Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Insanity Week

I don’t like to make a habit of neglecting The Blog. It’s been (according to my records here) 20 days … nearly three solid weeks … since I did the online, in-print version of opening my yap.

There’s a reason.


In the presence of my family and friends and a couple of colleagues, I’ve described the week before Memorial Day weekend as “Insanity Week”. To wit: each of those weekdays saw me put in a full day at the ol’ public school teaching day job, followed by about six hours of rehearsal each afternoon and evening in the service of a high school musical show in nearby school district. My daily schedule ran thusly: leave the house at the usual 6:30 in the morning and not return till about 10:30 in the evening … once home, check eMail, do a little electronic-music processing (adjusting music or sound effects for the show), go to bed. Rinse and repeat.

Well, that’s what Tech Week is. You kinda know what you’re signing up for. The show went up on Friday night and Saturday of the holiday weekend. Throw in the various activities associated with my church gig (rehearsals, services, a concert), … and the in-school Memorial Day assembly (including being a Chorus wrangler) on Friday, plus the town’s actual parade (wherein your humble correspondent became a bass drummer) … and you have a rather fully-laden week and a half. Eleven days of basically constant motion.

Physically tiring, yes. And although some teaching days are less strenuous than others, as the saying goes, a teacher is always on duty. I was the music director for the musical show in question, and therefore was preparing singers and songs throughout the sessions, with perhaps a 20-minute break in there somewhere. When we ran the show end to end, I discovered how intense it was for the fellow who was playing the music and coordinating the sound effects. Many cues, some in a bang-bang fashion that left not much room for error. So, mentally tiring as well. I slept pretty soundly, though not for as many hours as a fellow might prefer.

One of my favorite “Starred Thoughts®” from one of my favorite teachers in the world went something like, “If you like to complain, band is the place for you!” We’ve got lots for you to complain about – hot band camp days, cold late-season football games; sleeping on gym floors, living on buses; getting from drill set to drill set at a jazz run while playing many notes and not crashing into anyone near you … early Saturday morning rehearsals … outdoor events with sudden inclement weather … and the list goes on, of course. But so many of us did band, all the way through high school and all the way through college, and at the season-ending banquets we wished aloud that it didn’t have to end.

Equally, one could paraphrase and come up with, “If you like to complain, music teaching is the place for you!” I’m not diminishing the workloads of my colleagues in other subject areas – partly because there are some wrinkles to the music teaching business that can make it look pretty nice by comparison (no music MCAS, for openers); also it’s important that teachers hang together, otherwise we may hang separately! And I have no concept or clue about how (for example) elementary classroom teachers do what they do, and I’ve seen more examples than just my 3rd-grade teaching sister at work. But, very often, music teacher types are pulling later afternoons or evenings (or weekends) than many of our colleagues; many times we do our own fundraising; and in a lot of cases, if we don’t advocate for our own particular corner of the public education world, it don’t get advocated for.

My music teaching colleagues who are reading this will probably be thinking, “…and your life is different from mine how?” Not at all. Fret not (he said, clutching his guitar), we understand each other.

Now … in spite of the fact that I have not offered up many examples of music teaching responsibilities or conditions that are terribly cheery-sounding … I am in no way complaining. In fact, one of the phrases that I believe I may have invented (and there aren’t many that I use which I have not stolen from estimable sources!) is this: “I’m not COMplaining … I’m EXplaining.”

Por ejemplo, “It’s hot today, I’ve been standing out on this parking lot all morning, it’s very sweaty, those water breaks are crucial, and it will be a lovely contrast when we go to lunch in the air-conditioned dining hall.” (Hello, average DMA morning.) All of these statements are statements of fact. There’s nothing I can do to change the weather, the propensity for perspiration, the fact that regular hydration can stave off trips to the emergency room, or the inability of the dining hall AC to reach out to the parking lot. This is all journalism, ladies and gentlemen, nothing more.

Whenever I described for anyone what Insanity Week was going to be like, what it was in the process of being like, or what it had turned out to be, I did so with a smile. Sometimes it was a rueful one; sometimes the smile was genuine. (For those who know what this next phrase means: sometimes you need a dose of Pollyanna Bullcrap; sometimes you need to dispense one.)

To be honest, when I changed careers from journalism (or what passed for journalism) to music ed, I did so partly because I had lots of friends who were already band directors and always sounded like they were having a great time at it, even if they did occasionally sound a bit winded. To say, “hey, it could be worse – I could be digging ditches,” sometimes sounds to me as if we’re unnecessarily dumping on the ditch-diggers. That’s important work, too … but I’m not sure if that work has the same kind of opportunities for fun, or for Thrilling Moments of Inspiration. Maybe I’d know better if I were a digger. But I suspect that there are lines of work for which I would definitely not get as fired up.

There are weeks when I do have to remind myself of the potential for such thrilling moments. There are those faculty meetings that don’t appeal to my sense of creativity. There are those instrument lessons in which convincing everyone that G sharp involves the left pinky finger is a grand accomplishment. There are those rehearsals in which just getting to the end of the session rates a Congressional Medal of Honor. But there are also those moments when we nailed that song, when the blend and balance were outstanding, and when everyone wore all the uniform parts. And, perhaps less often than ought to be the case, there are moments when I do regain the perspective: if the schedule is crazed, well, gang, I did sign up for this! And regardless of how crazed the schedule, –I’m making music for a living. How great is that?


So. Two concerts and an evening rehearsal this week. Piece o’ cake.


June 4, 2012 - Posted by | band, DMA, education, GNP, marching band, music, Starred Thoughts, teachers | , , , , , , , , , ,

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