of Megan's career reflections.
On the differences between a musician who performs for a community orchestra and a musician who joins a service band:
"If you're hired to be in a professional symphony orchestra, your job is to create beautiful music the best you can. The music (at the Coast Guard Band) is a means to an end - not the end in itself. That's a little bit of a shift in expectations for someone who's studied and practiced to get to a certain artistic level. That doesn't mean that we don't take the music seriously; we do. We perform at the highest capability for the audience and for each other. But it's all in service to the Coast Guard. Our mission is to create goodwill for the Coast Guard, to reach out and connect. Period."
In that spirit, what misconceptions did Megan experience at the start of his own career?
"There's definitely a metamorphosis that takes place. You tend to think of gigs as either actual concerts - which you love because it's what you trained for - or the more ceremonial performances like a change of command or a Christmas tree lighting. At first, you think of the latter less passionately, like a duty to be performed. The material is different, obviously, and there's a lot of repetition in the ceremonial stuff.
"But as you get more experienced, you start to look forward to those events because you see some things you'll never forget and you start to take pride in being part of the ritual or history."
A very cool example of such things:
"I've played at every presidential inauguration since Carter's. That alone is something to think about. But we were at the second inauguration for President Obama and I happened to be high up on a riser. I looked to one side and there was the White House. In the other direction was the Washington Monument ... look out at the crowd and there are thousands and thousands of people and you can feel the energy. And, of course, right in front of me is President Obama. I think even Bo the dog was there. You think to yourself: okay, hold this image. Remember it. Do NOT forget this."
On the 2010-11 renovation of Leamy Hall, the band's longtime campus home, from a servicable performance venue to a competitive, state-of-the-art auditorium:
(He grins and shakes his head in appreciation.) "Leamy has become a show piece for the academy and one of the great concert halls in New England. I'm proud of the fact that it happened on my watch, but most of the credit should go to (the band's assistant director, Chief Warrant Officer) Rick Wyman. He was able to get the acoustic experts and the theater designers and make it work. He did a great job.
"I also want to add that we're certainly not the only ones who use the hall. It's a facility the whole academy uses and I think it's a tremendous asset."
On the role of Coast Guard musicians in the greater community:
"Oh, I think we've had a huge impact on the arts in southeastern Connecticut and the area. The quality of our musicians is obvious, and you can find our musicians playing not just in the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra but in the orchestras in Hartford, Boston and Providence, to name a few. As well, our musicians have a desire to give back. We have a strong tradition of teaching and working with younger musicians. You see this sort of commitment long after many of us retire. It's also special to us that the community seems very much to appreciate what we do."
Any final thoughts?
"(Long, long pause.) There's a lot I'm going to miss. I have the best job in the Coast Guard. All due respect to Rear Admiral (Sandra) Stosz (Superintendent, United States Coast Guard Academy) or Admiral (Robert J.) Papp (Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard). They can stand on the bridge of the barque Eagle and feel the salt and the wind washing over them, and that's amazing.
"But I get to stand in front of a wonderful band and feel their wonderful music washing over me. That's an unbelievable thing. I think of the travel and the camaraderie and the fun we had together - and I feel honored and lucky, proud and privileged and very blessed. And, going forward, I'm going to be their biggest fan."