NEWPORT, R.I. —
If you are looking for some holiday cheer, just ask John Woodhouse, a communications specialist in the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport’s Public Affairs Office, what he does on most weekends leading up to the December holidays.
A chorus singer for more than 55 years, Woodhouse, a resident of Middletown, Rhode Island, is a member of both the Newport Navy Choristers and Narragansett Bay Chorus. He volunteers his time to perform in holiday shows at area chapels, nursing homes and senior centers.
“Singing requires total focus on what you’re doing; you put everything else out of your mind,” Woodhouse said. “Singing is very good for you — it exercises your heart and lungs and increases endorphins. It makes you feel good!”
You may recognize Woodhouse from NUWC’s annual Combined Federal Campaign, which he led for the past 10 years as the command’s coordinator and as a member of the regional Local Federal Coordinating Committee, or from his involvement with the Portsmouth Lions Club. But Woodhouse said he has always found much of his work/life balance through singing.
His favorite quote is: “Singing is life. All else is just details.”
Woodhouse has been a chorus singer since the third grade. The school district on Long Island, New York, where he grew up had a very strong music program, including two 70-member glee clubs and a 90-member high school choir. The choir practiced two to three hours a day, during and after school, and when a concert was planned, the singers practiced an additional hour before school.
His ties to the choir are still strong today — the choir has a Facebook page with more than 300 members who reside worldwide, from Switzerland to Japan, Woodhouse said. The group included the much loved 25-year chorus director who attended reunions with more than 150 former students, until his recent death.
After high school, Woodhouse found various outlets to continue his passion for singing. While an undergraduate at Dartmouth College, Woodhouse sang with the Dartmouth Glee Club, which often toured the country providing concerts for alumni, college applicants and friends of the college.
In 1973, he joined the U.S. Navy, and while stationed in Germany at the U.S. European Command headquarters at Patch Barracks, he sang with the Patch Barracks Community Chorale, a community chorus. He also sang with a barbershop quartet that performed on the base for special occasions and occasionally in local German venues including a riverboat cruise as roaming troubadours.
In June 1992, Delta Airlines started a new direct flight from Stuttgart, Germany, to New York City. The quartet was asked to sing for the inaugural flight festivities. A breakfast celebration was held, gifts and tokens were handed out, and as the passengers were boarding, the quartet stood on the tarmac at the bottom of the boarding ramp singing “Give My Regards to Broadway” for the boarding passengers.
Woodhouse first came to Newport in 1992 to take on the position of Public Affairs Officer at the Naval War College. That same year he joined the Newport Navy Choristers, a community based group at Newport Naval Station, comprised of active and retired military, government civilians and their dependents. The Choristers raise money for local charities and perform two concerts during the holiday season and two in the spring. They also sing with the Navy Band at the War College Holiday Concert, which will be held this year on Dec. 15.
The Newport Navy Choristers have two subgroups — the Newport Navy Sea Chanteys and the Nautical Notes — and Woodhouse performs in both. The Sea Chanteys is a light-hearted group of about eight to a dozen singers who perform in “seafaring clothing” such as yellow rain slickers and hats. The group sings old sea chanteys, songs sung by Sailors in rhythm with work and other nautical-themed music. The Nautical Notes travel the area singing at nursing homes and senior centers, including the Bristol Veterans Home.
Woodhouse also became a member of the Narragansett Bay Chorus in 1995, a barbershop-style chorus, which performs about 12 concerts a year. The Chorus is well known for their entertaining performances that includes an annual holiday concert at the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Attleboro, Massachusetts. The concert hall seats up to 650 people, and it is sold out every year. You can watch 2017’s concert finale of “O Holy Night” on YouTube at:
Woodhouse has been involved in community outreach since his teens when he became a member of the high school version of the Lions Club, an international service organization. He officially joined the Lions as an adult in 1977.
“One of the things I liked about being in the Lions was that wherever I was stationed, there was a non-work-related opportunity to get involved with the community where we were living,” Woodhouse said.
Dedicated to “serving those in need,” the club raises money for people in the community and nonprofit service organizations. As a member of the Portsmouth Lions Club, Woodhouse assists at a variety of events, like Burgers and Beer, comedy nights, Bingo and clambakes, to raise money.
One-hundred percent of the proceeds are given to the community to help pay for eye exams and glasses for low-income families, scholarships for Middletown and Portsmouth high school students, and donations to area senior centers, the Portsmouth Free Library, R.I. Lions Cancer in Children Fund, Ronald McDonald House, the R.I. Lions Sight Foundation and the Lions International Foundation, which responds to international health crises and natural disasters.
Woodhouse shares his passions for volunteering and singing with his wife, Kathleen, who also sings with him in the Navy Choristers and in their church choir. The two plan to continue singing once Woodhouse retires and they travel between residences in Rhode Island and Florida.
And by the way, if you want a singing valentine for your sweetheart in February, Woodhouse and his quartet will gladly deliver — unless he is already singing a new tune in Florida.
NUWC Newport is a shore command of the U.S. Navy within the Naval Sea Systems Command, which engineers, builds and supports America’s fleet of ships and combat systems. NUWC Newport provides research, development, test and evaluation, engineering and fleet support for submarines, autonomous underwater systems, undersea offensive and defensive weapons systems, and countermeasures associated with undersea warfare.
Currently celebrating its 150th anniversary, NUWC Newport is the oldest warfare center in the country, tracing its heritage to the Naval Torpedo Station established on Goat Island in Newport Harbor in 1869. Commanded by Captain Michael Coughlin, NUWC Newport maintains major detachments in West Palm Beach, Fla., and Andros Island in the Bahamas, as well as test facilities at Seneca Lake and Fisher's Island, N.Y., Leesburg, Fla., and Dodge Pond, Conn.