Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Timing Is Everything

In the past couple of years, I’ve used this space to offer up some thoughts regarding the All-State in-service professional development conference put on by our state music educators association. Mostly, these thoughts have been about things like meeting up with (and appreciating) former teachers, great (and not-so-great) workshop presenters, and the like. Lots of high-minded stuff, or at least attempts at same.

This year, I would like to reminisce a bit – and to bemoan the current state of affairs somewhat.

I’m perfectly happy to go to All-State. Going means that (beyond getting professionally developed) I get to cross paths with, or hang out with, a good number of fellow music teachers whose company I otherwise don’t get the pleasure of experiencing for most of the rest of the year.

But for the past few years, because of scheduling issues with an event venue or two, All-State has been held at the end of February or the beginning of March … rather than around March 20 or so, as had been the custom for (as I understand it) decades.

When it was held in that mid-March Thursday-through-Saturday time period, it served as something of a halfway mark for those of us who traditionally find ourselves staring down the barrel of eight bleak late-winter weeks between our February and April school vacations. If you can make it to All-State, you can make it to Patriots’ Day and the Boston Marathon. All will be well; anything is possible.

But that’s not really why I miss the mid-March meeting time.

The reason I miss it is: workshops would start in the host hotel and conference center around 10 o’clock on Thursday morning, after the keynote speech, and go till around five in the afternoon … and in between workshops all Thursday long (and Friday as well), an awful lot of otherwise very dedicated music educators would poke their heads in to the hotel restaurant/bar, on the way from one workshop to another, to see whether any college basketball powerhouses were perchance having their clocks cleaned by number-fourteen or number-fifteen or number-sixteen teams.

Yes, it’s true. Until recently, All-State always, ALWAYS coincided with the beginning of March Madness. Not on purpose, but like clockwork. Good morning, and welcome to All-State, and by the way good luck in your NCAA Tournament pool. Occasionally, word would filter around the venue – “Did you hear? Indiana’s in trouble.” “Did you hear? The 4/11 game went to triple overtime.” “Did you hear? Marquette’s winning, but Holy Cross is making them work for it.” (I guess I must have missed that particular All-State, since I about lost my voice at that game in the RCA Dome, yelling for the purple and white.)

I guess there’s just something about amateur (ha) athletics on the teevee that can provide fine opportunities for bonding experiences. Ah well. Now we’re reduced to trying to guess the over-under on how many inches of snow will fall while the All-State ensemble kids are registering in the lobby. We carry on somehow. But I miss all the checking-in-on-March-Madness that we did, all those years ago.

This brief and defiantly frivolous commentary comes to you courtesy of the Uphill In The Snow Both Ways Dept.; we now resume our normal overly philosophical blog, already in progress.

<Click.>  Ooooooooooooo… solfege…

February 27, 2013 Posted by | sports, teachers, television | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Repose and Cheerfulness

[Editor’s note: the title of this post is from a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote about the characteristics of a gentleman.]


The world of show business lost a remarkable participant earlier this week. Sadly, not many people on the American side of “the Pond” probably heard about it, at least if they were paying attention to the American news media. This particular gentleman was a number of things that tended to disqualify his passing from meriting 24-hour wall-to-wall coverage. He was a Shakespearean actor … he was very, very English … and by all accounts, he was a quiet and courteous person. Strikes one, two and three.

If you have ever chanced to see Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptations of Shakespearean plays, you have likely seen Richard Briers. His work might have been overshadowed by the star power of other people on screen at the time – anywhere from Mr. Branagh and Emma Thompson to Derek Jacobi and Judi Dench to Denzel Washington and even a very young Kate Beckinsale.

In England, the tributes from fellow actors and performers have been piling up since Briers’ death from lung disease on Sunday; they all speak of him as a gentleman. The BBC called him “one of Britain’s best-loved actors”; Kenneth Branagh himself described him as a national treasure, a great actor and a wonderful man”, Brier’s agent called him “a consummate professional and an absolute joy to work alongside”. These are all remarks that one might expect to hear about someone who enjoyed a success-filled, half-century-long career on radio, television, stage and screen – somewhat kinder than mere boilerplate press-release text, but still, on the standard side.

Other colleagues of Briers’ went further.

The critic for the UK newspaper The Guardian, Michael Coveney, described Briers as “always the most modest and self-deprecating of actors, and the sweetest of men.” And fellow television sitcom star Penelope Keith said in an interview, “He was always courteous, always generous and always self-deprecating … he was also such a clever actor that he made you feel secure.”

Keith’s remarks, in particular, came as something of a relief to me when I read and heard them.

The first time I ever saw Richard Briers was not in a stage performance of Shakespeare or George Bernard Shaw. It was on a black-and-white TV screen, when I was probably eleven years old. My parents were watching an evening of British situation comedies on our local public television station. I wandered into the room, heard the accents, and sat down.

At first I thought my father had probably gravitated toward this particular program because of the accents, and the fact that its story was set in a London suburb that looked rather strikingly like the West Midlands neighborhood where he had grown up. The houses were small; the back yards were, to this American suburban child’s eyes, positively tiny; and everything was various shades of brown and green (at least I assumed so, as the TV set was not very colorful, but I had been to the little town of Sutton Coldfield, and the houses were brown, the grass and hedges were very green, and the skies were gray a lot of the time).

The week after that, I made sure to wander into the TV room at that same time. And the week after that. And so on.

It was not American television. By this I mean the pace of the sitcom could be charitably described as “ambling”; there were very few huge studio-audience belly-laughs; there were no pyrotechnic displays, either visual or dialogue-based; the stories put the characters briefly into slight conflict or tension with each other but easily 95 percent of the time, their basic friendships and appreciation for each other remained obvious and undisturbed. And there was little or no insult humor. It was, quite honestly, gentle TV.

Not all British TV programming has been this way. All you have to do is stumble over a rerun of John Cleese’s “Fawlty Towers” or any installment from Rowan Atkinson’s “Blackadder” series to know that the English can play the insult-gag, raucous-entertainment game very well, thank you.

But this particular show, originally called “The Good Life” and renamed “Good Neighbors” by the American public-television stations that broadcast it, was something that TV had never shown me, up to that point in my mid-1970s childhood. In tone, if not in story, it reminded me strongly of my dad. And, for that matter, my mom and dad together.

Briers played Tom Good, a draftsman who decides <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELu_6SavE7U&gt; to stop being a cog in the English corporate/industrial work machine, and instead to pursue a life of self-sufficiency. He quits his job, and he and his wife Barbara set to work turning their home into that self-sufficient place: they farm their own food, make their own clothes, and use the barter system at least as much as currency. In the process, they horrify their upper-middle-class neighbor friends Jerry and Margo Ledbetter, an executive and his social-circle-obsessed wife. Jerry and Margo go to great lengths not to understand the Goods’ choice, but still are very fond of them. And the most attractive thing about the Goods and the Ledbetters is that they are obviously very great friends, with a very comfortable sense of humor and very stable relationships.

Not the situation American sitcoms tend to thrive upon, except in very rare, Cosby Show-like cases. But the actors make it believable.

As a kid (admittedly an unusual kid), I was all over it. Tom Good seemed like a very fine, friendly sort; and let’s just say I took note of Felicity Kendal, who played Barbara Good; but the main reason I kept coming back every week and watching “Good Neighbors” because they all, all of them, seemed like people you’d like to know.

Show business has been filled with actors good enough that their performances make audiences believe they’re that way in “real life”. Far too often as a kid, I grew to admire TV and movie characters, only to find out that the people responsible for creating those images were, indeed, creating merely illusions. The radio DJ’s voice sounded warm and inviting but his personality turned out to be cold. Not often did Mean Joe Greene turn out to actually be that softie who’d give his game towel to any little kid.

So it was a relief to find out that … thanks to my first impression of Richard Briers, which was “quiet, polite, slyly humorous, decent Tom Good” (watch this clip from the show and see if you don’t agree with me) … and thanks to my next impression of him, which was “the fatherly Leonato” in the Branagh adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing (and watch this clip from that film and see if he doesn’t in fact stand out from his co-stars just a little) … and thanks to video of any Briers interview I’ve seen in the last few hours, as I’ve scoured the Internet (the 21st-century response to the occasion of a famous person’s passing) … all contributed equally and similarly to an inescapable conclusion.

The man was a gentleman. And there aren’t nearly enough of those these days that could fill the gap that Briers left.

February 20, 2013 Posted by | celebrity, entertainment, Famous Persons, humor, television | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Delight in the Recognition

For there is nothing lost, that may be found, if sought.” –Edmund Spenser

You may find that having is not so pleasing a thing as wanting. This is not logical, but it is often true.” –Mr. Spock


[Optional soundtrack for this post, here.]

Sorry. I’ve been away for a while.

Quite kindly, a couple of people have inquired to see whether I’m still writing in this space.

I still am.

Even though I haven’t been.

Can’t say I haven’t had time. The year 2013 has been busy hereabouts; but everyone’s life is busy. The ways in which I spend my time are truly both the cause and the effect of the latest meme / catchphrase, “First-World Problems”. Busy (new) job. Busy side job. Large weather events. A side project or two. The joys of home ownership. The list could go on for a while, and all add up to the phrase my mother has often used: “what a good problem to have.”

Can’t say I haven’t had anything to write about. (Busy new job. Busy side job. Large weather events. A side project or two. The joys of home ownership.)

Also, in the month, there has been no lack of curious things said or done or referenced: on Sunday morning political debate TV shows … in the “laboratories of democracy,” <> as the invaluable Charlie Pierce calls state legislatures … in the news … and elsewhere. As well, in my own life, there have been events that could have been great “written conversation starters” … except that as full of personal observation as this blog has been, there are some topics I opt to back away from; some thoughts that I am happier to keep to myself; some sleeping dogs that it’s better to let lie.

(And I’m NOT talking about youthful singing sensations.)

If I were a genuine newspaper columnist, I’d be under contract to churn out seven hundred words every three days or so. But under the rules my current editorial boss (me) has laid out, I do write a lot … but I only post the results when the results coalesce into a lucid essay with a point that is a bit bigger than can be expressed in a Facebook status post.

Not that THOSE haven’t been fun to generate.


This morning, I read an online article that investigates why one particular social media website is as successful as it is, and compared it to a blog, saying this:

What is the No. 1 reason that people quit blogging? Because they can’t find and develop an audience. This has been true of every blogging platform ever made. Conversely, blogs that do find an audience tend to keep adding that type of content. This simple philosophy boils down to the equation: Mo’ pageviews = mo’ pages.”

My blog has, over time, seen its output focus in on issues of music, music education, current affairs, writing, golf, motivational quotes, and … oh. Well. Maybe it’s not quite as focused as some other blogs I’ve read that only deal with travel, or educational philosophy, or photography, or food, or 1970s science-fiction, or thinly-veiled advertising. They’ve been established with the purpose of dealing with one subject and one subject only; and since they’re still up and running, clearly they’ve identified and connected with an audience.

So okay, maybe I have focus only in the very vaguest sense SQUIRREL!! But I think I’m content with my scattershot content, and with my audience being, really, three groups of people:

One: the people who have visited, taken a look, and deemed the material interesting (or bizarre) enough that they want to subscribe to the blog and find out what comes next. As I’ve said previously, here, gracias to those people, for they are brave.

Two: my biggest critic. Me. I’ll go back and read some of the things that I wrote when this space opened for business – after having not read them for a long while – and think that they might suffice. And then I read other similar items and think, well, as long as I get practice via this space, I’ll never write that poorly again.

Three, and not least important: the people who stumble onto the blog and find something to read, whether they agree with the thoughts or not – the people who rarely leave comments but I know they visit because my “Site Stats” webpage tells me so.


One of the fun things I can do with this blog’s inner workings is find out what kind of search-engine terminology has brought online visitors here. I particularly like these examples, from just the last fiscal quarter:

[] “george parks starred thoughts” … not difficult to grasp why that’s among the most common searches.

[] “what accent does jared diamond have” … I must investigate this Diamond person; clearly he’s much more famous than I knew.

[] “it’s not the years it’s the mileage” … but I wonder how many of those searchers were looking for Indiana Jones quotes?

[] “colonel potter new year quote damn sight” … lots and lots and LOTS of variations on this search … and I guess if you want blog traffic, you talk about M*A*S*H.

[] “only the sith deal in absolutes” … I wonder how many people came looking for Sith and got saxophones?

[] “was gary burghoff a jerk” … variations on this come up a lot, somehow, and I’m always startled. Are you kidding?: “william christopher father mulcahy jerk”??

[] “linus van pelt douglas adams” … very curious about what these TWO people were looking for. Or maybe what this one person was doggedly looking for.

[] “who are the musicians on bob james courtship basketball theme” … which implies that someone other than me even remembers that song.

[] “meghna chakrabarti husband” … I think I would rather not intrude on that search. It can only come to a bad end.

[] “japanese exchange student ryoko” … now there’s a search whose author I probably know personally!

[] “articles on high school band being pointless” … I fear you will not find much to your liking hereabouts, good sir.

[] “shirley lowe latin” … we should all be alerted when someone is reminiscing about us.

[] “randy newman and battlestar galactica” … and that was not ME searching!

[] “tom wallace arranger bio” … lousy money-making “Hey Baby” chart, grumble grumble …

[] “quiet dignity and solemn grace” … frankly astonished that you were led here, humble reader.

[] “jenson publications inc” … honestly, LOTS of variations on this as well, as if there’s someone else out there in the world who bemoans the Hal Leonard Corporation’s ability to vacuum up smaller publishing companies like so many dust bunnies.

[] “ummb, silverado” … heh heh heh heh heh.

[] “moonraker michael palin” … I don’t have any idea what this person was looking for. I’ll trust that it was something interesting.

[] “is this a dagger which i see before me midi file” … well, I haven’t yet tried to write “Macbeth: The Musical”, but perhaps I ought to try.

[] “jackie evancho middle aged men” … sleeping dogs, dear reader. Sleeping dogs.


So, either by luck or design, people have visited. Not by the hundreds – unless the issue I’m writing about has been a pretty important one to people who know me well and know where to find me (or get word of the new blog post via social media communities which tend to be my personal echo chamber!). And in the last month or so, if the blog has had a fifteen-hit day, it’s been a pretty big deal.

But I’m not in it for the hits. WordPress probably would rather not hear me say that, but it’s true. I’m in it for the writing. And for the occasional moments when the writing helps someone else out.

So … I’m still here, quiet though I may have been. This has not been an official hiatus. It has not been a patch of writer’s block. It may have been the equivalent of the windup before the pitch; we’ll see.

In any case, I’ll be right with ya.


[Editor’s note: in a very short time, as it happens. As I went looking for a couple of YouTube links to include in this post, I spotted a current event that struck me firmly.]

February 20, 2013 Posted by | blogging, Internet, media, social media, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment