Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Class Acts

So this past Saturday was Homecoming at UMass. In November. Therefore cold. I must not be a college student anymore, because on the one hand [1] I quite happily unpacked my local musical instrument and went, nay, RAN to the Stadium of my collegiate youth in order to help convince the “baby band” that we alumni could still play a little bit … but on the other hand [2] once I got there and unpacked said instrument, it dawned on me that it was barely past dawn, not yet above the freezing mark … and I took note of it. Cain’t feel m’ toes, y’all.

But it was really OK. Sometimes I think Homecoming exists so band alumni, in the course of just one morning, can be reminded of what the “baby band” does (what we all actually did too, once upon a time) all season long.

The big event of the day, for us UMass band alumni/-ae types, was the official opening of the new George N. Parks Marching Band Building, constructed on the Amherst campus after years of planning, years of fundraising, and years of that fine organization having basically nowhere to regularly store its toys, following the closing of its former home, Old Chapel. The dedication ceremony included a couple of band tunes, many speeches, and one multi-scissored snip of a red ribbon. (My young nephew and niece, also in attendance, were disappointed that the gigantic red ribbon adorning the side of the building didn’t also get snipped. That would have been fun to watch, it’s true.)

The speeches were mostly your standard ribbon-cutting ceremony speeches, at least from the university administration side. To my ears, anyway. To call them “boilerplate” might be a little harsh; they did fit the occasion. Not much in the way of turns of phrase that you might vividly remember years later. Not exactly timid or paltry either; but I imagine that some close observers of the last half a year in the life of the Minuteman Band community might have inwardly grumbled a bit that the administrators’ speeches blithely glossed over certain moments and storylines from this past spring and summer. But, at occasions such as this, one is not supposed to go out on limbs. Probably the best speech-making occasion is the one where everybody gets out alive.

Three speeches did stand out, though, in my mind. Heidi Sarver, band alum and current University of Delaware band director, told a story in the form of an allegory. Band alums who marched during the Parks era were completely unsurprised that she referred to Peter Pan, the movie “Hook”, and the Lost Boys. Jeanne C. Parks, wife of the late great George Parks, told a story in the form of … well, actually, in the form of several George Parks stories. A couple of them could only have been told properly by Jeanne herself. These are two of my favorite makers of speeches (or polite conversation, for that matter), because they’re never ever dull (understatement), and they have occasionally been very satisfyingly pointed.

There was also a speech by another gentleman – one of the last people any of us UMass band alums would have expected to enjoy getting up and making a formal speech at a relatively tightly-wrapped event. This was the man whose most potent and persuasive arguments often have been made using sentences of four words or less. (“Figure it out” and “play and march faster” spring immediately to mind.)

Thom Hannum, assistant director of the UMass Minuteman Marching Band, carrying with him thirty years of service to the University and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, got up and made a speech. Before he made the speech, he got a standing ovation, and probably was uncomfortable with getting it. After he made the speech, he got another one. Again, he probably thought, “no; thank you, but sit down please.” (And he was the object of a third standing ovation during the actual Homecoming football game.)

Some months before, as has been chronicled, Thom was a candidate for the UMass band directorship. As has also been chronicled, another gentleman was named director. As has also been chronicled, some in the UMass band alumni community were disappointed that Thom wasn’t named director, and others were displeased with what they knew of the process of selecting the new director that wasn’t Thom, and still others were disappointed and displeased. Happily, many have since reached out to Timothy Anderson, “the new guy”, and Dr. Anderson has responded gracefully and articulately to those who have reached out. And he has gone to great lengths to acknowledge Thom, publicly and convincingly.

The new guy” in any situation has a very challenging job ahead of him or her — regardless of who he or she is — regardless of what experience he or she brings to that position. Even more challenging when his or her assistant is one of the people who wanted his or her job. In some situations, this can make for a toxic work environment; at the very least, an awkward and uncomfortable one – even if the assistant doesn’t actively work to create such an environment.

So on Saturday, Thom Hannum made a speech, surrounded by band alumni who thought the world of him, but also in the presence of the gentleman who was selected for the position that Thom had also sought.

He hit it out of the park. He saluted the completion of a new home for the Minuteman Band. He saluted those who had been “Chapel rats” before Old Chapel was closed; he saluted those who had been “lost boys”, who had not known Old Chapel and who had completed their time with the UMMB before the UMMB found its new home; he wished publicly for the continuation and growth of the band program, so that a quality musical organization would live in that new building for years to come. And, significantly, gracefully, he also saluted the man who had become that organization’s new leader.

For all the reasons and bearing in mind all the circumstances suggested above, not everyone in the world would have been capable of doing that. But Thom was.

Sometime during this past summer, Thom made the decision to remain associated with the UMass band program. He did so for reasons which may be surmised, but which are completely known only to him. Whatever his precise set of reasons, he is still at UMass, and the program clearly benefits from his continued presence. But it does so not merely because Thom is a DCI Hall-of-Fame percussion giant and therefore the UMass percussion section continues to be glorious proof of that. It does so not merely because Thom knows the traditions, characteristics, and capabilities of the band program so well, thanks to having helped shape it for three decades. Thom Hannum is a continued asset to the UMass Marching Band program, equally, because he is capable of standing up and making public statements like the one he did on Saturday.

Quite simply, Thomas P. Hannum is a class act, quite likely the classiest act that our Commonwealth can currently lay claim to. There have been days this year when I didn’t think the University of Massachusetts had any right to claim as its own a man who can stand as tall as Thom Hannum did on Saturday. But, remarkably, we do still have him. And we can thank whomever (or Whomever) we wish to thank, for that.

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November 7, 2011 - Posted by | band, GNP, marching band, music, Thom Hannum, UMMB | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Speaking of hitting it out of the park… I’d like be able to say, “My thoughts exactly,” but these are my thoughts thought better and expressed more clearly. Thanks.

    I haven’t been keeping up with your posts recently, but I find I am well rewarded when I do. Note to self: read more. 🙂

    Comment by Steve Robinson | November 8, 2011 | Reply

  2. […] this space, I have taken more than one opportunity to appreciate the people with whom I got to share band experiences, many of whom have […]

    Pingback by It Takes A Band « Editorial License | October 21, 2013 | Reply


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