Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

We Give Thee Thanks For Glorious Days

Here’s another example of “I’m weird like that”.

For some reason, I’ve kept hold of some sort of evidence that today is the anniversary of a momentous occasion in my professional life. I could well be classified as a calendar pack rat.

I got a phone call from a friend of mine, and as was (and still is) our custom, we launched into a lengthy conversation; “how’s life?” and all that. Most times, when the phone rings, the route between “Hello?” and “all right, I gotta go let the dog out” takes an hour to navigate; and it’s an hour that usually seems like far less time than that.

I like friends like that.

I like them whether they ask me intriguing questions like, “how’d you like to write for a big college band?”, or not.

Fun question, though.

Somewhere close to the beginning of the phone call I’m thinking of, that question indeed arose. I said, “… …” Well, I didn’t say much for a moment, but finally I did throw the face into gear and asked, “what’s going on?”

Well, you’re talking to the new director of the University of Delaware band.”

Congratulations!” should have been the thing that instantly came out of my mouth, because – with respect to East Overshoe State College – the University of Delaware ain’t just East Overshoe State College.

It’s a major university with a big ol’ band. People have heard of the University of Delaware. I mean, Joe Biden, for openers.

One of the reasons that, again, my mouth was frantically paging my brain, waiting for instructions … was that the University of Delaware wasn’t just any band, or just any school, within the context of the recent shared band experience of my friend and me. We did, after all, march together at the University of Massachusetts.

How to analogize? It was kinda like being asked to join the coaching staff of the Toronto Maple Leafs after having played for the Montreal Canadiens. By one of your former Habs linemates, who is now the Leafs’ GM.

In fact, these two friends, who were on the way to qualifying as the Lifelong variety, had started out as two of the three UMass drum majors in the fall of 1987. Our big road trip that year was called the “Southern Tour”. We didn’t nearly make it to the actual South – the Mason/Dixon line was never in danger of being crossed – but it was a solid six hours of bus travel south from western Massachusetts. The kind of bus ride where you pointedly took your shoes off – this was going to take a while. And the centerpiece of the trip was the UMass/Delaware football game.

For quite a long time, UMass and Delaware had played football in the same conference. Which, again, is a little like saying the Habs and the Leafs had a history of enjoying a friendly hockey tilt now and again. The rivalry might not have been as famous as Ohio State and Michigan, or Auburn and Alabama, but when you were in the middle of it, it was plenty foam-at-the-mouth, thanks.

The bands were polite to each other (no video of band brawls!) … but they were also interested in making sure the crowds knew which school was the top dog at halftime, too.

For a lot of UMass band alumni, all you have to say is, “Delaware 1981”, or “Delaware 1983”, or in my case, “Delaware 1987”, and they use their imagination and fill in all the gaps.

So, a former UMass drum major is saying that she’s heading up the rival band now.

Well, … this could be fun.

I hadn’t gone into lockjaw mode because my friend had asked me to write for her band. She had a knack for doing that. When she taught in the New York public schools, I got a couple of calls – “I got a tune I want to do with my jazzers – how fast can you write it?” She had been assistant director at a prominent Philadelphia-area university (curiously, one that shared a faintly intense rivalry with our alma mater in the world of men’s basketball), and somewhere in there, she called and asked, “mind if I steal a couple of your charts?”

As if the answer to either of those questions wasn’t a complete gimme.

So my brief pause, following this latest offer to pull me into association with yet another of my friend’s teaching hitches, had nothing to do with yea or nay.

I was just taking note that, well … once is an event, they say aphoristically, and twice is a coincidence. Holy heck: I’m involved in a pattern, then.


So, testing the waters with an arrangement of a Barbra Streisand tune, and following up with a particular Beatles song … and then swerving back and forth amongst such justly famous performers and composers as Erich Korngold and Huey Lewis and that guy Tchaikovsky and Andrew Lloyd Webber and Meat Loaf (stop right there!), I’ve had the great good fortune and fun of getting to be some small part of the most recent incarnation of the University of Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hen Marching Band.

That incarnation just celebrated its twentieth year under the direction of my good friend from the eighties. The band has performed in front of national high school marching band championship audiences, and in support of a national-championship Division I-AA football team, and in front of the President of these United States and a certain Delaware alum who was his running mate. “How they do things in Delaware” is a topic that has been featured at a national college band directors’ event.

And at least partly because of her efforts, that incarnation of the UD band is on very good terms with a certain other college band from western Massachusetts.

My friend has some idea of how to do things right, in the band world.

I’ve just felt fortunate to be along for that ride, in some capacity.

Not going to discuss the pros and cons of “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” … here, at least … but it’s safe to say that I hitched my wagon to the right star.

I’m a friend of Heidi Sarver.

I get to write for her band.

Those are two sentences I love to be able to type.

Twenty years ago today, it became clear that those two sentences were indeed not a coincidence.

At the time, it would have been absurd to try to imagine life that far into the future. Sometimes even the question “where do you see yourself in five years?” is a ridiculous question – butterflies, and flapping, and Tokyo, and all that.

Hindsight being 20/20, though, at least one thing is clear: for the experience of arranging music for a Big College Band … and for all kinds of good stuff that’s happened in my life because of that phone call in the middle of 1995 … I’ve got my good friend Heidi to thank.

I think she knows that, … but it’s worth getting it in writing.


June 13, 2015 - Posted by | arranging, band, friends, marching band, UDMB, UMMB | , , , , , , , ,

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