Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

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

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