Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Minuteman Marching Band Memories, Part MCMXCIII -or- There You Are!

Twenty years ago tonight, I didn’t sleep a wink.

Not because I was nervous, or stressed out about a situation at work, or anything like that. Full of anticipation, yes, but that sort of thing rarely keeps me from sleeping outright.

No, I didn’t sleep AT ALL that night because: it was still going to be a few years before I figured out how to sleep aboard a moving vehicle. Planes, trains, automobiles … buses …

A convoy of buses left the UMass-Amherst campus on the night of November 10, 1993, at about eleven o’clock. I’d done a bit of work for the group that was being ferried westbound, and a couple of the people heading that group considered that I should come along for the ride, so I happily accepted. Took a couple of days away from work (which at the time had nearly nothing to do with what I’m doing for work now), packed my bags, and hopped on.

But as the view of streetlights of western Massachusetts gave way to the more sporadic highway illumination of Route 84, and probably the Tappan Zee Bridge, and then the dark hills of eastern Pennsylvania, punctuated only by the 3:30 AM glow of Wilkes-Barre as seen from Route 81, I settled into a routine: stare out the bus window, watch the dark grey scenery, try to doze … stare out the bus window, watch the dark brown scenery, try to doze … stare out the bus window, look down at the headlights of a passing car … try to doze …

Over the course of twenty years, a number of memories of that weekend have faded, but an equal number have remained permanently emblazoned on my brain, for four words’ worth of a good reason:

UMass at Grand Nationals.

It wasn’t the first time that the Minuteman Marching Band had performed “on the national stage”. They’d already been to two Presidential Inaugurations, so the organization was not exactly shy about that sort of thing. As if the UMMB has ever been shy about anything, really!

But this was going to be the first time the UMMB would perform at an event of national proportions at which all the attendees actually gave a toot about – knew something about! – were fanatic about! – the specific activity of marching band. At the Bands of America Grand National Marching Band Championships, people were going to know what they were looking at. Many people in attendance had probably seen some pretty high-level examples of the marching-and-music art form. Their standards were going to be a little bit higher than “–oh look, it’s a band!”

There was even going to be a documentary film crew on hand, to chronicle the trip.

So, as understandably excited as a lot of people were, nerves were also in play.

The weeks leading up to That Weekend had included their share of understandable stress. The band was the smallest it had been in several years – still larger than it had ever been when I was a marching member in the mid-1980s, but all things are relative. The snareline was down to five. And there were lingering worries about the field show the band was going to present.

The show was full of music from the movie “Hook”, as is now legend. I wasn’t privy to the daily struggles of getting the music on the field, but on the Friday night of Homecoming weekend, Mr. Parks asked Jen Boltz (drum major, 1988-89) and me to run the indoor alumni band music rehearsal the next morning, because “I’m going to need to give the ‘baby band’ my full attention.” We did, and he did.

 

Meanwhile, about three-quarters of the way to a high school in eastern Ohio, at which we were planning to stop and rehearse on our way to our eventual destination, the city of Indianapolis, I was still awake. The sun rose behind the six UMMB buses and I noted that on this November very-early-morning the scenery was still grey and brown, albeit less dark now.

My first instant-classic memory was of band manager Kevin Harris, sitting in a seat across the aisle from me, on whatever passed for a mobile phone in 1993. He was having a conversation reminiscent of a Bob Newhart comedy routine (“Abe, how many times have we told you? On the backs of envelopes. … I understand it’s harder to read that way, Abe, but it looks like you wrote it on a train coming down. … Abe, could you do this? Could you memorize it and then put it on the backs of the envelopes? … We’re getting a lot of play in the press on that.”). It went approximately like this:

Hi, I’m Kevin Harris, the manager of the University of Massachusetts band, and we’re traveling toward your truck stop, probably about thirty miles away, and I wondered if you might be able to provide breakfast for our group? … Yes, about thirty miles. … I’m sorry? … Six buses. … … … … … … No, sir, this is not a joke.”

I recall the late-night rehearsal at that high school being one of the more intense rehearsals I’ve ever seen. By the end of it, the people in charge of such things were beginning to consider (guardedly) that the Grand Nationals performances might actually fly. I worked hard to smile and stay out’ the way.

The band was scheduled for two exhibition performances that weekend: at 6 PM on Friday night the 12th, and at 4:45 PM the following afternoon. The complete “Hook” show was for Friday. The season’s “first” show (three other tunes and then the finale from “Hook”) was for Saturday.

Friday afternoon, we entered the Hoosier Dome (since then, re-named the RCA Dome, and then knocked over and replaced by the current Lucas Oil Stadium with its retractable roof) via the not-very-glamorous back door. Sectional rehearsals were held in various convention-ready exhibition halls – cavernous rooms full of not very musically-helpful acoustics; and then the band re-assembled for one last thought before heading into the actual Dome.

The speech that Mr. Parks gave to his band then … has also become legend, certainly for a couple of sentences: “When I was in a high school band, I always had those times when I kinda wished that I had a band that really worked and really cared, and a group of people that really wanted to be together, and all that sort of stuff. … And that’s you. You are my dream.”

But at the time, that wasn’t one of my instant-classic memories. I had to get those words later, from the documentary, for heaven’s sake! I was standing at the outside edge of the rather large crowd of uniformed band members, many of whom still seemed to have their heads full of thoughts like, “must remember that drill move. Must remember that release. Must remember where that drum major is going to be so I can see him.” Mr. Parks had nursed a rather insistent head cold for that whole weekend; his voice was not exactly ravaged, but it wasn’t exactly at its strongest either. So I could hear that he was saying something, but not what it was.

Instead, my second instant-classic memory (probably not unique to me, and probably not unique to the ensemble with which I was standing) was as we were ready to enter the Dome, standing inside a many-stories-tall airlock. The only other doors I’d ever seen, with my own eyes, that were that tall were the ones at Cape Canaveral that let the Space Shuttle out of its garage. And while I was having that thought, … slowly, ponderously, they began to open.

And there was the Dome. And there was the glowing white fabric that constituted the roof – looking for all the world like the actual sky on that bitter cold, cloudy November day. And there was the artificial turf field, with the NFL Colts’ logo, and the word “INDIANAPOLIS” in white lettering on a royal blue background adorning the back of the far end zone. And, to hammer home the point that this was now a very different Dome than the Dome in which the band had rehearsed the day before, there was the audience. Thousands of people. (Many of whom were probably thinking more about the scores that would be announced a half-hour from then, rather than about the band that was about to perform for them during that half-hour.)

That deep breath, followed by that first step forward, was an amazing and terrifying experience. And I wasn’t even going onto the field to perform.

Instead, I followed several other UMMB staff members and made my way up, up, up, … up!, … up the steps to the top of the field-level section of the home stands. Did I mention it was very high up, requiring many steps to get there? And we were nowhere near the actual press box. NFL stadiums go for sheer staggering scale, and they nail it.

The show began.

I had arranged the music for the opener, and almost before I had a chance to focus on it, the thing was done. And the (um) rather quick tempo of the ending of the tune had been marched brilliantly, and people clapped. A lot.

The rest of the show happened, and I don’t remember a lot of specific things, except that every so often I would notice something positive happening that hadn’t happened consistently before … or I would hear a particularly gorgeous musical sound and wish I had written those notes … and then the “Hook” portion of the show was complete. Our little eight-year-old vocalist had sung “not really… alone…” and reduced the audience to a blubbering pack of standing ovation people. And as the band tore into an encore arrangement of “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey?”, I joined the UMMB staff people as we almost literally danced our way down the steps of the center aisle back down to the sideline. And all the way down the steps, I instant-classically remember thinking to myself, saying to myself, and probably saying aloud and not caring how many people thought I was a little over-exuberant:

They did it they did it they did it they did it they did it they did it they did it.”

They did it for George. (To paraphrase one alumni writer: so as to become his dream and not his nightmare!)

They did it, of course, for the fans in the stands (all of whom now knew darn well who the UMass Marching Band was), because that’s what we always did, and still do.

They did it for themselves. Coming off the field, the smiles on the faces of the few 1993 band members that I knew personally confirmed my suspicions from my wild staircase descent: The kids are alright. And there was something new and even more confident about that band during the next season, even as early as pre-season band camp.

 

No, I didn’t sleep on the trip home, the straight run from Indy to Amherst, either.

But it didn’t bother me.

BOAfieldpass1993

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November 10, 2013 - Posted by | arranging, band, GNP, marching band, music, UMMB | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Wow Rob. Amazing that you have tracked this fantastic anniversary. This was the first time that the band had made any kind of effort with band parents and alumni. I remember working with GNP to get busses and a group of parents and alumni together to go out to Indy. Hotel space was limited, and we found a Days Inn on the East side of Indy (good thing I had spent four years at IU, so knew my way around, sort of). I planned a work trip around this to make sure I was there. I had to pick up Jeff Holmes at the Days Inn and get him over to the Hoosier Dome (pretty sure that’s what they called it back then) for rehearsal. Georgejasic Parks of course. The whole thing was a dream of sorts. Having spent a lot of time with IU Marching Hundred, I couldn’t have been more excited for many of those folks to see a college marching band from the east coast. My best memory other than outer body experience that even I had watching the two shows that the UMMB did out there, was seeing GNP give one of his amazing psyc talks to the band before they marched into the dome. The band in a big circle, GNP in the middle as always..I was ready to get out there.

    I knew that was the next step to something big. So many kids got sick, not quite as large a band as in past years, so many ‘issues’. What a performance. Just listening to crowd around us. Talking to my IU friends. It was awesome stuff. And thank goodness for Kevin Harris. So calm through everything.

    Thanks Rob, for bringing back some fantastic memories. Guess that’s why I write checks.

    Comment by Barry Pilson | November 10, 2013 | Reply

  2. […] have already described the UMass marching band going into the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis and showing the Bands of […]

    Pingback by The 31-Day Blog Challenge, Day Eleven: Pride Goeth… « Editorial License | May 11, 2016 | Reply


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