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Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Minuteman Marching Band memories, part 4

To continue to quote tales from an account of my senior year with the UMass marching band, fall 1987 … in the effort to express my appreciation for its director’s vast influence on how I turned out (whether via what he taught, what he was, or what characters whose lives he caused to intersect) …

There was some question recently about this, so I’ll say again: there is nothing in any of these posts that is injurious, libelous or embarrassing to anyone mentioned herein.  Especially in regards to a drum major who will remain … Sarv.  (Because, as I posted somewhere else, it’s in my best interests: she could kick my ass in seven different directions just by looking over at me.)  🙂


The Athol, MA 350th Anniversary Parade: Monday, September 21, 1987

[] While the band warmed up with Mr. Parks, the three drum majors tried to figure out what we’d do, and where, and at what speed. (Life questions.) As we got set to go, moving to a staging area (a side street), I did as I was told: called the band to Mark Time, Parade Rest, and At Ease. Parks promptly advised me, in front of most of the block, “Half your band didn’t hear you.” He continued: “Scream like you’ve never screamed before.” That was easy; I’d never screamed before. Only in my head at that moment.

[] Our responsibilities were simple: Heidi set the tempo in front of the drumline; Chris watched her for tempo from up front, and I took care of the back block. Good, except I couldn’t even see Heidi half the time, and wherever I was, somebody back there couldn’t see ME. If I was near one front corner of the block, the opposite half was helpless (unless Heidi was somewhere close). If I was in front center, Donna Cabral [’89] had to stop playing in order not to hit me with her trombone slide. “It’s okay,” she smiled, “my playing is probably not going to make or break the band.”

[] We stopped in front of the Duke of Athol’s reviewing stand and just wailed away on Canto.  (Yes, the Duke of Athol.  England.  Just popping by to see how the namesake was faring.)  I was blocked off from Mr. Parks by the people in the reviewing box, and blinded by TV camera lights. Oh well. And to top it off, the three of us uniformly forgot to salute on the way by. “So it looked planned,” said Heidi.

[] We played a standstill concert following the parade. The location for this was at a baseball park by the name of Fish Park. We were performing with a monstrous backdrop: the 40-foot-by-80-foot Mount Rushmore American flag, suspended from a crane, and spotlighted. That was the only light available, so the band was silhouetted and the conductors had their retinas destroyed.

Rehearsal: Tuesday, September 22, 1987

[] We returned to the outdoors for the first time in almost a week, and taught the new, revised portion of the Silverado drill. During the frontline feature after the bow, I found that I had to cut through the line of twirlers in front to get to the sideline, and so I developed a foolproof technique: I’d march straight toward Kathy McKenna [’88], who was second-closest to the 50 on my side. When the twirler drill said “move,” I was a couple of yards away from her and a gap opened up between her and Kelly McNamee [’89]. That is, as long as Kathy moved at the right time. And she did. But if at any time she hadn’t … oh, I hate it when that happens. Plow.

Rehearsal: Thursday, September 24, 1987

[] In toward the end of Stars and Stripes, my mace toss attempt went about 15 yards north in kind of a Space Shuttle launch arc — and I still lurched over and got it. (That drew a reaction from the sideline all right. Heidi said she knew exactly what was going through my mind as I let fly — “Holy Sh*t!”)

Mr. Parks and I looked at different throws and such after practice. He really wanted a forward roll, he said, because he’d seen me do it during my audition in May. At the time, Heidi had cracked, “That was a foolish thing to have done, Rob. He probably wrote that down somewhere last semester.”

To be continued…

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September 29, 2010 Posted by | band, drum major, GNP, humor, marching band, music, UMMB | 4 Comments

Minuteman Marching Band Memories, part 3

To continue to quote tales from an account of my senior year with the UMass marching band, fall 1987 … in the effort to express my appreciation for its director’s vast influence on how I turned out (whether via what he taught, what he was, or what characters whose lives he caused to intersect) …

[…And because there are people out there who are actually asking for more of this??]


Rehearsal: Friday, September 11, 1987

[] As we got set to run Stars and Stripes, I asked Mr. Parks, “Do you want the mace toss in?” He answered, “It’s a run, isn’t it?” That was a dumb question, huh. So I threw it. Badly. So much for making a grand entrance.

After rehearsal ended, GNP reminded me to think first about the toss, THEN the catch. Don’t get ahead of yourself. I was making the same mistake as a wide receiver taking his eyes off the football. Or, he said, think of the toss, the roll, then the catch. “Or the toss, the ARM IN, the roll, then the catch.” Even with a broken wrist that made his left hand unusable, he managed to throw, roll, and darn near catch.

Other onlookers were suitably impressed. Heidi just shook her head at him, in the way a mother shakes her heard at a child who’s just ridden a tricycle through the living room without knocking anything over.

Rehearsal: Monday, September 14, 1987

[] My first job was to grab a notebook and record a lot of Parks “Starred Thoughts,” which he swore blind that he’d get from me and type up for the band. I wondered if the promise would fade from his memory, but I still wrote pretty faithfully. Heidi came over at one point and said, “Let me write one down that he’ll forget even though it’s one of his classics.” She jotted down: “To be early is to be on time; to be on time is to be late; to be late is to be on time for tomorrow’s rehearsal.”

Constitution Day at the “Big E”, West Springfield, MA: Thursday, September 17, 1987

[] Standing outside the Exposition Coliseum’s side entrance, we warmed up a bit; then while we stood around (at ease, troops) waiting for Mr. Parks to figure out some logistics, Heidi wandered over and took a look at the mace that I was carrying around. (But not throwing yet.) And said, “I wanna play with this toy.”

Consider, dear friends: there were people whom I would have gently deflected from this wish, but not Heidi. This, even though she told Chris and I at the beginning of DMA, “You two can throw all the sticks you want this year. I don’t even want to touch one, because I’m liable to kill people!”

So she started to turn some very careful, but competent, rifle spins. Heather Prewitt [’91, piccolo] broke ranks, wandered by and asked Heidi something. I can’t remember exactly what it was — but Heidi focused on the question just enough that she lost her delicate hold on the mace, and down to the deck it went. With a distinctly concrete clatter.

Heidi (bless her) freaked right out. “Oh, great,” she muttered, “this girl, with no sense, talks to me while I’m trying out a mace. Am I responsible for the first dent?” It turned out that it had survived its inaugural impact looking like nothing had happened. But goodness! I saw Ms. Sarver have a panic attack.

[] Entering the arena, I was immediately blinded by a spotlight. I fought to see where I was going; my vision cleared, I stopped the battery and had them wheel around. If you’ve never seen a drumline wheel correctly, you’ve missed a sight. (God help the poor quad player who trips during one.) What I hadn’t imagined was that the band, marching eight abreast, would still have to squeeze by the basses at the back. I’d had no idea that the bass drums were going to be placed on the back platform. You have to tell your drum major these things!

Parks advised us that no, we didn’t HAVE to be told these things. He said we should start to consider, “Now, what would Parks want?” Predict his thoughts. Again, easier said than done.

[] We found out we had to play the Star-Spangled Banner about 30 seconds before the public address announcer asked everyone to rise. That was an exciting moment. Mr. Parks also discovered that the band was spread out too far for him to conduct alone, so Heidi and Chris ran out to the ends of the formation to help conduct. Which left me to execute a salute alone. I had already discovered that this is not an activity for the faint of heart, even thought the UMass band does its best to play the Anthem as quickly as artistically possible. We usually have people waiting to see football, y’know. Was that a natural shake, Rob?

To be continued…

September 28, 2010 Posted by | band, DMA, drum major, GNP, humor, marching band, music, Starred Thoughts, UMMB | Leave a comment

Minuteman Marching Band Memories, part 2

To continue to quote tales from an account of my senior year with the UMass marching band, fall 1987 … in the effort to express my appreciation for its director’s vast influence on how I turned out (whether via what he taught, what he was, or which characters whose paths he caused to intersect with mine) …

Band Camp: Wednesday, September 2, 1987

[] First things first: a MARCHOFF! The rules were simple: the band got commands called at them by Mr. Parks. If someone blew a command, they were Out.

It takes work even to be one of the last couple of dozen marchers. Believe me. My sophomore year, I somehow survived until I was one of the last six people left — but then I thought about it, made a stupid error, called myself out (honesty hurts) and then there were five. But on the way to the sideline, Mr. Parks called out, “How about a hand for Rob?” … I checked to see if my nametag had been readable from where he standing, up on the tower. Nope. He knew my name. Probably had since band camp of my freshman year, in fact. Oh Lord.

[] Meantime, Mr. Parks was in the process of rotating the conductors, trying to decide who would be on the podium for Stars and Stripes in the end. I got the call today, and my first podium trip was highlighted by three vivid memories.

(1) It was a vastly different perspective, which if you’ve not been up there before can be summed up in the detailed, nuanced, expressive phrase “oh wow.”

(2) I had an entire drumline staring at me. This can be unnerving, just because when our drummers concentrate on you, they stare as if their x-ray vision was about to tunnel right through you. Probably why they’re so damn together all the time.

And (3) I got pinned to the center of the box during the trombone feature by the slides of two trombones, one of whom was Stan [Alger ’88]. Two ranks of ’bones converged in toward the 50 and the front sideline to play the “be kind to your web-footed friends, because one could be somebody’s mother” phrase. With the first two slides being on either side of my ankles, I couldn’t move without either tripping over the slides or kicking them and destroying their owners’ embouchures. Mr. Parks thought aloud: “Guess it’s time to move the podium the standard eight steps off the sideline, huh?”

Band Camp: Thursday, September 3, 1987

[] Our “rehearsal podium” at Haigis Mall consisted of an inverted trash can from outside the Fine Arts Center. Heidi had worried that Parks, ever the energetic conductor, might bounce down on it too hard, at the wrong point, and break right through the somewhat rusty bottom of the can. At one point, I darn near pitched forward off it. Jim Hoover, from the snareline, saw it and grinned. I merely recovered, did an eye take and went on.

Band Camp: Friday, September 4, 1987

[] While we were waiting for music warmups to finish, Chris and Heidi and I discussed pregame. A major potential change was the addition of a Big-Ten, high-steppy march called Roll Down the Field. It didn’t take Heidi long to come with the appropriate drill. She pantomimed a member of the Gimp Squad [we already had several marchers with knee and ankle injuries] in a wheelchair, literally rolling down the field! Chris and I started singing with her, “Roll down the field, la la laaa, la la laaa, la la laaa,” at which point she pretended to do a full 360-degree spin on the imaginary chair’s back wheels.

Rehearsal: Thursday, September 10

[] After rehearsal, Heidi and Chris and I launched an epic glove hunt. Sorry, explanation: Mr. Parks had supposed that golf gloves would be something we should procure, the better to not destroy our gloves by clapping and catching things, etc. So we leapt into Heidi’s Subaru. No ordinary shopping trip, this — a whole evening trying to scare up any golf gloves at all. Or batting gloves. Or anything, so long as we had three identically good-looking pair that fit. A tall order, as nobody seemed to stock right-handed golf gloves. We raided the Holyoke Mall to no avail, except that a visit to a costume shop there yielded some beautiful ideas for Halloween. (A Buccaneer costume. Of course.)

The sporting goods store people directed us to a little shop in Springfield. We found the place just as it closed. We’d have to come back tomorrow morning. Whine!

But, since we’d skipped DC dinner, the three drum majors ate dinner together at a D’Angelo’s in Springfield. So okay, it was fast food, but it turned out to be a fine evening.

The Next Day…

We found gloves at Nevada Bob’s in West Springfield. At 16 bucks a pair, these were going to have to be more than temporary. Nine o’clock in the morning, and we were buying golf gloves? “We’re playing in a tournament this afternoon,” Heidi told the salesman.

To be continued.

September 27, 2010 Posted by | band, drum major, GNP, humor, marching band, music, UMMB | 1 Comment