Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Sphere of Awareness

I suppose I could start this with, “What another week.”

My previous post here, about the tumult surrounding the announcement of the UMass band’s new director, has met with some very kind and thoughtful responses, both here and on the wider Web / Facebook machine. A writer is not necessarily always aiming to express thoughts so that other people can then say “that was exactly what I was thinking!” It becomes an echo chamber if one writes something and everyone else agrees and I am right and you are right and everything is quite correct.

And we have more than enough media echo chambers.

But it’s nice to hear that one has summed up someone else’s feelings. It may mean that perhaps one isn’t stuck inside one’s own head – that one can expand one’s sphere of awareness, observe unexpected things and possibly, possibly adjust one’s own viewpoint to account for that.

Speaking of which … let me try this one on you.

It’s worth remembering that as hard a job as it is to be a new leader of an organization, it can also be a tough job to be a member of an organization that is getting a new leader. (Hold that thought, please.)

When I was a high school freshman, my high school band got a new director. As it happened, I knew who the previous director had been and I was thrilled, THRILLED that he was gone – I thought he was mean and condescending, didn’t care a toot about kids or know how to connect with them, and I thought this at the clear-headed age of 14. To this day, I still think I was right. And the new guy was everything great that his predecessor wasn’t. I have no idea whether every upperclassmen thought this, but we all seemed to have a good time, particularly during jazz band rehearsals.

When I was a sophomore, we got a new band director, again. When I met him, I thought, yeah, okay, he might work out all right. This I thought at the clear-headed age of 15. (You think I’m pretentious now?) The “new new guy” was different in many ways from the “old new guy”. We heard an anonymous, unattributed, possibly apocryphal rumor-quote from (allegedly) a band parent in the town where he’d previously taught, saying, “Oh, him? He’s trouble. He’ll destroy your band program.”

Predictably, some of my band colleagues liked him fine, many didn’t so much care for him, and some of them cared for him not at all, though I don’t remember that we lost very many band members going into that year. He introduced us to corps-style marching, and being called to attention and shouting “one, two”, and other similar things which many of my colleagues thought were the dorkiest things they’d ever been asked to do. I didn’t agree with everything he did, and occasionally wished (for his sake) that he’d phrased a thing or two differently; but he wasn’t trouble, and he didn’t kill our band program. By my senior year, our band had nearly doubled in size. (Of course, the year after I graduated, the band had drum majors and tonal bass drums for the first time, dang it; but by that time I was wearing the UMass uniform. Life goes on.)

Not because of that story, but inadvertently in parallel with it, in my previous post last week, I wrote this:

The last thing we as a band community need to do is beat on the new guy before he’s even set foot on campus, for heaven’s sake. I do hope Dr. Anderson … experiences the kind of hospitable and supportive reception that I got at Holy Cross.”

So, gradually, as Band Alumni have had time to digest and adjust to the reality that the UMMB now has a different director than George Parks … regardless of who they thought it should be … many of their online posts are beginning to reflect that adjustment, and the re-assertion of our slogan, “The Power and Class of New England”. With emphasis on the word “class”. Better than unfettered ranting – which will produce nothing except ill will toward a group of people who may not all be ranting. It will be awfully important in the near term to make sure that the new director is “assimilated into the collective”, to connect with him constructively and positively (before any other University players get their hooks into him!!).

Never thought I’d be playing the role of the Borg in an analogy, but here we are. This is the brave new world we live in now.

But, recognizing that it’s pleasing to see a gradual return to “trying to play nicely with others” within the Band Alumni community, allow me now to paraphrase one of the last paragraphs of my previous post, with italics added to indicate the new changes:

There are … people who are now trying to play the part of the grownups in the room (admirable), posting messages online that say ‘the decision has been made, and we should support the new guy’ – which is true! But a lot of these messages neglect to note that band members are still struggling with the fact that Thom Hannum is not the new guy – which is no less true. The returning band members should not be merely collateral damage. … In terms of human feelings, we are not the most important player in this little subplot. I think we come off as arrogant if we think that if WE come to terms with the fact that the University didn’t name Thom as UMMB director, then the issue is settled.

If you were in band members’ shoes, would that settle the issue for you?”

Have you ever been in that situation? Of course you have. We all have. If you loved your kindergarten teacher, didn’t you wish your first-grade teacher was just as wonderful? If you voted for Gore or Kerry, did that settle your feelings about Bush 43 being president? If you voted for McCain, did that settle your feelings about Obama being president? (And no, I’m not injecting politics into this; I’m making an analogy. Have a seat, please.)

In my previous post last week, I also wrote this:

…[D]espite the phenomenal performance in Michigan [that same weekend], despite the fact that the UMMB completed all its performances last fall in its usual glorious fashion, despite the vast show of support from more than 900 marching alumni at Homecoming,… of course that band is still a very fragile group of people.”

I recently had an online conversation with one of the members of the 2010 UMMB, who has given me the OK to talk about our conversation. Which member it was is irrelevant; this member is a human being and enjoyed being in the UMMB while it was led by George Parks and Thom Hannum. And s/he was not especially pleased that the University saw fit to select a director who was not Mr. Hannum, in part because of the role that he played in helping the UMMB survive Fall 2010.

This was part of our conversation:

…[A]t this point it is more of the fact that Thom got swiped and the university didn’t take into account of how we are mentally – which is not necessarily stable. I think if they really considered our feelings and how emotional we have been they would not have thrown us into the situation we are in, which quite frankly, I think is extremely wrong. Not putting the students[‘] mental health first is something that I’m very frustrated and sensitive about to be honest.”

Sadly, most hiring decisions (whether in the academic or corporate worlds) are not made by people who are paid to take these sorts of things into account. This isn’t right, not by a country mile, but it’s true. And, as I detailed in my previous post, in this particular case, it should have been in the forefront of the University administration’s collective mind.

Our conversation continued. This paragraph grabbed me by the throat:

Honestly, at this point I’m starting to feel hurt by some of … those that are just saying ‘get over it’ or ‘just be powerful and classy’ … because we still are not over it, by a long shot. You can disagree with something in a powerful and classy way. Many folks are, and I just don’t think they understand how hard it hit us that night. The 350whatever of us in the room went through a traumatic experience that we will never forget for the rest of our lives – and a few of us … actually saw GNP pass. Many of us (including myself) have [sought] therapy and additional help over the events of September 16th. I don’t think it’s right of some alumni to be telling us how to feel. So at this point, I just hope they take into account the sensitivity of the situation because it still greatly affects us for the rest of our lives, even after we graduate and move on from the band.”

Some of the members of the 2010 Minuteman Marching Band may not return in 2011. I can understand. Some of the members of the 2010 Minuteman Marching Band will return. I hope that many, many do – although I recognize that, again, it’s going to be a really tough job to be a UMMB member (and to be a UMMB student staff member), and not because Dr. Tim Anderson will be a great director or a terrible one. Whoever the new band director is, except for Thom Hannum, he or she isn’t Thom Hannum. No one is. Which means that this would be – will be – a difficult job for anyone, in this particular context.

It will all be difficult, for absolutely everybody. But it may be helpful for us Band Alumni to remind ourselves that we need to get out of our own heads, where we can, where it’s appropriate, and keep in mind a paraphrased lyric from a Stephen Sondheim song, which I wish wasn’t called “Sunday in the Park with George”, but it is called that …

Hello? … There is someone in this uniform.”


May 24, 2011 - Posted by | band, marching band, music, social media, Thom Hannum, UMMB


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