Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.


Ever watch someone (or someones) do their thing, and only after it’s over do you realize how much preparation and practice and work it must have taken to get to the point where it was made to look easy?

For me, whether it’s music or drama or sports or public speaking or teaching or whatever … I most enjoy myself when I don’t have to worry (“will they make it to the end of the tune? can they drive 90 yards in two minutes?”) but instead I can just watch and marvel. The best performances are the ones that not only make it look easy … they make you wish you could join the performers … in fact, the performers make it look so easy that you think, “you know, I could do that; that doesn’t look hard at all.”

Once upon a time, someone wisely said, “the moment you stop entertaining, your audience starts evaluating.”

So yesterday morning, I got entertained.


In this case, I was a little closer (personally and professionally) to the performing group than would be considered average, so I was a bit nervous going into the event. The band alumni stomach-butterflies flapped their little wings, and my usual music teacher “error detection and correction” instincts readied themselves. On top of that, I’d already seen a few other similar groups do their thing upon the teevee, and I’d seen occasional (understandable) struggles with logistical and meteorological challenges, so something of a precedent had been set. This particular performance concept was fraught with potential pitfalls – I’d once been in the metaphorical shoes of the morning’s performers, in fact. So: we must be vigilant … and we must actively pull for the next group on the starting line.

It was the Macy*s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. It was 30 degrees and, um, breezy in Herald Square. It was an opportunity to try to fit nearly 400 musicians and visual performers into a space the size of a suburban post office parking lot, at most. And the UMass Minuteman Marching Band was about to to make that attempt.

After NBC’s Matt Lauer and Al Roker stumbled through a relatively (for network television) effusive introduction, the band entered the stage on a dead run … the drumline cranked up … and they were off. And they were killin’.

After ninety breathless seconds, the people sitting in the room with me were breathless ourselves. The blur that had been the UMass performance of “Big Noise from Winnetka” hadn’t allowed us to get anywhere near becoming “evaluators”.

Holy heck, were those kids “on.”

And then I calmed down a bit and thought, with classic 20/20 hindsight, “well of course they were going to do well; how could we have doubted.” So what if the performance in front of the Macy*s department store is the musical equivalent of the 40-yard dash? So what if the air temperature was below freezing and the “real feel” was well below that? Yeah, yeah; whatever. Some groups stare live national television air time in the face and flinch. Other groups have the spotlight hit them … and they hit it right back.


In the case of that UMass band: whether its fans think of it as, “since John Jenkins came along,” or “since George Parks came along,” or “since Thom Hannum came along,” or “since the first Inaugural Parade,” or “since the first Grand Nationals show,” or “since the Sudler Award,” or since some other worthy milestone … for quite a long time now there’s been something about the way that ensemble is organized, instructed, trained and motivated, which quite simply predicts a certain level of achievement. There are slight variations from performance to performance because that’s what happens when imperfect humans are involved; but the range of expected outcome that is not terribly wide. On top of which, these methods of instruction and inspiration (or very similar versions thereof) have been carried from the UMass campus by UMMB alums to a number of other campuses, and are yielding comparable results. There’s a lineage that’s been established.

There’s little doubt that Thom Hannum’s drumline will get the job done; and yesterday did they ever. (Thom’s standards tend to be almost impossibly higher than those of the rest of us mortals, meaning that if there happen to be flaws, we probably won’t spot them anyway.) There’s little doubt that the band – winds, percussion, guard – will generate an exciting, engaging performance; and yesterday that poured off the TV screens of America in waves.

In a previous post, I ascribed the characteristic of confidence … of “earned swagger” … to one other marching ensemble. The idea was, there’s a certain self-assurance that will allow a group’s members to step up to the plate and know, know that they’re going to hit this one out of the park. You might say it’s in their organization’s DNA. They don’t talk trash … they don’t strut … they don’t pause dramatically and point to the right-field upper deck.  They just step into the batter’s box with an air of “we got this”, see the pitch all the way from the mound to the plate, swing, and deposit the ball ten rows deep in that upper deck.

Quite honestly, UMass has got that.

The preparation which they carry out … which they have done for some time now … which they have come to embrace as a routine, as something that is required in order to properly do business … allows them to enter the field, or the street, or the concert hall, and instinctively know that if they do what’s necessary, they won’t have to worry about the technical-merit scores – so they can concentrate on the artistic-merit scores. They’ll bring precision and pizazz, power and class, and they will nail it.

So when Eastern-time-zone Americans turned to their TV sets yesterday morning at about 11:20 (and then the rest of the country had their chances at 12:20, 1:20 and 2:20 Eastern time), they got hit in the chops with the sight and sound of a band whose performance was distinctly different, unquestionably higher-powered, and more aggressively fun than anything similar that had appeared yet that morning.

No fair to compare collegiate bands to high school bands, you’d say, and we would of course acknowledge this as true in most cases. There were high school bands that performed well; and the James Madison University band acquitted itself well at the beginning of the parade, no doubt. But UMass – every single band member – effectively reached through the TV screen and grabbed the TV audience and said “you’re going to love us, whether you like it or not.”

(Sound familiar, fellow alums?)

Enthusiasm. Excitement. Energy. Intensity. Excellence. Holy smokes, did the NBC audience get that, in spades.

We got this … and you’re going to love it.”

Because, thanks to a long tradition of hard work by legions of people – and a very committed handful of people in particular – it’s in our DNA.


November 29, 2013 - Posted by | band, current events, entertainment, GNP, marching band, Starred Thoughts, television, Thom Hannum, UMMB | , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Yes..it is genetically hardwired.

    Comment by sarv | November 29, 2013 | Reply

  2. […] … what about all that stuff I wrote, in this space, three years ago, about excellence being in that band’s DNA? It wasn’t untrue. And yet, while you can build a foundation … if you don’t […]

    Pingback by Resting On Laurels « Editorial License | September 16, 2016 | Reply

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