Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

How Y’All Doin’?

I am reminded, by the Internets which may relied upon to remind us of important milestones like this (but may also be relied upon to utterly downplay other, slightly more earth-shaking anniversaries), of the thirtieth anniversary of a major moment in American cinematic culture.

A currently faintly-viral online article, posted yesterday, notes:

If you’re currently sat behind a desk, be it school or office, consider standing up, walking out, donning a trench coat and heading to a museum, in honour of the fact that Ferris Bueller’s Day Off took place 30 years ago this very day.

We know this thanks to a stunningly in-depth investigation by BaseballProspectus.com, which in 2011 managed to track down the exact game Ferris, Sloane and Cameron were watching at Chicago’s Wrigley Field (the Cubs vs the Braves, 5 June, 1985) by analysing who was on the field and how they fared in each inning.

It’s crazy to think it’s been 30 years since the John Hughes movie was released, and it still resonates and is shown in indie cinemas today.

Sure, it might not be as easy to feign illness in 2015, not least because you’re more liable to leave a trail of social media (plus dads don’t tend to wear trench coats and trilbys anymore, making it harder to emancipate your girl from high school), but that sense of needing to escape, even just to mooch about in town and try and gather some sense of perspective, is still something most of us can relate to.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off followed Hughes’ other cult classics The Breakfast Club and Sixteeen Candles and made $70 million at the box office despite having a budget of just $5 million and taking him just six days to write the script.”

If you’re currently a member of a particular group of collegiate musicians from those mid-1980s, this story probably of reminds you of two specific people.

One was the noted director of a noted college marching band who, shall we say, had an eye for great ways to make his band cool.

Attuned in a unique way to trending pop-culture phenomena – long before anyone used “trending” as a verb form – George Parks had already established a knack for putting music in front of his band that translated into instant audience recognition. Themes from the Superman and Rocky movies … Earth Wind and Fire’s “Let’s Groove” … the Frank Sinatra cover of “New York, New York” … just por ejamplo, prior to fall of 1986.

And in the years that followed, UMass audiences saw drum majors portraying Batman and the Joker (mere moments after Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson hit theaters) … heard the Phantom of the Opera demand of Christine (played by a nice lady from the color guard who was genuinely named Christine), “make your choice!” … saw Jack Sparrow hijack the drum major podium for the closing chords of a “Pirates of the Caribbean” show … and heard an 8-year-old girl, with nearly three hundred backup band members, sing about how “any star I choose watches over me, so I know I’m not alone – not really alone” …

to name just a few. He knew it wasn’t just familiar music that would win the day, although that surely was the core of the show. He knew that planning something visual, something unusual, something singularly memorable, was crucial.

So. Fall of 1986.

It wasn’t that “Twist and Shout” was a new tune. The Beatles had covered it two decades prior. And it wasn’t that the music was especially riveting, other than being catchy and danceable – although Michael Klesch captured the best elements of the Beatles’ vocals with his wind arrangement for the ages.

It was that there were new toys to be played with. No – more accurately, there were new toys to be employed in the master plan.

That season, the era of using megaphones to amplify the director’s voice during rehearsals had ended. The new technology was a set of loudspeakers that were fed a signal from a wireless microphone. No matter where the instructor was – high up on the viewing tower, down on the sideline, or somewhere on the field, her or his voice always came from the intersection of the front sideline and each 30-yardline – perfectly audible.

(This occasionally caused humorous rehearsal moments. “Turn and face me, please.” “WHERE ARE YOU!?”)

It also allowed Mr. Parks to make announcements to the halftime audiences without sending the text to the press box ahead of time.

It also allowed him to reproduce a particular iconic movie scene very faithfully. (It’s so iconic that all you have to type in the YouTube search box is “fer”, and it comes up in the first ten search possibilities: “ferris bueller twist and shout”.)

Makes sense: in “Ferris Bueller”, during his “Day Off”, Matthew Broderick ascended a Chicago parade float, and hijacked a dancing marching band’s performance of “Twist and Shout”, lip-synching the song into an unplugged microphone, to the astonished delight of the parade spectators (and the consternation of his school friends, Mia Sara and Alan Ruck).

Therefore, on the field at UMass, a member of the pit – whose skill set definitely included lead-vocalizing, and who looked more than enough like Matthew Broderick to pass in a crowd – hijacked a dancing marching band’s performance of “Twist and Shout”, actually singing the song, to the delight of football audiences. (About the only thing we didn’t include as part of that tune were two band members portraying the Sara and Ruck characters, now that I think of it. And the dancing Oktoberfest girls. But I digress.)

And this percussionist fellow didn’t just strut around on the sideline. He was not tethered by a microphone cord. He was set free to roam the grounds through the magic of wireless technology.

Hey, this was the mid-1980s. Wireless amplification was a big deal.

And so was our singer. He skipped and bounded along the sideline … off the sideline … past the restraining fence between field and stands … up into the stadium seats … singing and dancing and high-fiving (also a fairly new and exciting invention, at the time) and clearly enjoying the hell out of himself and the experience.

You couldn’t watch him do his thing and not grin. Unless you had to be playing a wind instrument, in which case grinning made playing tougher. But whatever stressful things were going on in his life, in the two minutes it took to perform the tune, our vocalist clearly had set them aside, and nothing else mattered in the world than having a blast singing, and making sure everyone anywhere near him was having a blast watching him do it.

It was as if the crowd turned into one giant colon-and-closed-parenthesis, long before emoticons were invented. Couldn’t help but smile.

Whenever the band’s introduction to the tune began, he would don the wireless headset, point at the crowd and call out:

How y’all doin’!?”

Same call, every single time. And the audience was always doin’ great, and let him (and us) know it.

In our more fatigued moments, the phrase might have been spoken with just a touch of gentle mockery … yeah, we’ve played this thing nearly enough times now that “how y’all…!” is starting to be cliché. BUT … when push came to shove, when it was showtime, and when we had to be honest with ourselves … it was perfectly indicative of our band’s personality.

You’re gonna love us, whether you like it or not!

It’s of zero surprise to me, or anyone else I know from those days, that this gentleman is still doing this sort of thing, for a living. Seems to me he was designed, from the get-go, to front a band – preferably a Jimmy Buffet-style band, but whatever.

The first Saturday that we put “Twist and Shout” out there, in front of a live audience, I would say I learned a little something about stage presence, bravado, reckless abandon, and sheer joie de vivre, from him.

In fact, the next season, the band played “Twist” again … well, it was a crowd favorite, so why not? … and as one of the drum majors, I was tasked with conducting it. During our pregame performance at the University of Delaware, after cueing the final chord, I turned around to the audience, both arms flung in the air so as to say to the crowd, “you’re gonna love us!…”

And nearly injured our vocalist guy. Didn’t realize he’d climbed up onto the conducting podium for the last few bars of the thing, and was standing right behind me. Caught him high on the shoulder; nearly knocked him clean off the box. Whoops. Sorry ’bout that, chief…

But that whirl and YAY!! of mine had not been previously wired into my personality or performance. At all.

And what does that formerly shy person blame for that personality adjustment? Well, hanging around that particular band director, of course. Hard not to pick up on the energy!! and such …

But also, I am very willing to admit … it came from working to rise to our vocalist’s level of performance.

So, Dave Soreff

how y’all doin’?



June 6, 2015 - Posted by | band, drum major, entertainment, friends, GNP, marching band, movies, music, social media, Starred Thoughts, technology, UMMB | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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