Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.


If you ever saw my (um) cluttered house, you might doubt this next statement, but: I try to be a detail-oriented fella.

In fact, because of the confluence of three of my interests, it’s conceivable that I could be classified as a Major League Detail Guy. (If only I really did live up to the standards of such a title all the time; but that’s another lament for another time.)


First Life Interest: I used to be a journalism guy, officially. Now I’m just an observer of the profession; but the training never really leaves you. As I pursued an undergraduate degree in journalistic studies, the emphasis was on accurate reportage, getting the facts straight, avoiding the misquoting of sources, double- and triple-checking multiple sources so as to report actual confirmed facts. Who what where when how, with a big side order of why.

Out in the big bad real world of journalistic endeavor, my first and only job was as an editorial assistant for a microwave-engineering technical journal. My life there was dominated by two activities:

[1] Making red marks on papers, indicating MISTAKES! in spelling, grammar, syntax and such; and making sure that magazine pages being readied for publication followed our established stylistic guidelines. There should be THIS much space between headline and body copy; the line dividing text columns should be THIS thick; THIS item should be in boldface but THIS item should not.

And [2] opening the mail, reading the press releases that our advertiser companies sent us (and sent us, and sent us), and boiling them down into little publishable blurbs for the magazine’s “New Products” section. Each blurb needed to include all the important details of whatever product it was, shouldn’t include the extraneous ones, and hopefully interested readers enough that they would consider making a purchase or two. In this role, I was less a journalist and more of a marketing surrogate; but that, often as not, is life at a trade magazine. The rules were the same: get it right, down to the last little tiny detail. Because the tiniest mistake, paradoxically, almost always seems to get noticed immediately, and makes the whole magazine look bad.

Speaking of the question of “is anyone really going to notice a small error?”…


Second Life Interest: I’m a musician. Never mind the music-teacher aspect of it, which requires me to stay organized with regard to grading, materials, budgets and the like. That part is definitely more of a challenge for me. But I’m thinking of my life as a rehearsing and performing musician.

In baseball, if you get a base hit three times out of every ten trips to the plate, you have very nearly punched your ticket to the Hall of Fame. On a math test, three out of ten will not do it for you.

On a math test, for that matter, if you answer nine questions out of ten correctly, our current system of grading has you in the A range. (Barely, but it does.) But in a concert, if I play nine notes out of every ten correctly … if I screw up just one rhythm out of every ten … if I interpret 90 percent of the articulations correctly … it’s obviously not perfect. In the music world, it’s definitely not an A-minus performance. And at least with regard to the pitches and rhythms, if not the more expression-oriented details of music, audience members will notice the ten percent that ain’t right somehow (even if they don’t know why it ain’t).

In, say, a choir with twenty members, if two of the singers are singing a wrong note, wrong rhythm, wrong word … or if they’re not in the same place in the music as everyone else … it’s noticeable. If the chorus is 250 strong and ninety percent of them are nailing it … that’s still twenty-five people who are out to lunch, even if only for a moment.

So, paying attention to details – ALL the details! – in that world is vitally important if you want to convince people that you’re a decent musician and this is a quality performance.


Third Life Interest: I’m a sci-fi nerd and I always have been.

Sit me down with a snack and a TV tuned to Star Trek reruns and I’m good for the afternoon. Park me in front of any Star Wars film (except bits of Episode I, and most of Episode II) and I won’t bother you for a good long while. More to the point, I can tell you in rather exacting detail why I can’t watch parts of Episode I (almost any scene featuring Jar Jar Binks or the young Jake Lloyd, who might by now be a fine actor but wasn’t in 1999) and why Episode II is borderline unwatchable (too many details to include here; you’ll have to take my word).

From my days as a seventh-grade student who suddenly realized he was surrounded by several other people who were willing to breathe the words “Battlestar Galactica” in public, to my early college days having lunch with members of the science-fiction club who were without doubt the precursors to the “Big Bang Theory” cast … I’ve been associated with folks who are borderline obsessive about details. Dr. McCoy is a Lieutenant Commander so his uniform sleeves have one solid and one broken braid around them not two solid! Vipers don’t launch from the Battlestar’s outboard landing bays! And Doctor Who’s scarf as worn by Tom Baker was never shorter than 12 feet. Everybody knows THAT. (Come to think of it, his name isn’t “Doctor Who”, either.)

Taking it one step further, and allowing two of these Life Interests to collide: I can also speak in mind-numbing detail about certain science-fiction film scores. I had a moment of blog-posting on this subject once, and that should probably suffice. (To wit: there are no less than seven distinct leitmotifs in the Star Wars score, associated with characters, groups or concepts – in Episode IV alone. And that’s probably more than you cared to know.)


The question is, as always – how much attention to detail is too much?

Maybe the place where this is all allowed to fall apart, at least in my world, is the floors of my house, which tend to be filled with piles of papers, books and other fallout from a busy life. But, as my father used to say, at least they’re organized heaps…


March 21, 2013 - Posted by | journalism, music, science fiction | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. On the subject of sci-fi and associated music, I was watching an old episode of Lost In Space on Hulu.com a while back, and happened to see the theme credited to one Johnny Williams. I looked it up thinking, “Nah, must be a coincidence.” For one thing, it was hard to get my head around him being called Johnny, in an official credit no less, and for another, I didn’t think he was old enough, because I still picture him at the age he was when Star Wars Episode IV was released. But, there it was among the many great film scores of John Williams, the TV theme for Lost In Space, as well as The Time Tunnel, and probably others I’ve forgotten about.

    Comment by Steve Robinson | March 21, 2013 | Reply

    • One does have to work hard to wrap the brain around the “Lost In Space” composer credit, but it’s true. So is this: Johnny Williams was likely one of the session pianists for the cast album of the original West Side Story. –Whoa.

      Comment by rhammerton1 | March 21, 2013 | Reply

  2. Perhaps my favorite line: “In the music world, it’s definitely not an A-minus performance.”

    Comment by Julie | March 21, 2013 | Reply

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