Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

You’ll Pardon Me If I Look Unsurprised

About a year and a half ago, I published an item here which noted some of the people whom I consider influences on my musical life – teaching, performing and arranging.  Somehow, I didn’t spend much time on one of them, and now seems like a moment to adjust that, a bit.

In that post, I described the day on which I first heard a college band play an arrangement of mine in public, in performance, in uniform. It was UMass, and the band’s primary musical arranger was standing next to me. “How’s it feel to write for UMass?” he asked. How did it feel? … “You have no idea,” I said cheerily. “Oh wait, right … you do.” Because the gentleman to whom I was speaking, and this was twenty-two years ago now, had already experienced that feeling, many many times over – in association with that college band, and in association with a number of fine (national-competition-grade) high school bands, and particularly in association with a little group called the Garfield Cadets.

He had come to UMass as the marching band graduate assistant during my junior year (this would be 1986), and although I myself was hardly connected to the drum corps world, I knew that he had already been drum major for one world-championship edition of the Cadets, and brass arranger and caption head for one other. And the more arrangements he cranked out for us, the more clear two things became: [1] he could really write; and [2] as a burgeoning musical arranger hopeful, I needed to get inside his head!

One afternoon we happened to arrive in the same room in Old Chapel, then the home of the band, at the same time. I waved a piece of staff paper at him … yes, this was in the days when we wrote band tunes by hand on actual paper, what about it? … and said, “question. How do you deal with low brass?”

Before he had a chance to provide the obvious snarky answer that came with intentional misunderstanding of my question, I continued, “I came from a high school band that didn’t have much low brass, and I’m a woodwind guy, so I’m not really sure about how to write good notes for low brass.”

He put down whatever he was doing, and said, “okay. Go to the piano. Play three notes that make a chord you like but which don’t make a muddy sound. Put those notes on the trombone 1, 2, and baritone staves. Add a tuba bass line. If it sounds decent on the piano, it’ll be OK in the brass. That’s it, pretty much.”

Simple as that. Except: boy, did I dissect a lot of his handwritten band scores – and saw chords that looked logical enough, and which followed that rule, and which looked pretty innocent (B flat, F, B flat, D … B flat major … OK, got that) … but somehow, bands that played those relatively innocuous-looking chords and such … sounded disproportionately great. There was some other element to his work that tended to transcend merely writing the right notes.

Throughout my time as a band person – playing, conducting, arranging, instructing – I have undertaken this process an awful lot:

Step one: listen to a score by this gentleman played by a decent band or corps.

Step two: smile and admire.

Step three: wish I could claim to have written it myself.  I mean!– Silverado, Jupiter … Phantom, Henry V … Pirates … and that’s before we get over into the drum corps world, about which I need say only one thing: Appalachian Flippin’ Spring!

Here are a few other examples of this gentleman’s fine work: as performed by the UMass Minuteman Marching Band, or the Garfield Cadets of Bergen County (well, he wrote for them for a long while!), or Carolina Crown … just to name a few of the groups that have benefited from his writing and whatever it is that he does in order to teach an ensemble to make such sounds! Heck, he even wrote an arrangement that made me enjoy Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” — and there’s a tune I don’t care for at all.

Today, came the announcement: Michael Klesch will be inducted into the Drum Corps International Hall of Fame this summer.

Not a shock, exactly.

Bravo, sir.


April 18, 2012 - Posted by | arranging, band, drum corps, drum major, marching band, music, teachers, UMMB | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] 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 remained my […]

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

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