Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

New Rachel

The recent slight hiatus in this blog’s otherwise regular schedule of productivity is easily explained: my annual two-week trip up and down the Northeast Corridor, in search of summer tourism, reunions with old friends, and of course drum majors. Many stories have been generated in the past two and a half weeks, but the one that is most present in my mind at the moment follows, here.

For fourteen summers, I’ve been fortunate to participate as a teaching staff member of the George N. Parks Drum Major Academy. I can count on being surrounded by a group of professionals who – in addition to being some of the finest teachers I know – are a pack of fun. It’s refreshing: more and more, the teaching business is full of standardized testing and core competencies and other concepts that have been known to suck the joy out of the whole operation.

At DMA, we teach musical conducting, showmanship, marching techniques, but most importantly, we teach future high school drum majors how to teach … and how to deal with leading people their own age. Adolescent peer leadership can be anywhere from “a challenge” to “thermonuclear diplomacy”. On occasion it can seem like a full-fledged, live-fire exercise in political science, with a dash of ‘Mean Girls’ thrown in.

Most of the DMA students are there for the first time, but some are “vets” – they get to be drum majors of their high school bands for a second year, and they come back to go through the program all over again, albeit with a different perspective (and a solemn vow not to give away the ending to the “rookies”). Even though I don’t teach at as many DMA clinics (nationwide) as some of my colleagues, this all means I see a rather large number of future DMs each summer; by my rough calculations, probably in the vicinity of 600 over the course of nine days every summer. (And I certainly don’t teach every single one of them.) Here and there I’ll encounter a vet, back for another DMA week, and I’ll remember breaking down their conducting video, or writing a quick comment about their visual signals’ clarity on a squad-competition score sheet; but it’s usually helpful if they jog my memory a bit.

So the story I’m thinking of is definitely out of the ordinary; but that’s why I like it so much.

Last summer, one of the members of my squad-competition company (four six-member squads) also ended up in my “TV room”, where we screen and evaluate the video of students’ conducting patterns which we recorded earlier that day. Rachel (although that wasn’t even close to being her name) was very nice, but let’s just say that if you’d opened the dictionary to the word “meek”, you might have seen her picture. Diminutive to begin with, she was very very quiet, and her body language was tentative – as if she was more than a bit intimidated by the intensity of the proceedings (we are nothing if not extra-intense), and maybe feeling like she was in over her head. But she participated in every activity and departed the DMA clinic at the end of the week clutching the certificate that confirmed that she’d done the work. I wondered how her season would go.

Fast-forward a year, to the start of this summer’s DMA clinic at that same location. Sometime during the first day, I crossed paths with Rachel, who was obviously now a vet. She stuck out her hand, and I shook it, and it was very honestly the firmest handshake I’d experienced since about Mother’s Day. So, I asked, how’d things go last year?

Great,” she said (making the kind of eye contact that made me feel as if she was cheerily staring me down, even though I had about five inches on her). A couple of sentences later, I definitely got the idea that she was about to have a terrific second DMA experience, one that would use her very positive high school band leadership experience as a foundation upon which to build.

She was still the same person … and different.

Throughout this past week, I saw Rachel darting around … connecting and interacting with many more people than just the five in her own squad … seeming to be having a grand time. When I mentioned it to a couple of my staff colleagues, they concurred. They remembered her; they’d noticed the New Rachel.

We do encourage DMA students to keep in touch with us throughout the fall marching season, to let us know how it’s going, to crow about their successes or to ask for help if they need it. But we don’t often get to actually see that they’ve gotten from point A to point B … from being an understandably nervous person upon whom the “drum major” title seems to weigh heavily; to being an experienced and confident student leader, prepared to befriend and support yet another struggling freshman who might otherwise quit band.

This week I got to see that transition – or at least the evidence that proved it had happened. It was a happy reminder about why teaching, in spite of all the peripheral complications that can be thrown at it, might just be the best job in the world.

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August 3, 2012 - Posted by | band, DMA, marching band | , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. DMA certainly had a similar effect on me! Oh, how I wish I could have paid a visit this year.

    Comment by amandaroederwrites | August 3, 2012 | Reply

  2. […] example of this which I wrote about a couple of years ago in this space, in a post called “New Rachel”. And at the end of last summer, I experienced a relative torrent of Facebook friend requests […]

    Pingback by The Unlikeliest of Heroes « Editorial License | July 25, 2015 | Reply


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