Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

A Moment of Silence

This evening I was watching (via tape delay) the beginning of an English Premier League soccer (sorry – football) match between Liverpool and Sunderland. To be honest, I’m not even sure which was the home team; or whether those home fans were especially fine individuals, or if most every group of soccer (sorry – football) spectators acted the way they did.

You are perhaps familiar with the stereotypical English soccer (sorry – football) hooligan? Can’t wait to get wrecked, go to the match, yell a lot, cause a little havoc, possibly a riot, generally make other Englishmen a touch ashamed of their English heritage?

Apparently, that was true in the 1980s and thanks to a number of policies laid down by the English soccer (sorry – football) establishment, that stereotype has been largely dealt with. Oh, certainly there is still the element of “getting wrecked”, as well as going to the match and yelling a lot; but according to a terrific book I read this summer, “Bloody Confused!: A Clueless American Sportswriter Seeks Solace in English Soccer” by Chuck Culpepper, the over-the-top bad behavior has been quelled, mostly. The songs (and shouted commentary) in the stands are anywhere from super-supportive of one’s own team to scatologically abusive of the opposition. But then, we Sox fans are still given to comment on how the New York Yankees tend to drink using straws; or some such. So, a touch hypocritical to rush to judgment.

Well, as kickoff neared, and the teams gathered at the center of the pitch (see? I read that book carefully!) to determine who would defend what goal, or whatever it is they decide at the center of the English football field, the television announcers hinted that there would be a moment of silence observed shortly, in honor and memory of those who have lost their lives amidst the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Thereafter, the stadium public address announcer announced the same. (At least, I presume it was the same. The stadium’s reverb, combined with the announcer’s predictably thick middle-lower-class accent and the refreshing fact that the stadium PA was not routed directly to the broadcaster’s audio mix, made it hard to tell.)

At the referee’s whistle, the crowd settled quickly into a moment of silence.

And I mean, silence.

At an American sporting event, I would estimate that a “moment of silence” is about 80 percent of the way from standard mid-game crowd-noise to dead silent. It’s a great idea, but we can never seem to achieve it completely. There’s usually a low-level murmur, and the occasional raised voice, usually from a well-lubricated onlooker who is still under the assumption that everyone has quieted down so that his home-team rooting cry can be better understood. (Or, as I have sometimes suspected, thinking that he’s The Show.)

This moment? Silent.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard, live or on TV, a moment of silence executed this well, at least if you don’t count Sunday morning church. As the cameras panned across the bleachers (sorry – viewing stands), only occasionally did a spectator’s head so much as bob or look around. Silence, accompanied by an almost unnerving physical stillness.

I wondered if I would hear a well-lubricated “let’s go, whomever!”

Sure enough, I did.

I wondered if I was going to be disappointed that they were so much like your average American sporting event crowd.


The approximately three-word shout from a single spectator brought on a cascade of “ssshhhhhhhhh!” from the rest of the stadium’s occupants. And there wasn’t another single sound for the rest of the moment of silence. Not a cough, not a mutter, certainly not one of those predictable retorts that might come from the three-word shouter, who in America might have expressed offense (sorry – offence) that his First Amendment right to make an ass of himself was somehow being restricted.

The referee’s whistle sounded again. And as if someone had turned on a faucet suddenly, “A Mighty Roar went Up from the Crowd”.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not being anti-American here. American sports fans aren’t uniformly “ugly Americans”. We do have our own particular protocol, which more than occasionally is rooted more in snark and bluster than in anything else, certainly anything polite.

But in this country at least, we’re bombarded by sound all the time, and so we’re trained to think that silence is weird; that silence should be filled. I know that some of my music students are spooked when they encounter more than a beat or two of rest. (See my friend Joe Wright’s recent blog post about that!)

So this particular moment, at least through the magic of television and satellite techology, made me think: at least one thing’s for sure – those English know how to do silence.

March 21, 2011 Posted by | football, sports | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Non-Gentle Reminder

As has happened a lot in the last two years, I woke up and headed straight for the computer, and Facebook. Most of the time, the breaking news is: “this many insomniacs achieved their highest score yet in “Angry Birds Attack Farmville with Jewels.”

As has happened quite a bit in the last two years, Facebook provided my first clue about Current Events. Y’know, the stuff I used to hear about via the bedside radio, or the TV picture machine, or the newspaper.  Sox win on the west coast … politician resigns … two-hour delay, no morning kindergarten …

And this morning at 5 AM, it was only a couple of posts, and they were a bit vague: “I’m OK here in Japan”, and “what a mess”; that sort of thing.

The local downstairs TV yielded a bit more of what was known about yesterday’s earthquake in Japan. (Today’s? They’re fourteen hours ahead of Eastern time; that much I learned a long time ago, but that international date line still makes me feel like I’ve got my tenses wrong.) And a tsunami, to boot. But there weren’t yet very many video clips. The “news crawl” beneath the TV news pictures said, tersely, “four million without power in Tokyo”, and I got a sense about perhaps why communication was a bit sketchy.

Tonight, though – a series of video clips that revealed fully unto me what nature hath wrought, half a world away from here. Staggering images, some of them: pedestrians just barely (I mean skin-of-the-teeth-grade “barely”) avoiding getting hit by falling chunks of building. An entire office building, at least 20 stories’ worth, literally wobbling back and forth. The tsunami moving with apparent slowness across farmland and residential areas, seeming slow only because the camera shot was zoomed out so far. This morning, the height of the wave was estimated at 13 feet; tonight, a news announcer suggested more like thirty feet of water, mud and debris. Houses being swept away, an airport entirely water-bound, whole parking lots of cars being moved around like, well, like Matchbox Cars on a playroom floor.

It looked like a disaster movie, but disaster movies are orchestrated by Industrial Light & Magic or whomever, and there’s a plan for those disaster scenes. Real disasters, of course, lack proper editing. For some reason, this morning and particularly this evening, the scenes of disaster didn’t look as cinematic; just a real lot more horrifying than anything that Spielberg or Bay or DeMille could conjure.


The pictures also caused me to run to the local eMail machine and dash off a note – “are you there??” to a friend of mine from a long time ago.


When I was a sophomore in high school (yeah, go ahead: “a long time ago”), our music department was graced by a Japanese exchange student named Ryoko Yokota. She was one of those people: disgustingly talented and correspondingly humble about it. She played clarinet in our band and orchestra; she played piano in our jazz band; she sang soprano in our chorus, concert choir and madrigals, and could have gone All-State in any of those three roles. It was really fun to watch her try and comprehend the game of American football, not to mention marching band. She kept apologizing for her English, and we kept telling her she didn’t want to hear our Japanese!

She was with us from September to March of that year, and then she went back to Japan to begin her school year there (no vacation for Ryoko!). Lots of us traded letters with her thereafter (y’know, paper with writing on it, tucked into envelopes, stamped and mailed); we asked how things were, and she responded that she was fine, but she was so busy with her studies that she didn’t have any time to pursue music anymore – and we all groaned collectively. “Oi! what a waste!” She was brilliant.

Ryoko came to visit the US again with her husband about fifteen years ago, and we managed to arrange a get-together. Again, as she translated for her husband, she apologized for her English, and we wondered what was Japanese for “you must be kidding”. And that time, we made sure to exchange eMail addresses, and lo and behold! With newer technology, a new and great way to keep in touch even though we were half a planet distant.

So, this morning, I had occasion to reflect that I had not exactly kept up my end of that communication bargain. We’ve occasionally traded messages and kept somewhat current on where I was teaching over here, what sorts of pharmaceutical research she was doing over there. She sent pictures of her little dogs (which would completely win the Westminster dog show if they were ever entered). She sent definite advice about what role I should play in the planning of my wedding (I was commanded to participate! and not leave all the work to my fiancee! And you think perhaps she was the stereotypical shy and retiring Japanese woman? Ha!).


But this morning I had the experience of sending an eMail to a person I hoped was still alive; … but I didn’t know.


Late this afternoon, I got a reply. She and her husband and the dogs are all fine. Very frightening to have every single thing around you shake and shake and shake and not stop shaking for a very long time (even though the epicenter was 240 miles away!); her husband had to walk a long way to get to a train that would get him home, but he got there, and home… and then this, from her reply eMail:

I was in my office and soon realized that it could not be as usual earthquake. I opened the door and saw an utility pole had been shaking left and right and backward and forward with approximately 45 degrees each side. It was really like a Hollywood disaster movie. Therefore, I thought that we might be dead in a minute, seriously! Guess what, March 11th is my birthday! So I thought that ‘Oh! I might die on my birthday!’”

I’m only disappointed that it took an 8.9 on the Richter scale to get me off my sorry backside and write a note to somebody.

The moral of the story, obviously… or at least a bit of fresh inspiration… (momentarily setting aside billions of dollars in damage and a nuclear reactor that could melt down shortly and 500 dead so far with 600 more missing and that can not be the end of that) … … don’t wait to keep in touch with people and let them know how you feel. You never know.


I’ll talk to you soon.

March 11, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Makes You Want to Throw Your Hands (Or Something) Up

File this under “Just when you thought you’d heard it all”.

There have been moments lately when I’ve genuinely wondered about people’s ability to access common sense. Not all people, and not all one political party or the other. But check out these three examples of people, from public officials to public employees to public figures, who frankly ought to know better than to do or say what they’ve done or said.

I speak of two news items and an interview that really got my attention this week. One got my attention in the context of “civility in public discourse”, an issue that was raised loudly, shortly after Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) was shot, in January. One got my attention in the context of that same Giffords shooting, having to do with “have we learned nothing?”. And one got my attention in the context of public safety issues.

First one: Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly conducted an interview with US Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) on the subject of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and whether he should recuse himself when hearing cases in which he might have a conflict of interest thanks to his wife’s lobbying efforts. Let us set aside the topic. Let us set aside whether Ms. Kelly is with Fox News or NBC News or the “Elm Street Elementary School News”. Let us set aside Rep. Weiner’s political party. Let us set aside whether Megyn Kelly is a journalist or a commentator. Those are all topics for another time. Instead, watch this clip, especially beginning about three minutes in, and see if you don’t think you’re watching a TV personality basically telling off a sitting United States Congressman.

Come to think of it, whether she’s Megyn Kelly or Gene Kelly, and whether he’s Anthony Weiner or an Oscar Meyer Weiner … makes no difference. Speaking as a former journalism major, I think Rep. Weiner is right about what is proper interview form; and I think Ms. Kelly is making a complete fool of herself by rolling her eyes and displaying utter contempt for her interview subject. I’ve heard BBC interviewers pretty effectively skewer their interview subjects if they think they’ve got their facts wrong, and they were forceful, and sometimes interrupted their interview subjects to clarify this or that point; but ultimately they did it respectfully and without resorting to belittling them. Megyn didn’t.


Second one: How in the name of Heaven can a group of legislators watch the shooting of a United States congresswoman from their very own state, and then two months later go and pass a bill that essentially establishes blanket legalization of the carrying of guns at any public event in that state? Apparently, the Arizona state legislature knows how to do this. But if the crafting and passing of this legislation doesn’t call into question the very humanity of Arizona’s elected representatives, at least it demonstrates their utter lack of awareness of irony. Do they have any faint clue how this looks?


And to my eye, amazingly, this is the worst one: As much as the Wisconsin state capital is probably starting to really smell like Unwashed Protester, and as much as some Wisconsin state legislators would probably like to have a moment’s peace and quiet in the building where they work… Well, you can debate whether protesters should or should not be allowed to protest in perpetuity inside the state capitol; and you can debate whether Gov. Scott Walker is pulling out absolutely all the stops he can think of, to try and get his policies in place; and you can debate whether public employee unions are destroying this country or saving it for the middle class and poor of America. But you cannot debate this: it is beyond inappropriate – it is just plain dangerous, a display of complete disregard for public safety, to prohibit firefighters responding to a call from getting to the location of that call.

And that, staggeringly, appears to be what happened in Madison on Thursday.

Firefighters received an emergency call saying that someone inside the Wisconsin state capitol building (it turned out to be a police officer) was trapped in an elevator. The firefighters didn’t know whether there was maybe a medical emergency associated with this; their job was to rescue a citizen stuck in an elevator. And when they tried to enter the building, security personnel refused to let them in. Refused!

I sincerely hope this was not politically tinged. But whether or not anyone can prove that these security officers were following politically motivated instructions, or were just being more “letter of the law” than “spirit of the law” guys… will someone please explain to me, if these security personnel have not been fired yet, why they have not been fired yet?

What … in the hell … is going on lately?

March 4, 2011 Posted by | celebrity, government, journalism, media, news | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment