Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

On A Lighter Note

Acquaintance I would have, but when ‘t depends / Not on the number but the choice of friends.

         –Abraham Cowley


I don’t know what it was, but there was something different about DMA at UMass this summer.

Let’s be clear: my work with the George N. Parks Drum Major Academy isn’t really work. There are things to do, there is physical exertion to be exerted, there is teaching (and learning) to be accomplished … but every once in a while there are “gigs” that one looks forward to for something beyond just the paycheck. This is always one of them.

Let’s also be clear: I’ve done 32 of these clinics now. Sixteen summers, two per summer; math class. Every single one has offered something that I could take away, knowing that it would be a memory that would stay with me permanently.

Sometimes it’s been the success of a student who at the beginning of the week was looking very like a rookie. Sometimes it’s been making a connection with a staff colleague whom I had not known very well, before the week began. Sometimes it’s been a weather event. Sometimes it’s been some other unforeseen event, and how the staff and students responded to it. Sometimes it’s been a practical joke for the ages. Sometimes, it’s been one “line of dialogue” by a staff member. But always at least one thing.

Let’s also be clear: every summer I get to work at the DMA clinics located at West Chester University in Pennsylvania and UMass-Amherst. West Chester is a day shorter than UMass. If I’m analyzing students’ conducting video, it’s only for two 40-minute sessions per student instead of three. So comparatively, my contact time with individual students is a little less at West Chester – not disastrously, but it does give me a bit more opportunity to check in with UMass DMA students. Nobody’s fault – it is what it is.

With all that said: again … this most recent UMass DMA week had something different going on.

Maybe it was kicked off by the first video afternoon. Western Massachusetts was suddenly under a tornado warning, and the word went out to staff: keep your student groups right where they are – DON’T send them walking outside to the next stop in their three-classroom rotation. So my group, code-named “Starship B, TV 1”, stayed put, and got a 70-minute block to work on conducting, rather than just 40 minutes. By the end of that session, I was really good with names, even when the kids’ nametags were facing the wrong way.

Maybe it was coincidence that caused many of my TV-room students to also comprise the four six-member squads with whom I worked in the mornings, during squad competitions. By the time I parked myself in front of Squads 5 through 8 at the week’s closing exercises, I felt like I knew these characters better than usual.

There are no empirical measurements that I can use to determine whether it’s been a great summer for those connections.

But there is one non-scientific determinant that is making a serious play for attention as a unit of measurement.

I keep getting Facebook friend requests.

Relatively speaking, a lot of ’em.

Since I jumped into that social media environment several years ago, I’ve acquired an average of something like 0.75 to 1.00 new Friends following each DMA clinic. Someone remembered a piece of conducting advice, or a good joke, or a dumb joke, or just a smile, that I may have thrown out there … or heeded my regular call to “keep in touch with us! We want to know how your season is going!”, and followed through.

And yes, I do have Facebook friend privacy protocols that I put into play. There are some elements of my social media life that high school folks probably don’t need to see, or would want to!, at least till they get into and out of college, or onto the DMA Impact staff full of college band student leaders. Maybe not even then!

But I have had the privilege of keeping in touch with some very fine people this way, lately. They’ve taken what the DMA curriculum has to offer and run with it … and often, their success is not confined to the marching rehearsal field. Some of them are genuinely among the sharpest online wits, or kindest-sounding people, or both, that I know.

We’ll see what this summer’s response will end up being, not just with regard to “number, but the choice”, as Mr. Cowley wrote. But so far … fifteen.

I am humbled.

August 13, 2014 - Posted by | DMA, drum major, Facebook, friends, marching band, music, social media | , , , , , , , ,

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