Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

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 | , , , , , ,

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