Yesterday's Beethoven Pops Concert in the Ballroom of the Capital Hilton Hotel was called a Salute to the Navy. And sure enough, there were sea chanteys sung by baritone Robert Patton. And fife and drum music played by the Patuxent Martial Music, Explorer Troop 81.

There was even a march by former Navy Secretary J. William Middendorf II. Aptly named "Old Ironsides," it was to have been conducted by Middendorf. But some demands, perhaps business, social or political, kept the composer away. And so master of ceremonies Jackson Bain, asking only, "What'd he do, run out of gas?" took on the conducting assignment himself and managed very well.

Usually there is standing room only at these Beethoven Pops. Yesterday, probably because of the gas shortages, there were only a couple of hundred happy listeners. They heard Richard Weilenmann conduct a 40-piece orchestra, largely of National Symphony players, in a Mendelssohn overture. Donald Shore played the solo role in the Mozart bassoon concerto and showed why, at 17, he is headed for study at the Peabody Conservatory.

Rossini's "William Tell" Overture came complete with a squad of Swiss patriots, one of whom, in true historic manner, fired an arrow from a cross-bow and landed it straight through a rather small apple perched on the head of a brave young boy standing halfway across the ballroom. You never know what you may run into at a Beethoven Pops. Or who won't get there to conduct his own music.