Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

On A Lighter Note

Acquaintance I would have, but when ‘t depends / Not on the number but the choice of friends.

         –Abraham Cowley


I don’t know what it was, but there was something different about DMA at UMass this summer.

Let’s be clear: my work with the George N. Parks Drum Major Academy isn’t really work. There are things to do, there is physical exertion to be exerted, there is teaching (and learning) to be accomplished … but every once in a while there are “gigs” that one looks forward to for something beyond just the paycheck. This is always one of them.

Let’s also be clear: I’ve done 32 of these clinics now. Sixteen summers, two per summer; math class. Every single one has offered something that I could take away, knowing that it would be a memory that would stay with me permanently.

Sometimes it’s been the success of a student who at the beginning of the week was looking very like a rookie. Sometimes it’s been making a connection with a staff colleague whom I had not known very well, before the week began. Sometimes it’s been a weather event. Sometimes it’s been some other unforeseen event, and how the staff and students responded to it. Sometimes it’s been a practical joke for the ages. Sometimes, it’s been one “line of dialogue” by a staff member. But always at least one thing.

Let’s also be clear: every summer I get to work at the DMA clinics located at West Chester University in Pennsylvania and UMass-Amherst. West Chester is a day shorter than UMass. If I’m analyzing students’ conducting video, it’s only for two 40-minute sessions per student instead of three. So comparatively, my contact time with individual students is a little less at West Chester – not disastrously, but it does give me a bit more opportunity to check in with UMass DMA students. Nobody’s fault – it is what it is.

With all that said: again … this most recent UMass DMA week had something different going on.

Maybe it was kicked off by the first video afternoon. Western Massachusetts was suddenly under a tornado warning, and the word went out to staff: keep your student groups right where they are – DON’T send them walking outside to the next stop in their three-classroom rotation. So my group, code-named “Starship B, TV 1”, stayed put, and got a 70-minute block to work on conducting, rather than just 40 minutes. By the end of that session, I was really good with names, even when the kids’ nametags were facing the wrong way.

Maybe it was coincidence that caused many of my TV-room students to also comprise the four six-member squads with whom I worked in the mornings, during squad competitions. By the time I parked myself in front of Squads 5 through 8 at the week’s closing exercises, I felt like I knew these characters better than usual.

There are no empirical measurements that I can use to determine whether it’s been a great summer for those connections.

But there is one non-scientific determinant that is making a serious play for attention as a unit of measurement.

I keep getting Facebook friend requests.

Relatively speaking, a lot of ‘em.

Since I jumped into that social media environment several years ago, I’ve acquired an average of something like 0.75 to 1.00 new Friends following each DMA clinic. Someone remembered a piece of conducting advice, or a good joke, or a dumb joke, or just a smile, that I may have thrown out there … or heeded my regular call to “keep in touch with us! We want to know how your season is going!”, and followed through.

And yes, I do have Facebook friend privacy protocols that I put into play. There are some elements of my social media life that high school folks probably don’t need to see, or would want to!, at least till they get into and out of college, or onto the DMA Impact staff full of college band student leaders. Maybe not even then!

But I have had the privilege of keeping in touch with some very fine people this way, lately. They’ve taken what the DMA curriculum has to offer and run with it … and often, their success is not confined to the marching rehearsal field. Some of them are genuinely among the sharpest online wits, or kindest-sounding people, or both, that I know.

We’ll see what this summer’s response will end up being, not just with regard to “number, but the choice”, as Mr. Cowley wrote. But so far … fifteen.

I am humbled.

August 13, 2014 Posted by | DMA, drum major, Facebook, friends, marching band, music, social media | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Just Stop

I know, I know. I shouldn’t write this.

Not because this man’s devout followers will inevitably descend upon this blog post like jackals. (Do your frickin’ worst. I’ll even leave your troll comments here. I won’t delete them, as long as you utilize Webster’s Dictionary and leave the four-letter bombs out of it. It’ll say so much more about you than it’ll say about this essay.)

I shouldn’t write this because of how much I admired the object of this man’s nonsensical armchair psychoanalysis.

I shouldn’t write this because I think maybe this man didn’t get enough attention from his mommy, so he’s got to compensate now. (Speaking of compensation. Big man. Impressive. Bring others down, even if they’re dead – before they’re even buried. Way to prove your manhood.)

I shouldn’t write this because of this man’s raging case of psychological projection.

I shouldn’t write this at all, because by writing about this man, I will merely spread the public awareness of him – of his offensive remarks, and of his very existence as a media figure and as a miserable human being – to more people than he frankly deserves.

But I just spent a couple of weeks with fine people, teaching other potentially fine people how to march and how to conduct and how to error-detect-and-correct but most importantly how important it is to be decent to each other because that’s the best way to start getting positive things accomplished, and then I’ve got to return to the world of this?

Rush Limbaugh on Tuesday tied Robin Williams’ death, which sheriffs believe was a suicide, to the ‘leftist worldview.’

A caller on Limbaugh’s radio show lamented how much coverage the media has given to Williams rather than to other news stories, and asked Limbaugh, ‘What do you think the political reason for their doing this is?’

The conservative radio host first discussed his concern that people commit suicide for the attention.

‘The thing I worry about, I really do, they’re making such heroism out of this that I hope it doesn’t inspire a lot of copycats by people seeking the same kind of fame,’ he said. ‘To kill yourself is one way to get the media to spend a lot of time talking about you, if you want to be talked about.’

He then said he didn’t think that the media’s coverage of Williams was driven by politics, but he said it was a factor.

‘But I don’t think that the politics is driving it. I think there was, on the part of media and Hollywood, genuine affection for the guy that is driving it, but there is politics,’ he said. ‘If you notice the coverage is focused on how much he had, but it wasn’t enough.’

‘Now, what is the left’s worldview in general? What is it? If you had to attach not a philosophy but an attitude to a leftist worldview, it’s one of pessimism and darkness, sadness. They’re never happy, are they? They’re always angry about something. No matter what they get, they’re always angry,’ Limbaugh continued. ‘They are animated in large part by the false promises of America, because the promises of America are not for everyone, as we see each and every day.’

The story behind Williams death, fits with liberals’ outlook on the world, according to Limbaugh.

‘He made everybody else laugh but was miserable inside. I mean, it fits a certain picture, or a certain image that the left has,’ he said. ‘Talk about low expectations and general unhappiness and so forth.’”

Talk about it, indeed.

Rush needs to shut up.

Sorry. As a kid I was told that this phrase is not the one we ought to use. And perhaps it was my initial, knee-jerk, snap-judgment response. So, to my teachers and my parents, I say, sorry.

Ordinarily I would now suggest many possible behavioral adjustments that might make Rush’s life better, happier, more productive – as well as the lives of anyone who chances to listen to him, on purpose or not.

Ordinarily I might go on for a bit about the Golden Rule … or the concept of empathy … or the concept of compassion … or at the very least the idea that knee-jerk reactions and snap judgments usually are made without all the proper information that would otherwise better inform the reacting or judging person.

Ordinarily I might express how appalled I am that some people, particularly those in position to shout it from the media rooftops (who are therefore not only prone to shout but paid to shout), cannot see past their own profession or their own beliefs, and thus cannot avoid making everything all about politics, all the time. Right-wingers commit suicide, too, y’know. So do centrists. So do people who don’t give a wet slap about politics. So do people who perceive that they have been placed in unsolvable situations by the beliefs and policy decisions of other people, about whom they can do nothing.

Ordinarily I would do those things, because I’m a teacher (but also, I hope, because I’m an okay human being). My job is to deal with children who haven’t been on earth a super-long time. Who maybe haven’t grasped these ideas, not by any fault of their own, other than they’ve not had a lot of experience, comparatively, with these ideas. My job – my instinct – is to try to present these thoughts, make these suggestions, in such a way that they might take away a fresh perspective, that they might learn from them. Not because I told them so, but because these ideas contribute to decent and civilized human relations, and also their lives may be less stressful if they keep them in mind.

Rush has been on earth for sixty-three years now. You’d think he would have grasped some of these, either through personal experience or observation of others or something.

Apparently not.

Obviously not.

Maybe it’s an entertainment-industry persona. Maybe if you actually talk to the guy, he comes off as not “radio Rush” but “human-being Rush”. Maybe, to paraphrase a favorite fictional character, he does care about anything, or anyone.

After all, we are now being treated to anecdotes about Robin Williams’ off-stage persona – for example, how, even though he was a “wild and crazy guy” on stage, he always expressed a caring attitude toward stagehands and production assistants and other entertainment-industry “little people”. American entertainment is littered with examples of people who were one thing on stage, and another when the lights went down.

So I’d like to leave open that possibility in Rush’s case.

But the problem is, movie stars’ performances mostly inspire their fans and followers to admire them, and to go see another of their movies. I don’t know how many people watch, say, Tom Hardy as Bane or Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter … and then go out and treat other people the same horrible way, just because they saw and heard what remarkable things those actors did to make those characters come to life.

Y’know … I was about to suggest that Rush is in a different position within society, one in which his on-stage behavior – the way he says things and what he actually says – does have the opportunity to encourage his fans and followers to think and feel certain things and then to go and act on those beliefs, to behave in ways that do dramatically affect other people’s lives – regardless of whether he’s a good or awful person away from the spotlight.

But I don’t think that’s fair, because you can take that last paragraph, rip out the name “Rush” and plug in the name “Mother Theresa” or “the Pope” or name-your-universally-beloved-public-figure … and the paragraph would still be true. Charles Barkley once said that just because he was a successful NBA basketball player, that didn’t mean he felt he should be seen as a role model. To which I remember saying, sorry, man, it’s out of your hands.

Instead, perhaps, my thoughts boil down to this:

Stop, Rush.

And unfortunately, because I’m probably not the only person who will pen a scathing reply to your utterance, you will not be encouraged to heed this advice. Quite the contrary.

And yeah, I’m a little bit of a leftist and you just damn well bet I’m angry, but not for the reasons your political stripe causes you to believe.

I’m angry at you.

I’m angry at what you say, and how you say it, and how it belittles the people that you don’t like, and how it encourages other people to behave inhumanely. Damn right I’m angry at you.

But I’m not so angry that I would wish physical or other harm upon you, no indeed. My worldview is not so dark that I think that physical violence solves anything, or that I think people who believe differently than I do are automatically evil or “takers” or drains on society or any of the rest of that crap that we’ve been subjected to for some time now.

But I’ve been subjected to it for long enough now, I think.

So, Rush, just stop.

Don’t stop and think.

Don’t stop and consider.

Don’t stop and then issue an apology, or revise your statement, or claim you didn’t mean or even didn’t really say such a thing.

Just stop.

August 13, 2014 Posted by | celebrity, current events, entertainment, Famous Persons, media, news, radio | , , | Leave a comment


Has it really been only eleven days or so since I saw the first bucket of ice water hit someone?

The fundraising phenomenon asks those willing to douse themselves to challenge others to do the same within 24 hours. If they don’t, they must make a donation to a certain charity. Each person who participates nominates more friends, who nominate more friends, who nominate still more friends, which explains why the trend has exploded. … The months-old movement has taken the Boston area by storm over the last 10 days, since friends and relatives of former Boston College baseball player Pete Frates used it to raise awareness about Lou Gehrig’s Disease [ALS].

Early on, I posted this on Facebook:

A pre-emptive statement: if challenged to do that ALS-awareness ice bucket challenge thing, I will be a party pooper and donate the hundred bucks. I just don’t want my cardiac event to be recorded on video.

I didn’t post it to be a spoilsport. I didn’t belittle the concept. I was thinking more along the lines of, if I want a brain freeze, I want it to be accompanied by ice cream.

And the conversation that ensued was gentle, and really didn’t imply such things. Early on, I also had wondered if there would be people out there who would dump the ice water over themselves but then not contribute. The Associated Press article quoted above does not make it sufficiently clear that the doused people then get to contribute a certain amount to charity themselves … and, well, I just wondered. The Internets are full of stories of cheaters and undeserved-attention-mongers, after all.

To my relief … it seems I shouldn’t have worried.

[Pete Frates'] parents, Nancy and John Frates … said the ice bucket challenge has done more to increase understanding about ALS than anything they’ve done over the past two years.

For those who work to raise awareness of ALS, the ice bucket challenge has been a windfall. The ALS Association’s national president, Barbara Newhouse, said donations to the national office surged during the 10-day period that ended Thursday, to about $160,000, from $14,480 during the same period a year ago. That’s not counting donations to chapter offices around the country, Newhouse said.

Excellent. Truly.

Meanwhile, something that has struck me over the last week and a half has been the great variety of images on display. One might suppose that this is among the simplest concepts: one person gets doused with a bucket of ice water.

It is. But ah ha ha! Vive la difference!

I’m sure that Famous Persons have taken part in this, but by sheer happenstance, I haven’t seen any of those videos. The video I’ve seen has all been via my Facebook news feed, and all of the ice buckets have been applied to friends or former students, or friends of same. I would guess, since I have neglected to count, I’ve seen many dozens of video clips of splash.

And, because all humans are different somehow, it would seem that all splashes are, too.

Some of my friends and colleagues and former students have worn bathing suits. Some have worn tank tops or t-shirts. The Beverly (MA) Police Department, collectively, wore full duty uniforms.

Some have doused themselves. Some have counted on others to dump the water.

Some have stood in their backyards and had the ice water dumped on them from high above, by someone on a back deck or a folding chair. Others have had water dumped on them by someone standing behind them.

Some have stood on the beach. Some have stood in their driveways.

Some have gotten hit with a gallon or so of water. Some have been splashed by a multiple-gallon cooler full.

Some have been hit with more ice cubes than ice water.

Some of them were ready for it. Some weren’t.

Some have looked as if they were desperately trying to predict when the water would arrive. Some stared straight ahead and waited without peeking behind them. One was doused on the count of three, except that instead it sounded like “one… two… SPLASH!”

Some have danced around afterward. Some have stood in place, frozen (literally and figuratively).

Some have staggered backward. Some have waddled forward. Some have nearly fallen forward.

Some of them reacted with a great whoop of laughter (or something). Some have stood in quivering silence.

Some have run around afterward in a small circle. A couple have run around in a great sweeping arc, flapping their arms.

Only one that I’ve seen, so far, has appeared to be ready to commit violence upon the bucket-holder.

Some have been splashed by friends. Some have been splashed by family members.

One was splashed by her little brother, who looked like he was having way too much fun.

One splashed his twin daughters, who squealed with shock and delight. A few days later, this same friend readied a bucket for a self-splash, and one of those same toddlers very enthusiastically filled the bucket with ice cubes before making a quick getaway.

One of my colleagues doused himself while the high school band he was teaching played their school song in the background.

One of my DMA colleagues was splashed by her father – who looked very startled when, possibly in an improvised moment, she nominated him to be one of the next ice-bucket recipients.

But no doubt all of these people have had one thing in common: they’ve been able to achieve any or all of these physical things while not been suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Nerve cells in their brains and spinal cords have not been affected. The ability of their brains to initiate and control muscle movement has not been compromised.

And one other thing they, and I, and we all, can do … is to write that check for $100, or whatever amount. And then check up on the ALS Association and see if we can do them some more favors, in the coming months and years, so as to keep this from being a flash in the pan.

Not always the best thing to hear, but in this case it’s okay: my check is, indeed, in the mail.

August 12, 2014 Posted by | current events, Facebook, Internet, media, news, social media, technology | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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