Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

The Tables Have Turned, Mr. Bond

I had a lesson today.

Now, I’m trying to recall the last time I was involved in a private lesson on any subject that did not feature me as the teacher, but rather, the student. I think it was better than fifteen years ago that, while I was a graduate student, I took a series of saxophone lessons. Before that, it was earlier in my grad school career, this time a series of voice lessons.

I was reminded, this morning, of that first voice lesson. In that case, I knew my teacher from a slightly different sphere of life. I enjoyed his company. I wanted to impress him with what I could do before even the first lesson. So I sang as well as I could, with as proper posture, diction, air, etc., and at the end of the selection, I looked over at him expectantly.

“Not bad,” he said with a friendly smile. “…For Kermit the Frog.”

Ouch. Well, at least he was smiling. By the end of that first lesson, he had helped me adjust a few things, and singing felt different; and I knew I had work to do. But I wanted to go do it immediately. I also knew that I didn’t sound like Kermit the Frog anymore.

This morning, I arrived at the lesson site early, and I knew one thing: back in 1995, that lesson involved music, at which I’d had a little bit of success, so I didn’t feel like I was that far out of my element. This lesson, though, was all about golf. My golf experiences number three: the Great Cape Cod Tee-Off Disaster of (Probably) 1974 … all my birthday-party trips to the local miniature golf course (so my putting might not be too bad; I’m not sure yet) … and one afternoon in Maine in the mid-1990s that found me standing at one end of an unofficial pitch ‘n’ putt course with a 7-iron in my hand. By the end of the afternoon I thought maybe I might have something of a short game. But I’ve never had any experience with Hitting For Distance. Any time I watch pro golfers tee off on TV, the mighty THWACK happens and I immediately think, I can NOT do THAT.

So I approached this lesson with more than a bit of humility, as I had a very good chance of golfing like Kermit the Frog.

The golf pro assigned to this possibly hopeless case had a couple of things to finish up before my lesson started, so he parked me at a practice tee several yards from his outdoor lesson desk (complete with video monitor – we’re using technology nowadays, I guess!), tossed a dozen or so golf balls into the hopper, and invited me to hit for a little while, to get loosened up.

Okay. Out of the bag came an iron. Ball on tee … set myself properly … try and remember what I’ve seen Phil Mickelson and Yani Tseng do on the backswing and the downswing and hope I hit the ball at all! … take a Mighty Casey hack! …

Well, the ball went basically forward and basically fairly high. Okay.

Next shot was a hot grounder to third. Wrong sport, and no one saw that, right?

Next shot went a bit further than the first, a high fly ball to right field. I liked how far it rolled. Next shot was (as long as we’re using baseball lingo) a pop fly to the pitcher. The infield fly rule was invoked. The best thing about all this was that, although there were several other people nearby, taking practice shots as well, nobody paid attention to me, and nobody snickered. I changed clubs, to my cool modern hybrid driver, and didn’t hit the ball appreciably far. Mercifully, I think, I ran out of golf balls shortly thereafter. Consistency might not be my strong suit. Fore!

The lesson started with me doing basically the same, so the pro could have a look. Happily, I hit two shots that had decent distance (in the air, no less) … and although they did hook left, at least they both hooked left. Consistency!

The pro stopped me. Try this and this to change your grip. Okay, now hit a couple more, and aim for that red flag in front of you, probably about a hundred yards ahead.

Darned if they didn’t fly straight and true.

And you, sir, accomplished that just by talking about the heel of my left hand? Teaching is a two-way street, I know; but friends, I get far less credit for this than does The Pro. Guess that’s why he’s called a pro. … Okay, I was listening before because it’s good to be polite. Now, I’m really listening.

The rest of the lesson featured no more hitting, and lots of physical exercises and drills to try to adjust my backswing into something resembling consistency. I cranked my upper torso in all kinds of inhuman directions. For the first time in my life, I was encouraged to focus on putting weight on the inside of my foot (not a marching technique, that’s for sure!). And then he walked over to his desk and fired up the video machine. All that time, he’d been recording my less-than-stellar form.

[For all the former Drum Major Academy students out there who may be reading this … who have spent time in my TV room, watching video of themselves conduct to recorded music, and execute drum major salutes … well, this summer I probably won’t go any easier on the DMA kids I see, but I’ll understand a bit better what it’s like to see yourself on DMA TV and hate it.]

Throughout the lesson, even as I focused on what the pro was saying, a little tiny part of my brain was noting the role reversal. I had confessed to him that as a teacher, it’s a good thing for me to be a student every once in a while, to see how the other half (or more!) lived. Also, that corner of my brain was trying to take notes on how this teacher did what he did, because in a couple of tiny but noticeable ways, I walked out of that lesson with a better golf swing than I had when I woke up this morning.

When the lesson finished up, and as I made arrangements for the next one, I desperately wanted to go to the far end of the practice range and hit and hit and hit and hit. Instead, I will repair to the back deck here, and do the three exercises that the golf pro put me through, so as to start a little muscle memory training. I will follow the pro’s instructions. I will be a good boy.

(And then tomorrow, as soon as I arise, I’ll go try to replicate that straight ‘n’ true hitting.)

I wonder: during everybody else’s golf lessons, are their brains as full as mine was?

June 27, 2012 Posted by | education, golf, teachers, technology | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


This just in!

The Boston Red Sox have traded veteran infielder Kevin Youkilis to the Chicago White Sox for a 25-year-old minor-league pitcher and a 28-year-old utility infielder who has seen limited action this season.

The Boston Red Sox have traded veteran infielder Kevin Youkilis to the Chicago White Sox.

The Boston Red Sox have traded Kevin Youkilis.

Sox Deal Youk.


A pause, please, to consider a few things.

At least three things are happening right now in New England.

First, the idiot-sports-talk-radio shows’ telephone lines are lighting up like Roman candles. Fred from Everett and Dave from West Springfield and Butch from Down The Cape (well, no, not Butch) are weighing in. The Sox did something monumentally stupid. The Sox did the right thing. The Sox got nothin’ in exchange for a former All-Star. The Sox eased a logjam in their lineup. The Sox traded away a clubhouse leader. The Sox found a new home for a guy whose season wasn’t going well. Et cetera, nearly ad infinitum, full of sound and fury and signifying very close to nothing.

The second thing that is happening is that someone, somewhere, is reminding people around him or her that, considering what else is going on (and going wrong) in the world, this is not the biggest story of the day. People are going hungry. People are out of work. People can’t afford to pay for any medical care they may need. And Kevin Youkilis, being a well-paid athlete, fits into none of those three categories. Statistically, Kevin Youkilis is a member of the much-maligned One Percent.

I’ll leave that second thing alone now. Enough people will beat that one to death.

The third thing that is happening is: legions of Red Sox fans under the age of about 12 just sat down real hard. Some of them will not eat much supper tonight. Some of them will weep, or perhaps are weeping even as we speak.

There are many, many Little Leaguers who own Red Sox t-shirts with a big #20 on the back … who have gleefully called out “Yooooooooooooouk!” whenever the intense ballplayer smacked another one over the Wall, or made a diving stab at third base, even though they were at home watching the game on TV … who declared repeatedly that their favorite player was this burly, baby-faced young third baseman, or first baseman man, or designated hitter.

Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield spent their entire major-league baseball careers as hard-working Red Sox players and got to retire as such. Kevin Youkilis worked hard too, but he’ll finish up somewhere else. In many minds, especially young ones, there’s something just not right about that.

But for many years now, professional sports has been as much a business as a game. Before the establishment of a Players Union, professional baseball players were basically indentured servants. Some writers have used the term “slaves”, and while I would wish to conduct more research before I went that far, before the 1970s, baseball team owners could pretty well do with their players what they wished, send them where they wished, treat them as badly as they wished, and not only could the players not do anything about it, they didn’t make a whole heck of a lot of money doing it. They were playing the game they loved, and the game wasn’t loving them much in return.

Gallons of ink (or perhaps nowadays it’s better to say, endless numbers of electrons) have been spilled by sportswriters on this subject. Rather than duplicate their work, I choose to remember when I was a young’un and the home team traded away my favorite player for no very good reason.

Carlton Fisk. All-Star catcher, immortalized by his home-run-hitter body language in extra innings of the sixth game of the 1975 World Series. Claimed by the White Sox after Red Sox management screwed up his new contract on a technicality. Played another several productive seasons with the White Sox, and there was great debate about whether he would be enshrined in the Hall of Fame wearing a Red- or White-Sox jersey.

Bobby Orr. Only the best defenseman (arguably) in NHL history. Claimed as a free agent by the Chicago Black Hawks (okay, WHAT is it with Chicago, please!?). I didn’t realize at the time that injuries had wrecked his knee, nor did I care that the Black Hawks got two decent seasons out of him before he retired.  The guy who just walked away from you is Bobby Orr!

Robert Parish. A member of the Celtics’ “Big Three”, unquestionably one of the best frontcourts in NBA history. Signed as a free agent, after 14 seasons with the Celtics, by the Charlotte Hornets. Dude, that jersey looks weird on you; and why wouldn’t the C’s re-sign him a genuine future Hall of Famer?

Seeing one’s favorite player traded or otherwise let go by one’s favorite team is incomprehensible to the very young sports fan who has not become conversant in the language of sports business. Some nights, a majority of “ESPN Sportscenter” stories have nothing to do with events that transpire on the field, court or ice. Most nights, I find myself wishing I’d never come to understand vocabulary words like “free agent,” “lockout,” “signing bonus,” and “player to be named later.”

For me, the main reason I’m disappointed that Youk won’t be in Boston anymore is that he was one of those players who (at least to my eyes) worked as hard as he could, all the time. Granted, it takes work for anyone to get to the majors and stay there; but to paraphrase a colleague of mine, it was pretty obvious that he tried and he cared. There was a scuffle in the Red Sox dugout some years ago between Youkilis and Manny Ramirez. My memory of exactly the genesis of that dust-up is a bit faint, but I seem to recall that it had something to do with Youkilis’ dim view of Ramirez’s (relative) (apparent) lack of intensity, and Ramirez’s dim view of Youkilis’ admittedly hyper-intense way of playing the game. I imagine that the one thing that ticks Youk off the most would be if a teammate didn’t seem to be “busting it”, running out the grounders, diving for the Texas-League bloop fly balls, swinging for the fences, taking one for the team … and Manny Ramirez often appeared to be The King Of Relax.

I can’t recall a time when I didn’t see Kevin Youkilis work, and try, and care; my mental highlight reel will always include Youk running out a grounder and being called out, or taking a called third strike, and hurling his helmet, two-handed, to the ground in frustration. Not frustration at the umpire; but at himself for not beating the throw to first or recognizing that pitch as crushable. “I can do better. I should do better. I can work harder.”  Whether he was having an All-Star season, or the kind of painful season that 2011 was shaping up to be.

During this period in Red Sox history, when (por ejemplo) star pitchers loiter in the clubhouse instead of getting into the dugout and putting on a rally cap during a tight game that they didn’t start … and during a period of major-league history where all of us average Joes, who are scraping to make ends meet, watch people play a game and get paid multimillionaire bucks for it … the contrast can be just that much more stark. If actions speak louder than words, Kevin Youkilis spent a long time in Boston speaking very loudly indeed.

And anyway, I can always pop the 2007 World Series DVD into the machine and smile.



June 24, 2012 Posted by | baseball, sports | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Very Good Place to Start

Last week, my school district conducted its beginner-band instrument demonstration. Usually, this is accomplished within the first few days of school, in the fall, for the newly-minted fifth-graders. This year, building adjustments and schedule restrictions within the district made it necessary to conduct the assembly at the tail end of the current school year.  With any luck, and a bit of planning, they may actually remember the assembly when September rolls around.

It was not a bad little session, considering it came hot on the heels of the Fourth Grade Move-Up Day Ice Cream Party. For being so fully sugar-laden, the kids listened fairly well, and responded to many of our “what do you think this is? How do you think this works?” instrument questions quite well. (For the record, I had taught about 50 of them, three years ago, when they were first-graders, and one of my usual activities was to bring in various band and orchestra instruments for an up-close and personal. So quite possibly, we may have been unearthing archaeological evidence of actual learning.  Ooo.)

In the wake of that session, I got to remembering my own instrument demo experience – when I was a fourth-grader and the teachers were offering ME this wonderful opportunity to Be In The Band!! I was already a piano student, three years’ worth of lessons on, and pretty good at the treble AND bass clefs.

I went home afterward and declared, in the presence of my parents, “I would like to play the coronet.”


Well, the presenter had such a serious Boston accent that when he said “cornet”, that’s what these tender ears interpreted it as.

That memory caused me to focus a bit more on clarity in my own presentation, last week. I had to remind myself that at age 9, what think you hear is not always what you’re getting. And at age forty-never-mind, what I think I hear myself say is sometimes not what they heard me say (whether “they” are age 9 or age 79).

But the other thing that struck me particularly strongly – much more this year than in past years, for whatever curious reason – was this: who knows? Amidst all the kids who will start instruments but then bail … and all the kids who will start instruments, play all the way through school and then put them down … and all the kids who will start instruments and play for the rest of their lives and be perfectly happy … there might, MIGHT be some kid who could be the next Branford Marsalis, or whomever. And considering that this year, I will be teaching the majority of the beginner instrument lessons in my district …

Man. The sense of responsibility could knock a fella over.

June 19, 2012 Posted by | band, education, music, teachers | , , , , , , | 3 Comments