Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Don’t Be Mean … We Don’t Have To Be Mean

A nice compliment was paid to my alma mater’s band this morning.

Apparently there are a number of online articles which assess and rank college football programs in the Mid-American Conference. The various categories include best stadium, best uniform, non-conference schedules, conference rivalries, and now, this morning – marching bands.

This morning’s piece featured one YouTube link for each band in the MAC, so that readers could watch and listen for themselves, and presumably agree with the author’s assessments (or not). The comment section so far has been relatively courtly and respectful – perhaps there’s a very active moderator at this website, or perhaps it’s too early for the college band trolls to have descended.

Of the 13 schools in the conference, UMass came in at … wait for it … number one.

Woo hoo!

Speaking as a completely biased UMass band alum, any time anyone wants to pay that organization a compliment, I’m all for it. The author’s compliment read as follows:

Although the [#2-ranked Ohio University] Marching 110 is probably better known to the average sports fan, particularly after the attention they’ve gotten in the last few years, the Minuteman Marching Band is known — within the band world — as one of the nation’s best. They are one of only four marching bands from outside the major athletic conferences to win the John Philip Sousa Foundation’s prestigious Sudler Trophy, which has been described as “the Heisman Trophy of the collegiate band world.” If you care even the slightest about marching bands, you owe it to yourself to seize any chance you get to see this band perform.

So why (my dear readers may muse) does it sound like Your Faithful Correspondent is gearing up to be down in the mouth?


Well, I’ve actually only got one gripe about the article. It has nothing really to do with the placement of bands #2 through #13. The author does a pretty nice job of staying self-deprecating. “Q. What was I thinking when I agreed to rank the marching bands of the Mid-American Conference? A. I wasn’t.” He notes that “what you like [in a marching band] is largely a matter of personal preference. … There’s no accounting for taste [but in Latin].” At the end of his(?) introduction to the piece, though, he(?) writes, “With that said, I do have credentials to support my opinions: 8 years as a marching band participant and a degree in music. So if you disagree with me, your [taste] is probably wrong!”

Okay, whatever. I opine in this space, too, sometimes with very little credibility going in, so I must avoid throwing stones from my glass house.

Here’s what I had trouble with, though: regarding the bands that the author stuck down toward the bottom of the list, the assessments got a little nasty. True, if you’re going to rate bands, honesty is a good policy; but you can always couch it in politeness if you try hard enough. Creative writing requires creativity sometimes, and since this assessment is admittedly unscientific, no need to dispense with social graces in favor of hard cold facts.

Starred Thought®: Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.

If I were an alum (or a current member!) of some of those bands, I doubt I would care to read sentences like these:

Here’s a video of [one of the bands] giving an uninspired performance of mediocre arrangements of some outstanding music.”

This video is somewhat typical of what I’ve seen from [one of the bands]: a reasonably well-written and tolerably well-played show is marred by poor marching.”

Here [one of the bands is] playing at a high school stadium, and looking and sounding for all the world like a high school marching band.”

Decent, but not great, and really, generally unremarkable.”

Every one of these bands, I’m sure, runs out on the field with the adrenalin pumping. Every one of them works hard in rehearsal, otherwise they can’t sound as good as they do, regardless of whether someone thinks they’re the 13th best band in the conference. And every member of every band takes pride in their work. Or else, heaven knows, they wouldn’t still be participating in an activity which takes such over-the-top and unnecessary flak on a regular basis … often from people who have never played an instrument, probably have no idea what they’re looking at anyway, and launch their abuse from the smug safety never having been gutsy enough to march, themselves. (Cowards!; and a longer topic for another time.)

Starred Thought®: Be a builder, not a wrecker.

So at least the author of this piece claims to have some knowledge of the subject. But it doesn’t mean he can’t be tactful about it. Or even maybe just list the top five school bands in the conference and leave everyone else to claim #6. I guess I’m just taken aback that someone who claims to have marched, presumably throughout all of his high school and college days, still feels okay about descending into that particular brand of snark. It may not be the smartest thing to set fire to a boat you’re sitting in.

So, again, as an alum of this author’s #1-ranked band in the MAC, I offer humble appreciation. If I have my band-alum bias switch in the “off” position, I still think my alma mater has a lot going for it, to say the least. One of the commenters politely suggested that the #1 ranking in “technique and difficulty goes to UMass, style and entertainment value goes to Ohio”, and my band-alum bias switch automatically snapped back to “on”. Hey! Ever seen that crowd? Entertainment!! Also, my sliver of experience as a performer, instructor and designer in the activity might help me weigh in, whether the alumni bias switch was “on” or “off” … but this is America! Express yourself!

And the author of this piece did. And it’s fine.

Starred Thought®: Go out of your way to treat people kindly.

If I were a member of one of the #13 through #10 bands, though, I might wish to be forgiven for being a little miffed.


P.S. Extra bonus points for anyone who identifies the source I used for the title of this post.

August 16, 2013 Posted by | band, Internet, marching band, music, Starred Thoughts, UMMB | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments