“We played the national anthem, and people were singing, shouting the words,” he recalled. “I’ve never been in any ceremony where that happened. People came up to me and thanked me. They were crying.”
The one time that Lovinsky cried during a quintet performance was at his own wedding last summer at the Old Post Chapel at Fort Myer. He asked his band mates to play all the wedding music. Since he couldn’t play, Lee subbed for him.
“For him to be on the other side of it, well, Joe was totally tearing up,” Lee recalled.
A few months ago, Lee was one of four hornists to try out for Lovinsky’s job. He acknowledges he was nervous.
“It’s a fickle thing to play the French horn,” he said. “Sometimes, the thing turns against you at a moment’s notice.”
Staff Sgt. Evan Geiger competed against Lee but knew he was an underdog.
“It was Rick’s to lose,” said Geiger, who wound up getting Lee’s substitute spot. “Assuming Rick’s going to be around, the next time I’d have even a chance to audition would be in . . . 20 years?”
Lee said he doesn’t plan to relinquish his French horn spot until he retires.
Earlier this month, Lovinsky drove to Shenandoah University to play his final quintet gig at the National Jazz Workshop for college and high school students. As part of the performance, he was to play a solo that he always dreads: Sonata No. 2 by Luigi Cherubini.
“Technically, this is very challenging,” he said before the lights dimmed. “It’s unreal. I can’t believe this is happening. I am going to miss these guys.”
At the end of the show, as everyone applauded, the retiree walked off stage and shook hands with the quintet’s leader, Master Sgt. Terry Bingham, a trumpeter. The two men embraced as Bingham told his friend words that made them both smile.
“It’s been an honor,” he said.