Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

What To Do In Worcester When You’d Rather Not Leave The House

As long as I’m still creebing and moaning about Facebook’s profile adjustments and other neat innovations that nonetheless completely muck with my finely-crafted (and not a little narcissistic) view of My Own Darn Self …!

And as long as the weather outside encourages a fellow to stay inside … I’ve been re-acquainted with a number of trusty tomes.  It’s been awhile, books… sorry I’ve been away.


Favorite Books:

[] Season Ticket, by Roger Angell. Just one of Angell’s books about baseball, chiefly about major-league baseball – behind the scenes with players and scouts, accounts both of important games and of smaller events not covered by worldwide media.  Angell can make you care about athletic millionaires and minor-leaguers desperate to get to the Show, equally. (If they deserve your sympathy. If not, he can explain why not, as well!)

[] Bushwhacked, by Molly Ivins. I miss Miss Ivins. Left- or right-wing, there’s no one who comes close to sounding as common-sensical as this Texan wit.

[] Anything by John Feinstein. He could write a book about tiddlywinks and make it work.  I read his golf books and I’m on the edge of my darn chair.

[] The Big Show, by Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick. Backstage at ESPN’s Sportscenter, circa about 1995. Before Sportscenter became a gigantic corporate shill full of unfunny anchors with cloying catch-phrases, Olbermann and Patrick defined the time when Sportscenter was a gigantic corporate shill full of funny anchors with literate and deft catch-phrases. “Houston, hello!” Or, more subversively, “For those of you scoring at home; or even if you’re all alone…”

[] Homegrown Democrat, by Garrison Keillor. He’s not necessarily the first guy you’d think of if you were looking for an author who “relentlessly pulls no punches,” but he definitely found the strength to get up and write what needed to be written, a few years ago.

[] Happy To Be Here, also by Garrison Keillor. A collection of short stories and other brief items culled mainly from Mr. Keillor’s 1970s New Yorker days. Amongst its treasures is “Jack Schmidt, Arts Administrator”, a precursor to his current “Guy Noir” radio private eye series and possibly what a Raymond Chandler novel would be like if the hero were wrangling grant money; a couple of wonderful approaches to baseball; a pitch-perfect sendup of macho war-hero comic books (sorry, graphic novels); and a story of a train wreck – the wreck of a fictional train that ran (in Keillor’s imagination) between Minnesota and the Dakotas, and if you think that sounds like a bit of a dull concept, keep reading: his description of a burning train coming to a loud end is positively poetic.

[] Spock’s World, by Diane Duane. I know; I know. Star Trek fiction is usually not on anyone’s list of serious reading (and dear Lord, Star Wars fiction even less often than that). I’ve read a few really good Trek novels, but mostly they’re only really good if you know the Trek canon backwards and forwards, at which point people start to make jokes about you.

BUT. Spock’s World almost literally veers back and forth between being a Star Trek story (without a phaser being fired!) and a historical novel. It digs deeply into the ancient history of the planet Vulcan and its formerly emotional and violent people. The 1988 book has since been revealed to be “non-canonical”, which is to say, divergent from histories and details set out by the official, Paramount-Pictures-released TV series and movies … which is NOT to say that it’s no good. Here’s where I start to reveal my Trek nerd-ness: to my mind, Diane Duane’s Vulcan history is a heck of a lot more (gulp) logical than most of what the “official” Star Trek producers have dreamed up in the last 20 years. Besides, Duane writes Trek dialogue better than anyone including the official producers. Doctor McCoy has a multiple-page soliloquy which makes you wish DeForest Kelley were still alive so he could read it aloud. [Follow the link below to a Trek forum page about favorite Trek moments, ignore the first thing you see!!, and instead search on the webpage for the words sloppy thinking and read THAT post instead.  It quotes the entire passage from the book.]


[] Last Chance to See, by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine. Douglas Adams takes his “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” brand of writing and applies it to this Earth, specifically his expedition to Madagascar and other places which contain animals on the verge of extinction. Komodo dragons and the Yangtse River dolphin are big loud examples, but there are lots of others just as interesting, and I suspect Mr. Adams could make an nearly-extinct germ come off sounding Monty Pythonic.

Some years later, the book was turned into a BBC television series, with Carwardine and Stephen Fry (http://www.bbc.co.uk/lastchancetosee/). About a year ago, The Rachel Maddow Show unearthed a video clip which made its host giggle so furiously that she went happy-verklempt on the air. I dare you not to giggle as you follow this link and watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQfNZWEwN0I

[] The Parables of Peanuts, by Robert L. Short. When I was about 9 years old, I went to the library inside the church my family attended, and my eyes lit upon a book with Charlie Brown and Linus Van Pelt on the front cover. Sold!! As I was a complete Peanuts fanatic at the time (and what, exactly, has changed since?), I knew I had found a book whose existence in the church library mystified me, but I thought I’d just found a happy accident. Pretty soon, my fourth-grade brain caught up with the rest of the world, and I realized there were only a few actual Peanuts strips, and lots of blocks o’ text. Much later in life, I actually read through the first few pages, and discovered that Charlie Brown etc. were being utilized to make theological arguments – in fact, Charles M. Schulz was being touted as “no mean theologian” himself. The Parables of Peanuts is something of a primer on the basic tenets of Christianity. This past week I saw a number of people post links on Facebook to the wonderful speech that Linus gives, in “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, in which he explains how the original meaning of Christmas had nothing to do with the financial bottom line… and I guess it’s no wonder this book still sells fairly well.  (It explains why Peanuts hits so many people so close to home: it’s not just moving pictures with banging and crashing and action figures.  It has a soul.)

And when you get tired of the theological and philosophical writings, you can just skip from comic strip to comic strip and chuckle. Not a bad option, often.

December 27, 2010 Posted by | books, literature, science fiction, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Do I Have Any Business Expecting This?

Every year around this time, church musicians get a little crazy.

Much to prepare for! Christmas Eve services! Four Advent Sundays, two anthems per Sunday, plus choral interjections, plus psalm tones if your church does that sort of thing! Blue Christmas service (for those who have experienced loss in the last year, and/or during any Advent season; these holidays can be a tough time to be hurting)! Barn Sing (easy enough for the carol-singing audience, but who’s going to set up that Powerpoint presentation so we don’t have to print lyric sheets?)! Caroling visits to our shut-ins! And if you’re a public school teacher, that’s on top of rehearsal, rehearsal, dress rehearsal, concert, concert, Senior Center performance, in-school music assembly …


And certainly in my case, that means marathon rehearsals. It’s actually the norm at Sudbury Methodist, since my brother-in-law Kevin (organist) and I seem to have a history of cooking up, um, rather large projects. Christmas Cantata! With a cast of thousands! The more the merrier! We’ll hang the extra players from the rafters if we have to! Last year, it was Kevin’s own Christmas Cantata, thirty-five minutes of some of the hardest music I’ve ever conducted, or that our choir has ever sung. Two years ago, a cantata of Dietrich Buxtehude; very baroque. Three years ago, it was the Christmas Cantata of Dave Brubeck, which was about a half-hour worth of the OTHER hardest music, etc. etc. (Did you know Brubeck had written one of those? I didn’t either, till the August before December 2007. It’s neat, but he obviously never sang in a choir. Voice leading, hello?!)


So, this past Thursday night, following three months of work preparing choral parts for nine out of twelve movements of Benjamin Britten’s “Ceremony of Carols” … we went for the marathon session. It’ll be presented tomorrow morning during our regular 9:30 am service. A curious piece of work indeed, scored originally for three-part treble voices, soloists, and harp. The text is fairly middle-English, with all manner of curious re-spellings and odd pronunciations. It’s been converted by a kindly publisher to SATB voices and piano, on the odd chance that your church doesn’t have a harpist sitting around.

Hold off for a moment on the harp part of this.

Considering we usually start evening rehearsals at 7:30, run through Sunday’s hymns, and start the major-work fireworks hopefully by ten till 8 … our choir folks recognize the potential to go a bit past “union time”, as it were. Nine o’clock is our usual stopping point, but on these special evenings, it could be 9:30 … could be quarter till 10 … hopefully not beyond …

With one movement to go, I turned to look at the clock in the back of the Sanctuary, expecting it to say 9:30, or some version of Stupid O’Clock. I was ready to turn back and apologize for the lateness of the hour. Instead … the clock said 8:55 pm.

Wow. Fast work. More than that though – good humor throughout. One thing I love about our choir – they offer up more than their fair share of patience and belly laughs. To adjust a previous “starred thought”, this crowd is at their best when things are at their goofiest. Whenever we worked on the movement that was basically just chant, one of our basses would actively campaign for us to close our music folders and whack ourselves in the heads after each phrase, a la “Pie Jesu Domine (slap!)” from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Now to the harp part.

Consider: my job Thursday night was to help a 28-member choir of volunteers (and very few trained musicians) integrate their choral parts with congregation members playing flute, clarinet, French horn, trombone, baritone horn, violins times two and cello … and to integrate it all with the sound of a professional harpist. Her name is Lira Cady; she teaches at Atlantic Union College (Lancaster, MA) … and she clearly knows her stuff.

But the harp will not necessarily project its sound as well as an accompanist bangin’ on a piano. Plus the harp parts in the Britten cantata usually offer very little to a choir in the way of doubling their parts for security. So if you take a volunteer choir away from its usual low-ceiling rehearsal room and its very-nearby piano … and you stick them in a large space and separate them from their accompanying harp by several yards (and eight or nine other musicians) …

You might get quiet panic.


Not here, apparently. Choir hit it out of the park. Oh did they bring their “A” game. We’d arranged parts for the various non-harp instruments which would double choral parts and help keep the choir in the game – but they really didn’t need help Thursday night. I kept checking in with Ms. Cady at the harp, hoping against hope that she thought it’d been worth the drive out to Sudbury … and whew! she kept hinting that everything was fine. (There are a couple of movements featuring only the soloists which are just oddball enough that I need to spend some time today, just plain ol’ practicing my “vave your arms!” work … but Ms. Cady politely didn’t mention those.)

The “degree of difficulty” of this work is fairly high; and everyone in the room had already completed a full day of work (or, in the case of some of our instrumentalists, school) and was probably not exactly fresh as the proverbial daisy. But if you’d loitered outside the Sanctuary during that session, you’d have heard – besides the fine music – some really good punchlines and a lot of full-throated laughing. No grumbling that I could perceive; no rolling of eyes, gnashing of teeth, checking of watches. When I asked gingerly if we could possibly run one of the bouncy movements a third time, to make sure of a couple of things, I heard boisterous “yes, yes, yes, one more.” Afterward I thought aloud, “I had no business expecting any of that when we finished at 9:10 pm.” But I got it.


Lest there be any wondering about whether I like my church gig…

December 11, 2010 Posted by | arranging, choir, music, SUMC | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Happy Holidays (Unless You’re Poor)

Earlier this week, the headline on the news ticker contained in my ISP’s homepage read thusly:

“2 million lose jobless benefits as holidays arrive”

And the lead paragraph read as follows:

“Extended unemployment benefits for nearly 2 million Americans begin to run out Wednesday, cutting off a steady stream of income and guaranteeing a dismal holiday season for people already struggling with bills they cannot pay.”


There was more, but I was appalled enough to not bother to click past the link. What the lead paragraph didn’t say was this: Congress could have done something about this. Congress had time and had the means; but obviously didn’t have the political will.  (Don’t tell me we can’t afford this sort of thing: we’re still in Afghanistan, aren’t we? We always get money for that with no questions asked.)

Both parties had a hand in this. Congressional Republicans decided that if they didn’t get their way in the debate over “shall we continue to give absurd tax cuts to the millionaires and billionaires in our midst, so that trickle-down economics can continue to be a euphemism for giving more to the rich and not nearly so much to the already poor?” (never mind that such an economic policy has been proven to be fraudulent) … then they certainly wouldn’t act on anything else. And Congressional Democrats somehow still don’t seem to realize that until mid-January, they are still in the majority and so actually COULD act on this issue. With a little backbone and a tiny bit of arm-twisting, they could – though it would be important for them and their well-meaning President to come to grips with the fact that the opposition party clearly isn’t going to play ball with them no matter how much they hope to broker deals in the spirit of bi-partisanship.

About bipartisanship: it only works if both partisans decide they want to work at it. … Most normal everyday persons can take a hint.  Since early 2009, the Republican hint has been so heavy, as a friend of mine once wrote, as to drop out of the envelope and crush your toe if you’re not careful. President Obama and his Democratic Senate majority and his temporary House majority appear not to be normal persons, as they cannot take this hint. In fact, all you have to do is read the quotes from Sen. McConnell and soon-to-be House majority leader Boehner. I have access to those quotes; I imagine the Congressional Democrats do, too!  But if not, here’s the jist:

The Republican leadership’s number one goal – they said this! as if this is what people elected them to do! – their number one goal in the coming Congressional term is to make sure Mr. Obama is a one-term President. Not to deal with the tanking economy, not to try to generate more jobs for Americans, not to find some way for us to extricate ourselves from Afghanistan gracefully, not to make sure everyone from rich to poor can have decent health care … not any of those things. Their top priority is to say and do anything they can – in fact, to fail to do anything, really – so that the President looks bad, can’t accomplish anything, and therefore is defeated in the next election by a more deserving Republican.

Every President has critics. (Supporters of George W. Bush complain about how vociferous the “Bush bashers” were.  Sorry: inarguably, that guy had it coming.) But this is more petty than middle-school kids’ interpersonal relations, and I’m surrounded by that every school day. Congressional Republicans care more about de-clawing or embarrassing or otherwise dumping on the President (for reasons which I genuinely suspect go well beyond politics, which is a topic for another post), than they do about what they were ostensibly sent to Washington to do: governing. Making policy decisions that will benefit the people of the United States, and not just the most wealthy one percent of them. Into which category most of them fall.


Ah ha.

I’m with you now. I get the joke.


Politically or in terms of personal gain, we have greedy persons in government. They have mistaken positions of responsibility for positions of power. Well … it’s not their fault. It’s how it’s done nowadays. And it’s been done that way for many many years, so why should we blame them?  Why? Because they’re also – allegedly – human beings. I know lots of human beings on this Earth that are far less well-off than the current members of Congress, who are nonetheless so much better than politicians at being concerned for the welfare of the even-less-fortunate – and in fact they don’t just FEEL concerned, they go do something about it.

But the politicians in Washington are in a position to be able to make large-scale decisions and changes in current policy that would have positive effects on a great number of people on a scale that dwarfs the abilities of average individuals, or even charitable organizations. Our government has, or ought to have, the ability to almost literally move mountains in order to assist its people.

Clearly, Congressional Republicans don’t have that as a high priority. And clearly, Congressional Democrats don’t seem to have the grit to call them on it. (Possibly they’re thinking about proceeding in a cautious manner, because those who have power are most concerned with not losing it. Irony alert. Some of them are lame ducks already, and if we’re not careful, more may yet become officially lame, down the road.)


Here’s the thing. In order to become a Congressional anybody, you have to have enough money to advertise yourself as a candidate, such that lots of people know who you are, or at least are exposed to your name and your absurd campaign promises. TV ad time is expensive. You either have to raise a ton of money, or you have to already have a lot of money. In the latter case, I know my teacher salary ain’t gonna cut it. And unless I go build a fairly massive fundraising organization, that revenue stream is not going to flow into my world. So I, as a fully accredited citizen of this country, really don’t have the means to be able to run for elected office on a national or even a statewide scale, even if such a goal were my life’s dream. Very nice that Barack Obama got elected President. Lots of little kids who don’t look much like white persons got understandably excited by this. But most of them still don’t have a prayer of being elected President just like Mr. Obama, or Senator or Governor or state rep or city councilperson, and it’s got nothing to do with race or ethnicity and every last thing to do with economics.

So, before we can attempt to fix what’s massively wrong with our society’s economic condition, and not just the current economic near-meltdown but the fact that the top one percent of this country’s citizens controls a ridiculously high percentage of this country’s wealth … we have to address the means by which these fixes can be accomplished. Namely: how can we conspire to make it possible for any citizen of the United States to be more than legally eligible, but actually eligible, to be elected to higher office?

Campaign finance reform.

Which is admittedly not the hottest topic on CNN right about now, but if we are ever to get to a place where (with apologies to Walt Kelly) we have met our representatives and they are us! … if we ever were there to start with … we have to talk about it, and seriously, and fast.


[ I know: if we start letting just anyone run for office, we could end up with the likes of Sharron Angle, or Christine O’Donnell, or John Raese, or Ken Buck, or Joe Miller – people who either espouse genuinely awful personal views or are clearly not well-qualified for the job of dog-catcher, let alone Senator from the Great State Of. My answer to that is two-fold: [1] when you try and scare up good talent, you sometimes have to deal with the occasional yahoo; that’s the breaks, that’s the chance we take. And [2] ummm… you’re saying that the current batch of well-qualified, personally upstanding citizens therefore includes Jim DeMint, Michelle Bachmann, David Vitter, William (“$90,000 in the freezer”) Jefferson … Charlie Rangel … see, I did include Democrats! … Jan Brewer … and Joe (“you lie”) Wilson? And have you ever read any quotes from the late Jesse Helms? Makes your skin crawl. I rest my case. ]


But talking about campaign finance reform isn’t in the best political interests of those currently in those higher offices. On top of which, this past year saw the Supreme Court rule that corporations’ financial contributions to political campaigns constitute free speech, which of course is sacrosanct under the US Constitution, and must not be limited!, even though it gives corporations free reign to affect political debate in such a way that the effect of normal average persons’ free speech amounts to zero.


So. Stalemate. No, worse than stalemate: big corporations and those currently in power hold all the cards.

What now?

December 4, 2010 Posted by | government, media, news, politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment