Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

You Didn’t Have To Do That

[Ed. note: A brief tale here, and please forgive me if it comes off as self-absorbed and annoying. It’s not supposed to. We may even come up with different “morals of the story”. That’s okay, I think.]

 

I’ve participated in many UMass Homecoming Weekend alumni bands, in the nearly three decades (oi) since I graduated from there.

So, yes, I’m now that pushing-fifty guy, grey beard and all, who is still hauling a saxophone out there, dancing around like a goof, and generally enjoying the heck out of the experience, even if it’s raining, because it was fun then, so it’s fun now!!!

Another portion of my college band experience (other than toting a saxophone around) was getting to be one of the three drum majors during my senior year. Now, please understand: when I sign up online for alumni band activities and they ask what my instrument was … there’s no check-box for “drum major”, and even if there were one, that’s not an instrument!! and I wouldn’t check that box anyway. Really. You don’t believe me, but it’s true.

There have only been two Homecomings wherein I have played the alumni drum major game. One of them was seven years ago, when the alumni band was 925 strong, so it was pretty much all hands on deck. There were at least fifteen former drum majors out there, because it was necessary.

The other time was I think five years ago. That morning, as the weather looked less and less dire and I began to not worry so much about marching a Selmer Mark VI saxophone in the rain, my friend James, a former UMass drum major (who was a DM twenty years after I was), looked over at me and said, “Rob, is your mace in your car?” I said, yeah, it was; and it actually was still in the trunk from back in the summer when I brought it with me to the summer drum major clinic wherein we’d both worked. (Only out of sheer “I don’t have a free hand to grab it when I bring the rest of my life into the house after work”, not “who knows when I might need a twirling mace?”.)

Cool,” he said, “let’s just go out there and throw.” And so, in the midst of the alumni band’s halftime tune, James and I strode onto the Gillette Stadium field, conducted not a single note, and just chucked maces in the air indiscriminately. (We were two redheaded, bearded guys throwing maces. Hmmmmm. Didn’t exactly plan that visual way ahead of time, but okay.) I’m not usually the ostentatious-showmanship type … and though it seemed like fun, and several people subsequently thought out loud that it was fun to watch, I still did feel a wee bit like I’d stepped away from the pack of alumni who were actually playing their horns … and I felt a wee bit guilty. Like, come on, you had your chance in 1987, and took it, and thanks for playing, it’s done. Right?

I know, I’m weird. But that’s the way my head works.

Fast-forward to last weekend, Homecoming Weekend at UMass. I arrive and find a clump of band alumni gathering, early in the morning … and rumors begin flying.

So I hear you’re conducting ‘Let’s Groove’?”

Do you hear that?

So you’re singing Twilight Shadows?”

I’m … willing … … but I didn’t know we were playing the alma mater for halftime?

Gonna chuck a mace today?”

Ummm … it takes two hands to play sax?

Did I mention that, while being a team player and being willing to fill whatever role the organization needs me to fill, I am nonetheless reticent to grab that sort of spotlight?

And please notice particularly that, um, my former-DM colleague from five years ago, James his very own self, is standing over there without his trumpet, and is therefore well-suited for that job, whereas oh look! I’ve got my tenor with me and its reed is actually whole and complete and not dinged for a change?

Naw, I’ll hang with the crazy alumni tenor saxes, some of whom I’ve just met (because they’re relatively or VERY recently graduated from UMass and therefore, no disrespect intended, ARE CHILDREN!! and are tons of fun).

I’ll be fine.

(I didn’t have to do that, didn’t need to jump out in front of the group, in order for my life to be complete or something.)

At some point in the alumni band rehearsal early that afternoon, the current band director, Tim Anderson, wanders over in my direction and asks, “So, ya wanna conduct ‘Fight, Mass.’?”

Urp! Uh, Tim, there’s redheaded James right over there, yeah? I mean, I’ll do what you need, but, uh, really!

I wasn’t even one of “his” drum majors, since he’s been at UMass just the seven years. Again, sweet of him to ask, to keep track and to be aware, but super not-required … No, it’s okay.

Fifteen or so minutes later, we’re most of the way through rehearsing the music for halftime, which includes a couple of tunes by the current undregrads, “Let’s Groove” with just alumni, the finale of the “1812 Overture” with all of us combined, and then the UMass fight song. And one of the current drum majors walks by and says, “okay, so, we’re gonna put you on a ladder for ‘Fight, Mass.’…” As in, I’m going to climb one of the stepladders that the assistant drum majors use, and conduct for the band members too far from the 50-yardline to properly see the conductor on the center podium.

Well okay, it sounds like that would be helpful to somebody; and besides, the particular current drum major who came to talk to me … well, if she tells you to do something, you darn well do it.

Sweet of her to ask, though.

Then I get to the ladder.

Or rather, I discover why I would probably not be a great UMass drum major these days.  In the 1980s… no ladders.

I get four steps up that ladder and realize that there are two more yet to go. And getting to the top of the ladder will mean leaning forward onto a little bitty guard rail using only my lower shins.

And I’d swear that ladder is shifting in the breeze.

Have I ever mentioned, I don’t do super well with heights that aren’t contained by skyscraper windows or airplane fuselages?

So, current UMass drum majors, when you find the five indents on that ladder’s front guard rail, please know that I’ve “left my mark” on the band: I stood only five steps up, conducted that fight song rehearsal righthanded, and held onto that rail with a lefthanded Vulcan Death Grip.

At the actual halftime of the actual game, the bands played through the first two tunes, and as I dashed to the sideline before “Fight, Mass.”, suddenly so did everybody else, having been waved in that direction by director Tim. The halftime show had to be cut short for time.

I was not disappointed.

Which is not to say I wouldn’t have been happy to have gone only five steps up the ladder in performance … but I was also relieved … relieved of the opportunity to pitch off the thing and make the wrong kind of spectacle of myself with thousands of people watching and wondering.

Again, I didn’t go to Homecoming to stick out from the crowd. I went to Homecoming to be in the alumni band, in and amongst my friends, old and new. And that’s what happened, and as usual, it was glorious.

Not *quite* the end of the tale, though.

Rewind a few hours: just before the rehearsal had finished, director Tim was doing a series of last announcements – where to meet, where to go, what time, where to sit in the stands, all the non-glamorous details – and then I heard him get the band ready to do its final traditional end-of-rehearsal call-and-response thing. And I realized he was explaining to the assembled graduates and undergraduates that this former drum major guy from 1987 over here is going to lead it.

He’s what now?

I didn’t focus on this till afterward: while his noted predecessor always asked the band, “how are your FEET?, stomach, chest, shoulders, etc.?” so they could then shout about being Together, In, Out, Back, etc. … Tim has since handed that duty off to his drum majors. And he was handing it off now.

He didn’t have to do that, either. But he did. And it was very kind.

And yeah, even as I picked up my tenor afterward, and spent the rest of the day cheerfully and properly communing with great band-alum friends … I kinda did appreciate the gesture.

 

 

P.S. I am fully in control of my verb tenses at all times. In case you wondered.

P.P.S. But not in control of my sentence lengths.

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October 26, 2017 Posted by | band, drum major, friends, marching band, UMMB | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

It Isn’t Enough To Be the Guy Who Doesn’t Do That

This morning, my friend Daniel Katz wrote, eloquently:

“… ‘me too’ isn’t just about survivors speaking up. It is about the sheer universality of the experience for women. Every woman. Every woman you know. Every woman you care about. Every woman has experienced either sexual assault or sexual harassment at some time in her life. Possibly a lot more than that. We live in a world where this is a universal experience for women, and even if you already knew that in your mind, the gut punch of seeing it everywhere you look in the context of people you love is supposed to be the wake up call.”

That’s exactly, *exactly* what it was. A gut punch. And another and another. All day yesterday. Post after post.

I was not unaware of the problem … I thought. But I hadn’t taken time to consciously consider that it could be so many people that I knew personally.

Which means I was unaware of the problem. Which means I’m some part of the problem.

And me writing about how I felt like I’d been punched in the gut … is fine, but does it recognize that women who have experienced assault or harassment feel that gut punch, over and over?

I didn’t consciously consider that, yesterday. Which means I’m another part of the problem.

And then, this Tweet from the writer Alexis Benveniste, yesterday:

Reminder that if a woman didn’t post #MeToo, it doesn’t mean she wasn’t sexually assaulted or harassed. Survivors don’t owe you their story.”

Or, as my friend Daniel continued:

If any woman in your life does not say ‘me too’ it is not because her life has been free from assault or harassment — it is because she is choosing to not share or because our society taught her that her experiences ‘don’t count’ because other women have had it worse. … Our homes, our social spaces, our public spaces, and our workplaces are dumpster fires of men who think they can objectify, commodify, and own women’s bodies without fear of legal, social, or professional consequences. It isn’t enough to be the guy who doesn’t do that. We have to be the guys who see it and demand that other men change.”

Which I thought I was doing, with a blog post or two in the past … writing well-intentioned things that still made the issue about me, to some degree …

From 2014:

“In thinking about this topic, I first wondered if perhaps the people who are most prone to saying hideous things about (or to) and doing hideous things to women … just lacked any previous interactions with strong women that might have caused them to view women differently.”

As if being a “strong woman” (as assessed by someone else) (someone male, natch) means that one is more deserving of basic respect. As if there were a scale of deserving to not-deserving. Um, no. Care to backtrack, Rob?…

What I was thinking of, I believe … was the sheer number of women I have known, throughout my life, that shaped my understanding of how women were just as worthy of respect as men. To put it bluntly, I have indeed known women who either [1] were exceptionally good at whatever they did, [2] had personalities that included the almost cheerful disinclination to take crap from other people, [3] were wonderful, kind and decent people, or [4] all of the above.”

Fine to appreciate these features, but –really? As if, again, there were characteristics beyond Being A Human Female that qualified one for decent treatment. Not the most effective backtracking, there, Rob.

This list would include my mother [and sister, hello?!] … all of my elementary school teachers … friends from high school … people from that summer arts program I have occasionally referred to … people I met in college … numerous professional colleagues …”

Nice. Better still, would this list not include every woman I ever met, and every one I never met?

By 2016, when there was talk — a specific, out-in-the-open monologue in fact — about unsolicited grabbing and such … I hope I got closer to the target. You can be the judge:

“… I have known many wonderful, strong, competent women, and I want to come to their defense, and they have demonstrated all kinds of reasons for me wanting to do so … but honestly, that shouldn’t need to be a reason. The reason is that they’re humans, and as it says in the Bible that so many people love to quote but hate to follow, ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, and don’t give me that BS about “we’re the kind who LIKE the pain!’.”

It was easy to speak of wonderful people whom I have known, who are deserving of basic human decency because they are themselves humans … in the abstract.

I created that list. (See? All about me, still.)

Yesterday’s torrent of #MeToo posts was very, very concrete.

Those posts made up that list.

And with every new addition to that list, throughout the day, my heart sank further.

Holy hell.

What’s worse than having no idea? Thinking you had enough of an idea, and then finding out that you didn’t, really.

I’m sorry.

There’s a lot of work left to do. I want to try to do it better.

October 17, 2017 Posted by | current events, social media | , , , , , , | Leave a comment