“Project[, I wrote on my Facebook page last Wednesday]:
“For the sake of the Republic, we must defeat Donald Trump by any means possible. Therefore, my daily goal during these last seven weeks before Election Day will be to post [on my Facebook page] poetry decrying the awfulness that is Donald Trump.
“My little contribution.”
Wednesday, September 21: Today’s Trump Haiku:
“I’m the best ever.
So great it’s incredible.
“S’true, folks. believe me.”
Thursday, September 22: Today’s Trump Haiku:
Loathsome, vile, deplorable,
Trump is. Believe me.
Friday, September 23: Today’s Trump Haiku:
“Winning, losers, wall;
Unfair, nasty, stupid, folks:
I have the best words.”
Saturday, September 24:Today’s Trump Limerick:
There was a man from New York City
Whose bright hair, he thought, made him pretty
His red trucker’s hat
Made him feel like *all that*
But it turned out that he was just someone who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the nuclear codes
Sunday, September 25: Today’s Trump Haiku:
“Raining? Weather rigged.
Rib-eye overdone? Food rigged.
Hill’ry wins? World rigged.”
Monday, September 26: Today’s Trump Haiku:
“They’re nasty to me
They’re very unfair to me
Boo hoo hoo hoo hoo”
Tuesday, September 27: Today’s Trump Haiku:
Fleece! Bilk! Swindle! Cheat!
Defraud! Deceive! Delude! Dupe!
Down the field, Trump U!
Many of my friends and colleagues have many George Parks stories. I do too. And in the days leading up to today, a day in which we’re marking the sixth anniversary of his passing, I’ve been reminded of one in particular.
Probably not so coincidental, this reminder: the story is about beginnings, and it’s come back to me during many Septembers, including the ones before 2010. September is when school years (at least here on the east coast) and church program years crank back up again. Bands are band camping … choirs are getting back into organized singing again … many folks are packing up their summer gear … fall sports teams are working out again … kids (and graduate students) are once again setting aside afternoon and evening time for homework … everyone seems to be getting back to the old grind.
The story I’m thinking of has to do with my very very first football game as a collegiate marching person.
The mighty UMass marching band had completed its first pregame show of the 1984 season, and its first halftime show, and its first postgame show. I had sung my first uniformed “My Way”, and the band was encircling its director in the dusty parking lot outside the UMass football stadium in the way that only it can.
I was thrilled, thrilled, thrilled at what we’d just accomplished. I’d never been in a band that big, that powerful, that entertaining, before. Just eleven months before, I’d visited the UMass campus on a Saturday and saw the UMass marchers light their home stadium on fire. I had determined that this school was where I needed to be, and that band was where I needed to be. And lo, I was now a member of that group. And it was just as great — WE were just as great — as I had remembered. The audience cheered. The band danced (where appropriate). I was astonished at my good fortune.
We stood in a 230-person blob, around a portable podium upon which stood the same band director whose navy three-piece suit, red beard, and ability to stand on a very very narrow stadium railing had gotten my attention, at that game nearly a year before. This was the moment. This was MY moment.
“Well, gang,” Mr. Parks asked, “…how’d it feel?”
We roared. That good. Only far-and-away the best band performance of my life.
“Good, good! … Because we’ll never see THAT band again.”
Yeah! Only the most awesome show in the history of– … … sorry, wh’-what? Come again?
“Lots of work to do on Monday. Detail to the ready…”
And we came to attention one last time and how were our FEET? Together … in, out, back, frozen, up … substandard?
But … but … but “Crown Imperial” was bombastic (with a 48-count sustained final chord, no less)! Stan Kenton’s “Malaguena” ripped the crowd’s faces off! Lionel Richie’s “Hello” was … well, strangely placid, –but that just proved we could play anything in any style and nobody was messin’ with us! Right?
It wasn’t until two and a half weeks later — at the end of a midweek rehearsal, in fact — that Mr. Parks declared that the UMass band had “emerged”. That was his way of saying, okay, we’ve gotten ourselves back to the level of performance where we ought to be. Back to what the band should sound like. And in the mid-1980s, it usually wasn’t until the autumnal equinox that Mr. Parks looked upon his creation and declared it good.
Which I imagine may have frustrated people sometimes. In the fall of 1984, it confused this particular freshman, who had repaired to supper with his family after that first home game still reverberating from the experience of surviving and thriving on a college football field.
Took a while, but I figured it out.
Some time ago, I saw a video clip of a pre-band camp student staff meeting, in 1993, the year UMass was slated to play its first-ever exhibition at the Bands of America Grand National Championships. Mr. Parks was chatting with his student leaders and saying, well, gang, last year was such a great year, and ya know what? That band doesn’t exist anymore. That band is gone.
Odd thing to say, if you want to rev up your troops on the eve of battle … but his point was: this year’s band is not last year’s. It’s not even the same as last year’s.
The roster is not exactly the same. The drum majors are not necessarily the same people. The repertoire is new. The drill is new. The seniors (some of whom amassed four years of UMass band experience and institutional knowledge) are gone — and their shoes are about to be filled by rookies (some of whom have never even marched before).
We got work to do … and if all we bring out there, onto the practice field or the Alumni Stadium field or the Hoosier Dome field, is our memory of our reputation or the achievements of the ethereal past … if we don’t dig in and put in just as much work as the bands that unleashed “Phantom of the Opera” in 1990, or that made Delaware fans want to throw their babies in 1987 or 1983 or 1981, or that represented Massachusetts at Presidential inaugurations in 1984 or 1981 … all of the members of which are now out in the big world and not here to help …
… then we may not live up to the standards that they set.
All right, but … what about all that stuff I wrote, in this space, three years ago, about excellence being in that band’s DNA? It wasn’t untrue. And yet, while you can build a foundation … if you don’t maintain the house on top of it, the thing tends to deteriorate.
As the great Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser says: “If you plant corn, you get corn. If you plant tomatoes, you get tomatoes. What do you get if you plant nothing? … Weeds.”
So, for example, for the last fifteen Septembers, when starting the first choir rehearsal of our church’s program year, I’ve quietly borne in mind that no matter how great Music Ministry Sunday sounded back in June, and regardless of the fact that we don’t graduate seniors but instead benefit from having people singing in the choir for decades in a row … we can’t rest on those laurels.
That’s why, for example, the Drum Major Academy that Mr. Parks started has continued, and the curriculum has seen some adjustments and refinements. A couple of summers ago, after an especially memorable day of DMA teaching (and watching my colleagues teach better than I do), I posted on Facebook, “DMA lives … and *evolves*.”
That’s why, for example, teachers attend professional development workshops in the summer, when arguably they should be sipping adult beverages on the beach. If you stay in one spot, you get stagnant.
Starred Thought: “Bands (choirs) (organizations) (people) never stay the same. They either get better, or they get worse.”
That first college home football game of mine was thirty-two years and one week ago. And I still think about the fact that “we’ll never see THAT band again”, and consider how good that is to remember. And to consider, in spite of the fact that he’s no longer with us, how great it is that I remember who said it, and why he said it, and that he wasn’t saying it to tamp down our enthusiasm but to pump it up.
These things don’t just happen by themselves, gang. Gotta get in there and work for it.
Starred Thought: “Never. Assume. Anything.”
Whenever it is that I have finally rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible … if I’ve had even a sliver of the impact and influence on the world that George Parks had, and still has … I will be (at least metaphorically) in heaven.
At the end of a Drum Major Academy week, Mr. Parks used to look out at the group of high school drum majors that he was training, and say, “As a band leader, you have the greatest opportunity to have a permanent lifelong impact on the people in your school.”
Right back at you, sir. And you took full advantage of that opportunity.
“We’ll never see that band again.”
And we’re all the better for it, #becauseofGNP.
There’s something you need to know about me, in order for the following story to make sense:
I’m not a dog person.
My family, as I grew up, had a pet cat for quite a long time; but that wasn’t it. It was probably the three German shepherds (or equivalent) that lived in my neighborhood, as I grew up, which were always in very bad moods all the time. They looked at me like I was either (1) an affront to their existence, or (2) tasty-looking, potentially with ketchup. One of them actually drew blood — mine — when I was three or four years old. So.
I could go on with stories about those miserable ambassadors of the canine world, but the following story is not about them. It is, rather, about a dog much more deserving of admiration and praise.
I met this particular dog several years ago, while I was visiting her mom’s house. When I arrived at the front door, and rang the bell, her mom (a longtime friend from college) came to the door and said, “you thought you even needed to ring the bell? Come in!” Well, it’s polite. Also, I knew there was a dog in the house (and, for the record, at least a couple of cats), and I wanted to give it a nice wide berth, since we had not yet formally met.
As any good guard dog would, the basset hound barked firmly, thrice. “Hello you!” I called, very bravely and with a completely false air of enthusiasm. Since this was a dog belonging to this particular longtime friend of mine, I felt I should be very polite and appear very friendly; so against all my life’s conditioning, I held my hand out in the basset’s direction, and hoped for the best.
Sniff. Sniff. Slight lick. Nod. Little tiny bark, more of a “gruff”. The sound didn’t sound anything like the German shepherds of my childhood had sounded. It didn’t sound at all like the last sound I would ever hear.
We adjourned to the den, which contained snacks and a large television. Upon sitting down on the couch, I sensed a presence down and to the right. Looking down, I discovered that the basset hound had followed at a careful remove, then crept around the couch, stopping at my foot and looking up expectantly. I patted her head. She did not bite my patting hand clean off.
For the next couple of hours, I was conversing with my old college friend, and petting my new basset friend.
For the next several visits, my new basset friend met me at the door with a couple of requisite barks, and then it was as if I hadn’t left. “Oh, it’s that one,” she seemed to muse; and for the rest of each visit, I appeared to be perfectly acceptable to her, and I was pleased that I still appeared to be perfectly acceptable to her. Particularly since those visits were yearly at their most frequent; but she remembered.
I was also always pleased to watch this dog and her mom take care of each other in equal measure.
The basset’s name was Della.
After a lengthy illness, Della passed away this morning.
I haven’t known many dogs well enough to really miss them after they’ve gone to their reward. And I got to hang out with this one no more than a dozen times, probably.
But I’ll really miss Della. And I have no doubt that the reward she meets will very well deserved indeed.