Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

A Brief Pause to Remember

[Ed. Note: I posted the following thoughts on Facebook a year ago today; and was reminded of that posting this morning, thanks to Facebook’s curious habit of telling people exactly what they said a year, two years, five years, etc., etc., ago. So, on the occasion of a particularly premature passing … I’ve adjusted just one word (to reflect the passage of time), and here it is: a tip of the cap.]


The color guard guy and the arranger were sitting at the bar, in the West Chester (PA) Holiday Inn, the night before DMA got going. The conversation wound around to designing field shows. The color guard guy looked over at the arranger, and said, “Really – the way you write makes my job so much easier.”

It might have been the first time the arranger had known for sure that the color guard guy thought he was actually okay.

The arranger accepted the compliment, but raised his eyebrows a bit: he hadn’t done anything *consciously*, while writing, to cause life to be easier for the color guard guy. (The arranger was, however, relieved, because he had seen what it could be like when the color guard guy *didn’t* think you were okay. He could be, um, lacerative.)

The arranger is pleased to report, though, that since then he has paid much more attention to the visual elements of marching shows.

He hopes the color guard guy has noticed; although he suspects that the color guard guy has his hands full dealing with the color guard of “the Pride of the Great Beyond”.

It’s been exactly seven years, which feels like both forever-ago and just-yesterday. Curious how that is.

Miss ya, Donnie.

March 21, 2016 Posted by | band, DMA, Facebook, friends, marching band, UDMB | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


I’ve been away.

I haven’t been off the grid totally, but regular readers of the Humble Blogge will note that my contributions to it have not been up to my usual frequency.

I’ve also been pretty scarce in the happy world of Facebook, an environment in which I can usually not be muted enough for some people’s tastes.

Ordinarily, I could point to the normal acceleration of life when you [1] work a full-time job, [2] work as a church musician, [3] any number of other reasons that aren’t really excuses. For heaven’s sake, man! You’ve got subscribers to tend to! (No, they didn’t pay money or anything … but they cared enough upon discovering the Blogge to decide to follow it. So.)

It’s not that I have writer’s block. Heaven knows there’s been more than enough to make comment upon, for example, in the last few months since That Guy decided to run for office, and then people have started to figure out that he’s just not going away. (Yes, the That Guy who has been referred to by one commentator as the Short-Fingered Vulgarian and by another as a Vulgar Talking Yam, and … interesting how that particular word, that exact word, has stayed front-and-center so much lately.)

The Presidential race … the poisoning of a whole city’s water supply … there has been plenty of infuriating stuff to go on about, to rail against, in the last half a year or so. It all deserves the verbal beatings that many other online writers have administered. With few exceptions, I haven’t.

Again, it’s not that I can’t come up with the words. But lately, the myriad awful topics that you’d think would inspire me to take to the computer keyboard and have at it … have been so off-the-charts awful that all I can do is commit the computer-keyboard equivalent of the phrase:

I Can’t Even.

I just can’t!

Por ejamplo, I think about the Talking Yam’s latest revelation of stupid or arrogant or authoritarian or pandering (honest to God, man: “Two Corinthians”? Can you at least try to learn the lingo that would keep you from revealing yourself as an ignoramus? Actors do research for their roles all the time! Did no one toss you a clue about that? Come to think of it, who would want to be That Guy’s advisor? Clearly he takes advice from exactly nobody) …

OK, I guess maybe I can.

But for the most part, I’ve considered the patently miserable news items that get reported daily, and I’m so mad or frustrated that all I’ve been able to muster is a silent version of “…gah!!”

Civilization appears to be falling apart, or exploding, or some curious Industrial Light and Magic version of a combination of the two … and I can hardly bring myself to write about it.

What kind of decent blogger am I, anymore?

So maybe here’s my alternative:

Try to throw as much light into the world as possible.

Yesterday, I thought about National Marching Arts Day and got all sentimental in this space … and had a couple of nice responses from marching friends that made me think: maybe (while not ignoring our country’s potential slide into fascist/narcissist rule) the effort to distribute kindness and positivity into the world might not be such futile work.

So, I guess, here comes the next in a series of Pollyanna postings:


In the last little while, I’ve stumbled onto three examples of Simple Delight.

First: during the Montreux Jazz Festival three years ago, the terrific jazz pianist Diana Krall was concertizing, along with a band full of really fine musicians. You don’t get to play at Montreux unless you are pretty skilled; but there was a moment of utter giggling admiration that I happily play and replay and replay.

Krall’s band was playing “Just You, Just Me”, a tune made popular by Nat King Cole … but they were playing it at a breakneck tempo that Nat King Cole probably never attempted. Stuart Duncan, one of Krall’s sidemen, was taking an improvised solo on violin and just … simply … killing it. He sailed to the end of his solo, and the audience applauded – but the normally taciturn Krall topped them. “Stuart Duncan, woo hoo!” she called out, genuinely giggled, and then turned slightly away from her microphone and said to Duncan, “you … are … ri-DICulous!”

Anyone can applaud a jazzer solo, but when another very skilled practitioner compliments you, I imagine you file that away for future use.

Second: in the run-up to the release of Episode VII of the Star Wars trilogy (… yeah … I know … so? …), there were a number of videos posted online that exhibited the rather emotional delight of fans and professionals alike at the prospect of the franchise’s triumphant return to the big screen. Their sometimes teary response to trailers and leaked photos from the production revealed Star Wars’ place in the hearts of kids who grew up in the seventies and eighties with the original SW film. Their appreciation had a lot to do with tiny hints that in fact, J.J. Abrams was going to honor those memories … he was going to make a movie that tipped its cap to the fans that, after all, were responsible for the franchise’s popularity.

The video that really made me smile, though, was the one which showed the Episode VII official trailer along with the first-time-seeing-it videotaped reactions of two of its actors. Neither Daisy Ridley nor John Boyega were even close to being born when Luke Skywalker first held his father’s lightsaber and Han Solo asked us never to tell him the odds. But their reactions were as unequivocal as they were in complete contrast to each other. Clearly they’d only seen a small amount of footage, probably the scenes they’d actually been in, and possibly without post-production optical effects added.

Boyega shouted, “yes … yes … yes … yessss … YES … YES!!”, and then vaulted over the back of his couch out of joy and triumph. Ridley curled up further beneath the blankets on what looked like her hotel-room bed, wiped tears from her eyes, and managed to choke out, in her nearly-impenetrable London accent, “…ohmygod, it’s amazin’…”

And third: just take a look at this video. It’s called “Kayden + Rain”.


Fear not, dear Reader: this is not the end of the Editorial License Aggrieved Rant.

But man, it’s good to just turn that off for a moment or so, every now and again.

March 5, 2016 Posted by | blogging, current events, Famous Persons | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Best Thing You Can Ever Do (And Don’t Ever Let Anyone Tell You Any Differently)

Today, for the uninitiated, is the fourth of March.

One can also say, it’s March Fourth.

I don’t know whether Congress or any state legislatures recognize “National Marching Arts Day”, officially … but on social media, a certain subset of humanity certainly does.

This morning, a friend and colleague of mine, who shall remain nameless … but who is the director of a major state university band south of New Jersey and north of Maryland … aimed this Facebook status post toward the members of her band:

As my newsfeed fills up with photos for March ‘Forth,’ I have but one thought— ‘one more time’…..while you still can! Ask the seniors, ask the alumni: it all comes to a screeching halt faster than you can ever imagine. So if you have the opportunity to sweat, freeze, laugh, cry, ache, complain, and smile ‘just one more time,’ then DO IT!”

Obviously, it got me flashing back to my days of marching forth.

Did I sweat? Oh yes. Pre-season band camp in August? That’s too easy. I sweated during rehearsals in late October and early November. (And then the sweat froze. It was New England.)

I also sweated on the one day that my band director decided to test us individually to see if we marched a proper 8-to-5 from the front hashmark to the front sideline, 28 counts of our “Stars and Stripes Forever” company front. In public. Sweat.

Did I freeze? Oh yes. “Happy Morning, America.” (Ask a member of the UMass band classes of 1985, ’86, ’87 or ’88.)

Did I laugh? Oh yes. With friends. With people who then became friends. At the antics of our tuba section; at the jokes of our director; at the band bus songs, even if I didn’t really want to. With sheer unadulterated joy at the end of this epic halftime, or that historic field-show exhibition.

Did I cry? Oh yes. Well, I can use Senior Day as my excuse and people would immediately understand … but it wasn’t during my last in-uniform singing of “My Way”, at the end of the postgame show in the darkness of a late-fall afternoon in New England. It was the very first thing that morning, as seniors gathered upstairs in Old Chapel and our director ran a videotape for us (yes, a videotape) of highlights from the season.

Did I ache? Oh yes. Band camp sunburns (note to all current and future marching saxophonists: sunblock sunblock sunblock, even on areas of your neck you don’t think the sun can get to … especially there). My upper arms and shoulders, after foolishly trying to conduct above my head for a whole morning. My legs, after a rehearsal full of almost literally running through the final drill sets of “Russian Sailor’s Dance”. My whole self, after spending a night in a sleeping bag on a high-school gym floor. My brain, after managing to memorize the whole halftime show in time for my first home game.

Did I complain? Oh yes. Not loudly, and not publicly. Our director did, in all fairness, say: “If you love to complain, band is the place for you. We’ll give you LOTS to complain about.” It was substantive complaining. But yes. I confess. We’re not supposed to … but I did.

(Drum Major Academy students, for the record, I never tried to convince you that I never complained. I just suggested that you all aren’t allowed to.)

Did I smile?

Oh, emphatically yes.

Even when it was hot, cold, early, late, inconvenient, painful, stressful, difficult, easy, beautiful, not-so-beautiful … my freshman year … my senior year … yes. It did help that our shows were full of great tunes, and that our band was full of great friends. But yes.

Still, after all this time … and quite a lot of time has passed since I last put on the UMass uniform … what sound fires me up more than almost any other?

The snare drum tap-off for the band’s parade cadence.

Any band’s. UMass, Delaware, Boston University, Holy Cross, Central Connecticut State … whomever.

Here’s my little secret. I don’t know whether it’s a dirty little secret … there are people who would definitely think so, but you can be the judge: I still love parades.

Yes, the Woburn Halloween Parade seemed twice as long because of all the marking time. Yes, marching through Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston threatened to turn ankles because of all the cobblestones underfoot. Yes, the homecoming parade through Amherst very often featured long stretches of road containing zero spectators.

Didn’t matter. I was in uniform … with more than two hundred of my closest friends … the battery percussion was killin’ it … and I wasn’t thinking about the papers that were due, or the exam dates that were closing in, or the lack of hot water in the dorm showers. I wasn’t thinking much at all, beyond keeping in step and guiding in the right directions. My heart was full.

And yes, it ended far too soon. I marched all four years in college, and if money and classes had been no object, I could have “marched fifth.” And even if it hadn’t led to becoming a band director or music arranger or marching instructor myself … even if I’d never done it again … I’d done it, and with utter abandon. “Regrets, I’ve had a few” … but not that one.

I’ll never forget putting on that uniform … emerging from Old Chapel into the sunlight, getting into that parade block … hearing my drum major call that attention command, hearing that center snare tapping off that cadence … and stepping off, bound for the Southwest dorm area, the Stadium, the game, and halftime and postgame. Eyes, with pride.

My director was right. When we put on that uniform, we really were ten feet tall.

I was in the best band in the world, with the best friends in the world, and all was right with that world.

Happy National Marching Arts Day. Especially if you still have the chance to do it “one more time”.

March 4, 2016 Posted by | band, BUMB, Facebook, friends, GNP, marching band, social media, UDMB, UMMB | , , , , , , | Leave a comment