Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Words Create Realities

Last Sunday morning happened to be the day before the Martin Luther King Jr. observance, but more importantly it was the weekend after the shooting incident in Tucson, Arizona which took 6 lives and injured 14 other people, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.). That morning, Rev. John Nash, the associate pastor at the church where I “church-gig”, delivered a sermon that was unique in my four decades at that church. It got a spontaneous round of applause.

Now, I struggle with the question “when is it appropriate to applaud in church?”, particularly from the viewpoint of a musician. We don’t clap after Serious Baroque Music, but we do tend to clap after a rousing spiritual. There aren’t really rules; and different people have slightly different thoughts about when applause is appropriate. But there was no question about this. It may have been the finest sermon I’ve ever heard delivered; unquestionably in the top three or four.

The title was, “Words Matter”. It had everything to do with the issue that has been on the lips of political pundits and news anchors (and many others) this last fortnight: “vitriolic rhetoric”. As a nation, are we still capable of disagreeing agreeably? Are we still capable of expressing ourselves with anything other than (at best) insult humor or (at worst) demonization of the other guy for the sake of making him look as bad as possible?

(If you’d like to read the sermon, and I highly recommend this, follow this link to Pastor John’s blog, where he’s posted the text. If you’d like to hear it, follow this link to the church website and click on the “Words Matter” sermon title – a downloadable MP3 file. John quite selflessly edited out all the applause at the end, which actually I think is a shame, but it’s still a good listen.)

I’m going to attempt to steer clear of the political, here, and possibly fail; but these are some thoughts which occurred to me as John spoke.


Pastor John began, “We find ourselves in a time in which our rhetoric, our words and even our actions have become full of hatred and vileness. This is not limited to one political party or group of people; this is true across the spectrum.”

On each side of the political spectrum, the people think the other side is more hate-spewing. I have my own thoughts about that; and each side does have its extreme-fringe wacko element, but I’m not going to argue for one side or the other in this particular moment. Instead, I’ll say this: many weeknights, I spend a couple of hours tuned in to the news and commentary programs of Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow. It happens to be true that their left-leaning approach to interpreting the news lines up fairly well with mine; it happens to be true that I appreciate Olbermann’s and Maddow’s particular senses of humor; but some time ago I figured out the real reason why I genuinely enjoy those two hours.

On those two programs – and those two only, so far as I can tell – one single guest pundit / expert / commentator / information source is brought on to converse with the program host at a time. On most other programs, including Fox News, CNN, even PBS sometimes!, and the remainder of MSNBC’s programming, at least two guests are brought into conversation with the host and seem to be there for the sole purpose of shouting each other down the most. One time, on one of the cable news channels, I saw an alleged conversation amongst no fewer than five pundits and a host person. Ridiculous! I have nothing but pity for the poor sap whose job it is to create transcripts of the exchanges – the crosstalk is astounding. And, most importantly, no one really listens to anyone else.

On the Olbermann and Maddow programs, they come closer than anyone else to an important journalism technique: one person asks a question, the other person responds to the question; the first person asks a follow-up question, the other person responds to that; and by the end of the segment, perhaps some new understanding or better grasp of the subject might be reached. And this viewer’s blood pressure remains low.

(Lest you think perhaps I’m lifting up the liberal talkers and dumping on the conservatives: over on MSNBC, I like Ed Schultz and Lawrence O’Donnell very much, but they play the multiple-talker game, so I don’t watch.)

In one sense, I hesitate to seem like I’m going down this next road absolutely all the time; in another sense, it works very well. My experience with the band at UMass, and with the Drum Major Academy that George Parks founded, has helped me store away some terrific “starred thoughts”, many of which deal with this very subject. So…

Starred Thought: “Make sure that when you go after attention, you get it for the right reasons.”

Starred Thought: “Every Drum Major has the right to free speech, but as a leader, you have a responsibility to show good judgement and taste.”


Pastor John’s sermon continued: “Now the response is often made that they [e.g. television talkers like American Idol’s Simon Cowell] are just telling the truth, or ‘keeping it real’ as the case may be, but when did honesty become brutal and violent? When did we move from telling the truth in love to telling the truth in vicious, sadistic, cruel and aggressive ways?”

Me, I’m one of those people who is admittedly conflict-averse. Sometimes this has not served me well; sometimes it’s worked to my advantage. This is a personality trait for another session. (–I mean, blog post.) So obviously I don’t care much for the style of verbal expression that has become standard in the American media over the last ten or fifteen years. I grew up listening to old records of the Marx Brothers, and watching Monty Python re-runs, so I’m not without a certain appreciation for snark and pointed remarks; but subtle is so much more attractive to me than verbal “blunt instruments”.

Starred Thought: “Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.”


More from Pastor John: “One of our biggest problems at the moment is that we are so inundated with ratcheted-up rhetoric that we can no longer properly identify things – if everyone with whom we disagree is said to be Hitler or a Nazi or a socialist or out to destroy the very fabric of our society, then how do we distinguish them with those are truly are evil?”

There are times when I think we should just unofficially (non-legislatively) outlaw the casual throwing-around of the term “Nazi”, no matter how funny the Seinfeld “Soup Nazi” bit was. It’s like the nuclear warhead of conversation.

Starred thought: “As soon as you call someone a jerk, you forfeit your right to the other person’s respect.” (… “Nazi” would seem to be just about the ultimate version of “jerk”.)

Starred Thought: “Choose your battles carefully.”


Pastor John’s big push to the main point: “Sometimes vitriol is necessary to make a point, but when everything is vitriol there is no way to compare it to anything else, and we lose the primary understanding that words matter. That rhetoric matters. It misses the point that words do mean something, that words do create actions and words do create realities. Words matter. … Words matter. Words become flesh. Words create. Words corrupt. Words make realities. If all we ever hear are words of hate, or fear, or rage or animosity or wrath, then we are swimming in a toxic pool which can only corrupt us and fill us with the poisons which surround us.”

Starred Thought: “There are two types of people in this world: contributors and contaminators; there is no such thing as a spectator.”


And as Pastor John finished, this occurred to me:

Starred Thought: “Be a builder, not a wrecker.”

He finished, gloriously: “Let us not let this tragedy pass us by, instead let us allow this tragedy to change us, to alter the way we live our lives, to alter the way we talk, and to alter the way we interact with our neighbors and all those with whom we come into contact. Words can inspire and words can tear down. Words can build up and words can destroy. Words can offer love and words can offer hate. Words can offer hope and words can bring despair. The words we use reflect the values we hold dear. Jesus said ‘Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.’ Words create realities, words shape lives. Words matter.”

January 21, 2011 Posted by | DMA, journalism, media, news, Starred Thoughts, SUMC, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Speed Linking As Editorial

(Two weeks between blog posts. This is probably bad.)  Cleaning out the bookmarks folder of the mind…

[1] Okay, never mind all the other news stories of the past fortnight. What the heck is this about? Two spaces after a sentence is wrong?! Sue me for being a stick-in-the-mud traditionalist. I put two spaces after a sentence (even if Facebook and other online engines o’ grammar automatically change my input to just one space) just because I STILL don’t want to contradict my 8th grade typing teacher, who was one of the strictest teachers I ever had.

[2] That’s the problem with technology like video, the Internets, etc. … it records stuff you say, and it preserves stuff you write for a long, long time. Many people lately have run afoul of the “I didn’t say that!” “Yes you did.” “No I didn’t! I never!” “I have it here on video.” “Oh. So maybe I did.” … syndrome. Justice Antonin Scalia is the latest person to reveal that he has yet to join the late 20th century, and gosh, here’s the 21st century already. Adam Cohen, author of the linked article, writes: “It is a strange view of the Constitution to say that when it says every ‘person’ must have ‘equal protection,’ it does not protect women, but that freedom of ‘speech’ — something only humans were capable of in 1787 and today — guarantees corporations the right to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections.”

[3] The oddest, most dangerous group whose material you can be accused of plagiarizing: The Simpsons. (As as Charlie Pierce said about it on “Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me”, in the style of the Simpsons judge: “Guilty!”)

[4] Here are two fundraising stories. One of the stories has something to do with the awful shootings in Tucson last weekend that last Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in critical condition; one is, shall we say, no longer the most-viewed Congressional story. Both of them do remind us that in Washington, money not only talks, it grabs some people by the lapels and shakes them.

[5] This editorial has everything to do with the Tucson shootings.

[6] Unsurprising news story #1.

[7] Unsurprising news story #2.

[8] The new governor of Maine, newly inaugurated, is a man named Paul LePage. This week Gov. LePage had the grit to stand up tall and tell the NAACP to “kiss my butt”. Temporarily setting aside the context of this remark, the content of his remark, and the recipients of his remark – which is a big job, but you really must try – there’s one thing that strikes me (being as I am a teacher and all). The article that describes this news item notes the “direct manner people have come to expect” from Gov. LePage. “Direct” here would appear to be his spokesman’s euphemism for “disrespectful, and revelatory of a desperate need for attention”. At the most basic level, would it be OK if we had leaders who set a decent example for our kids?

[9] Speaking of disrespect, or certainly the appearance of same, this article describes how, now that Simon Cowell has taken his leave of “American Idol”, there’s no one on the “Idol” judging panel who wants to take on the role of the Bad Guy. Most of the comments that follow the article, interestingly, cover three distinct topics: “I’m not watching if Simon’s not on”; “Simon was mean”; and “Simon wasn’t mean, he was telling it like it was”.

Full disclosure: I wrote a children’s musical based loosely on the “Idol” phenomenon recently, and one of the main characters was, um, somewhat reminiscent of Simon Cowell. The jokes I wrote for him were uniformly nasty, and the young lady who (in reverse-Shakespearean tradition, crossing the actor/character gender line) portrayed him gave a spot-on performance; and I got lots of laughs based on ruthless insult humor, which I’m not normally known for, so it was kind of neat to be able to author lines like “He is the most pathetic excuse for a TV host I’ve ever seen. A lobotomized panda with a speech impediment could do better.”

But as much as I thought Mr. Cowell expressed himself so nastily because he wanted to perpetrate his image as an insufferable jerk (and thus keep everyone’s eyes on him) … there are people on earth who just as clearly have no idea that they’re far less talented than they think they are.  As often as not, Mr. Cowell’s assessments of the various Idol singers were as accurate as they were insulting.

[10] Now, in contrast … about people who tend to uplift more than they beat down (and even when they require you to take a hard look at yourself, you still enjoy the experience):

This week it was announced that Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser will be one of the presenters at the UMass edition of the GNP Drum Major Academy this summer. I’m always pleased to work with the DMA staff every summer largely because the staff is such an amazing group of people; but in this upcoming DMA summer which will of course be very different, the presence of Dr. Tim will be much more than “merely” its usual inspiring self.

[11] And finally: my Audio Find of the Week. Fortnight. Month. Whatever. Stay with it for the whole two and a half minutes or so.

January 15, 2011 Posted by | blogging, celebrity, DMA, education, entertainment, Famous Persons, government, humor, Internet, media, music, news, politics, technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Smug Year-End Review

Well, everyone else is publishing one of these 2010 retrospectives, so I don’t see why I shouldn’t muddy the waters as well.  I shall call this: “Superlatives of 2010!!!!”  With just that many exclamation points.

Feel-Good Story of the Year (Which Every Media Outlet in America Instantly Recognized as a Hanging Curveball): The “Chi! Chi! Chi! Le! Le! Le! Los mineros de Chile!” chant at the rescue of the 33 trapped Chilean miners in October. My only question is, did anyone follow up with a conversation about mine safety regulations? Hello? … Hello? …

Global News Story of the Year, Nominee #1: collapsing economies. US, almost, a while ago; Greece and Ireland this year; and this cannot be over, can it? Note to self: do not forget about the numerous national economies which have NEVER been in good shape, the ones in which they don’t even have a decent water supply, or the ones in which the local government leaders think it’s in their best interests to step on their own people’s figurative necks.

Global News Story of the Year, Nominee #2: the weather. Jeff Masters, founding meteorologist of Weather Underground, said, “In my 30 plus years of being a meteorologist I can’t ever recall a year like this one as far as extreme weather events go, not only for the US but the world at large.” For local confirmation, please chat with my friends in Delaware, who had no idea what to do with 28 inches of snow arriving in one shot; or chat with my mother about the five and a half feet of water that visited her basement this spring, and she lives nowhere near an actual river or body of water.

Organization That Produced the Loudest, If Not the Greatest Number of, Faintly Dangerous Attention-Getters: the Tea Party. Honorable mention: the NBA.

The “You Do Realize What You’re Saying, Don’t You?” Award, Nominee #1 (of a frighteningly large number): Sharron Angle, Nevada senatorial candidate, for this badly veiled threat: “I hope that’s not where we’re going, but you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies. They’re saying: My goodness, what can we do to turn this country around?” WE turned around pretty quick at that one.

Most Dispiriting Discovery, Nominee #1: This was the year in which President Obama discovered that, in spite of his wish to instill Change, Washington politics are so spectacularly entrenched that compromise (ya gotta give a little to get a little) can indeed feel like getting screwed over (ya gotta give a little to still get nothing out of your opponents…!).

Most Dispiriting Discovery, Nominee #2: Christine O’Donnell.

Best News, Nominee #1: The official pullout of US combat troops from Iraq. Now if only we can figure out what to do in Afghanistan. Hint: same thing. There’s a reason they call Afghanistan the “graveyard of empires”. Just ask the Soviet Union.

Best News, Nominee #2: the trade of Randy Moss from the New England Patriots to the Tennessee Titans. If you’re a Patriots fan, anyway.

Most Conveniently Ignored Building: the Islamic mosque near the site of the World Trade Center in New York City. –The one that’s been there since the 1970s.

The “Where Are They Now?” Award: victims of the earthquake in Haiti, all the way back in January. Right about where they were, I think.

Easiest Easy Decision Made Difficult: the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Yet another example of institutionalized discrimination finally dealt with, in some respect. And check it out! A political campaign promise is actually fulfilled. And who knew we’d actually be thanking Joe Lieberman for his work on something?

Biggest Event Planner Disappointment: Opt-Out Day. Mass protests of new (and fairly “oo! get your hands outta there!” personal) TSA airline-travel security measures were planned for the biggest travel day of the year, the day before Thanksgiving. Reports seemed to indicate that a lower-than-expected number of people loudly refused to submit to either the patdowns (easy there, sailor) or the full-body scans which didn’t constitute porn but didn’t exactly remind people of Victorian portraits either.

Most Dangerous Decision: The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision made in Citizens United v. Federal Election commission: essentially, government cannot restrict spending by corporations for political campaigns – because it is the corporations’ First Amendment right to support candidates as they see fit. Which is to say, officially, money is speech.  What about people who don’t have much money?  …Yeah, I thought so.

Least Perceptive Public Relations Statement: “I want my life back,” said BP CEO Tony Hayward, lamenting the amount of time and effort it was costing him to deal with the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico caused by an explosion at one of BP’s offshore drilling rigs. Well, he got his yacht races back pretty quickly. The wildlife being killed by that oil spill could not be reached for comment, but it probably wanted its life back too.

Most Unfortunate Irony in a Public Statement: “We…insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved.” This, from Pope Benedict XVI, while issuing an apology for years of sexual abuse of children by priests … an apology which marked the end of the Roman Catholic Church’s Year of the Priest.

Simultaneously Best and Worst Way to Leave Your Employer: Airline flight attendant Steven Slater grabbing two bottles of beer and sliding down the emergency chute after being abused by a passenger.  If you have to burn a bridge, make sure it’s a bouncy fun one.

Scariest Excuse for a State Governor: Arizona governor Jan Brewer. Virginia, Minnesota and even Massachusetts offered occasional faint competition this year, but honestly, if you heard this lady give a speech, she was both ominous and incompetent simultaneously. Extra points awarded for seeming to be just plain heartless and mean.

The “Still Out There” Double-Meaning Award: North Korean “dear leader” Kim Jong Il.

The “Can’t Decide Whether I’m Behind Him or Not, And Feel Like I Should Know” Award: Julian Assange of Wikileaks.

The “Hope Springs Eternal” Award: Virginia Thomas, wife of US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. “I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something,” she said in a voice mail left for Anita Hill, asking Hill to apologize for accusing Justice Thomas of sexual harassment nineteen years ago. (In the process, Mrs. Thomas probably said more than her husband reportedly has said from the bench in his entire Supreme Court career.)

False Equivalency Award: George W. Bush. “I had a sickening feeling every time I thought about it. I still do,” he (or someone) wrote in his new memoir, Decision Point, saying he still feels badly that no weapons of mass destruction were ever found in Iraq. Not as sickening a feeling as that endured by any father or mother of a US soldier who has been killed in Iraq since 2003. But undoubtedly sickening.

Musical Instrument of the Year: World Cup vuvuzelas.

Second Most Recent Example of a Coddled Professional Athlete Drawing a Pass for Behavior That Would Spell Permanent Ostracizing for the Rest of Us: Tiger Woods.

Most Recent Example of a Coddled Professional Athlete Drawing a Pass for Behavior That Would Spell Permanent Ostracizing for the Rest of Us: Michael Vick.

Best AND Worst Marketing Ploy: LeBron James spending an hour on ESPN before declaring, humbly, that he was “taking [his] talents to South Beach” and the Miami Heat.

Best Sporting Event Audience Participation Moment: fans of the Cleveland Cavaliers, greeting LeBron James upon the occasion of the Miami Heat’s first 2009-10 regular-season visit to James’ former home court.

Best Early-Season Sports Result: best record in the NBA as of December 25 belonging to, not the Miami Heat, but the San Antonio Spurs. Somewhere in Texas, Tim Duncan is chuckling quietly.

Team You Kinda Had To Root For, Even If Very Few of the Players Are From That City: The 2010 Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.

Sporting Event in Which the Players Were Believeable When They Said They Were Thrilled to Be There: the NHL Winter Classic, Boston Bruins against the Philadelphia Flyers, at Fenway Park. (Anyone remember that?)

Most Briefly Yet Forcefully, and Least-Deservingly, Vilified, Semi-Pro Athlete: John Shuster, inconsistently successful captain of the struggling US Olympic curling team at the Vancouver Games in February. Happily, most people once again think he’s somehow related to a guy named Simon, if they think of him at all.

The Actress Wisdom Award (Zero-Irony-or-Sarcasm Division): “Your face tells a story – and it shouldn’t be a story about your drive to the doctor’s office.” –Julia Roberts, saying no to Botox.

And Still My Favorite Public Person, When Push Comes to Shove: Michelle Obama. Asked what accomplishment she was most proud of after her first year at the White House: “My kids are sane.”

Least Meaningful Controversy: Conan O’Brien vs. Jay Leno.

Latest invention that I don’t have the grit to try and figure out: Kindle. I like turning pages with my own darn fingers anyway, thanks.

My own personal arts-related discovery of the year: the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Look these people up on YouTube and have a giggle.

Famous Persons No Longer With Us (some of whom I’m embarrassed to say I’d forgotten about till now):

Manute Bol, absurdly tall basketball player. Robert Byrd, US senator from West Virginia; Ted Stevens, US senator from Alaska. Richard Holbrooke, US diplomat. Lena Horne, jazz singer. Dame Joan Sutherland, opera singer. Irvin Kershner, director of (among other things) The Empire Strikes Back (nerd alert). Leslie Nielson and Peter Graves, two thirds of the cockpit crew of the movie “Airplane!”. Mitch Miller, a bandleader whose Christmas album was the first record I ever wore out (age about 7). Elizabeth Post, he reported politely and with perfect etiquette. J.D. Salinger, author (this news was just sad, and all). Daniel Schorr, truly intrepid journalist. Jean Simmons, an actress I should have paid more attention to before. John Wooden, former UCLA basketball coach, at age 100. Nodar Kumaritashvili, the Georgian Olympic luge competitor who died violently at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Mosi Tatupu, New England Patriot running back. Don Kent, legendary Boston meteorologist. John Henning, veteran Boston political reporter. George Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard, of the New York Yankees. Pat Burns, former hockey coach of both the Boston Bruins AND the Montreal Canadiens. Jill Clayburgh and Tony Curtis, actors. Elizabeth Edwards. Bob Feller, Hall-of-Fame baseball pitcher. Billy Taylor, jazz pianist.


Hardest, Strangest Words To Type: any sentence beginning with “George N. Parks” and ending with “passed away”. While the untimely passing of a college band director may not qualify as a national or international news event … well, perhaps it might, actually, within certain contexts. Click upon this link or paste it into your web browser and read an article that describes why we may have lost a larger contributor to American music than we even may have thought: http://artsedresearch.typepad.com/blog/2010/09/george-n-parks-1953-2010-a-life-in-context.html

And then read this article – it’s perhaps a bit less strictly scholarly, definitely more personal; but another very apt description, from UMass drum major Aaron Staluppi … the same view, from a different angle: http://halftimemag.com/articles/11-2010/11-2010-behind-the-baton/starred-thoughts-about-george-n-parks.html


My current Facebook status says, “Happier New Year.” May 2011 be so. We live in hope.


P.S. And check it out. Not a single Fox News reference. I am the very model of restraint. Clap for me.

January 1, 2011 Posted by | band, baseball, blogging, celebrity, entertainment, Facebook, Famous Persons, football, GNP, government, heroes, journalism, literature, marching band, media, movies, music, news, politics, science, science fiction, social media, sports, technology, television | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments