Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Safe, Part 2

A week shy of nine years ago, at the memorial service for George N. Parks, UMass’ late, great marching band director, UMass Minuteman Marching Band associate director Thom Hannum made a terrific eulogizing speech.

In that brief talk, he described how Mr. Parks had done so much over the years to make his band members – and his band alumni, when they returned to campus for Homecoming Weekends – feel safe. That no matter whether it was in Old Chapel or on the practice fields, Mr. Parks’ priority was to make sure UMass marchers felt “safe at home”.

My recent visit to campus reinforced the old quip that the UMass campus isn’t really the UMass campus without some ongoing construction somewhere. So many new structures have gone up that depending on where I stand and in what direction I look, the place can look lots less like the campus I remember from my time as a student in the 1980s. Time marches on, as does progress, I guess; but it can be a bit unnerving. I used to be able to see from this building all the way to that building, but now there’s stuff in the way…

Meanwhile, one of my stops on campus was down the road from Boyden Gym and across the street from the Mullins Center and down the hill from South College and up the road from the Campus Center: the George N. Parks Minuteman Marching Band Building.

Which assuredly did not exist when I was a student. Old Chapel was the band’s base of operations, and although it barely contained the growing band and its equipment, and was in worse and worse shape as the years passed … it was the place we gravitated to. “Let’s meet at Chapel,” we’d say, sometimes using it as a launching pad to other destinations, and sometimes staying right there. It was architectural comfort food.

On that campus visit, I came to the realization, quite unexpectedly, that the “new” building, now eight years old, is an entirely familiar sight now. I’ve been in it many times now – certainly enough not to get lost in it anymore. Enough to know how to get from the cavernous main rehearsal space to Dr. Anderson’s directorial office without needing to ask a passing band member for directions.

More importantly, there have now been eight years’ worth of band members for whom the Parks building is indeed home. For whom their band home has never been anywhere else. Yes, Old Chapel exists; and enough is said about it that students have to know its importance in UMMB history. But the Parks building is the place to which they go. Not to storage units off-campus … not to condemned converted apartments on the outskirts of campus … but to an actual on-campus locale. A building that is not (as George Carlin misstated, arguably) just a place for their stuff. It’s where the band literally and figuratively lives now.

True, Mr. Parks didn’t live to see the grand opening of his brainchild project. (If you’re a particularly spiritual person, you may be inclined to make the case that he actually did see it, looking down on it all, etc.; this is probably not the blog post for that conversation.) He didn’t get to see it go into operation. He didn’t get to see how much the band’s functioning would end up centered on this building.

Ah, but given the man’s fertile imagination … oh, for darn sure he did.

Someone who could imagine his band entertaining football crowds with halftime shows based on the music of, say, Danny Elfman’s Batman score (with Batman and the Joker running around on the field) … Phantom of the Opera (Christine and the Phantom running around, that time) … the Little Mermaid (with a fearless eight-year-old singing the “Part of Your World” finale) … Hook … Gladiator … Zorro … Pirates of the Caribbean (the band forming an actual pirate ship, and the guard taking it down with fabric Kraken tentacles) … and then seeing all of that done …

Someone who could imagine his band being taught by DCI Hall-of-Fame music educators, and then convincing those people (seeing their potential long before DCI conferred those honors on them) to come work with his band and stay for literally decades …

Someone who could imagine a summer clinic that could pass the marching-arts and specifically drum-majoring traditions and skills on to generations of students, and building a nationally-known clinic that let him see many of those students join his band, help lead his band, help lead their own bands, and help teach the next future generations of drum majors …

Someone who could imagine his band becoming accomplished enough to attract the attention of people like the Sudler Award committee, and then over the course of years and years at the helm putting that band in position to receive that award …

Someone who could imagine his band performing at New England Patriots and New York Giants games, the Canadian Football League championship game, a Presidential Inauguration (or several), a Bands of America Grand Nationals exhibition (or several), and the University of Michigan’s vaunted “Big House” … and then making all those things happen …

surely someone with that kind of fertile imagination could imagine – far beyond a mere set of sterile architectural drawings – a state-of-the-art headquarters for his band which would surpass the physical capabilities of the legendary Old Chapel for supporting his band’s activity, yes; but which, more importantly, would become its new home.

And which would come to be thought of as its new home … and then eventually would come to be thought of as, well, just plain its home.

I wondered, awhile ago, as I considered the fast-approaching ninth anniversary of Mr. Parks’ passing … from where would my annual commemoration of that event take its inspiration?

Turns out, that inspiration was taken from the memory and legacy of one of his greatest strengths: unfettered imagination, merged with dogged, stubborn determination, all in the service of his students.

Including those students whom he never met, but who – thanks to those strengths of his – now have a place where they feel … safe at home.

[Ed. Note: An episode of my new podcast, “Two Minutes Great”, is being posted simultaneously with this blog post; this week’s episode offers up a little bit of evidence of that active Parks imagination, in the form of part of his band-building-groundbreaking-ceremony speech. You can find the podcast here.]

September 16, 2019 Posted by | band, GNP, marching band, Thom Hannum, UMMB, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Go Team

[Ed. note: The following is a rant. If you’re a fan of American football, this rant will not make you happy. There’s nothing I can do about that.]

I have problems with football.

With respect to the professional ranks, those problems include, but are not limited to, concussion protocols, Ray Rice and his fist, and the fact that Colin Kaepernick is better than at least half the league’s quarterbacks and still can’t get a gig.

With respect to all levels, but particularly the high school and college strata, those problems also include a concept that I have occasionally pointed to in this space called unearned swagger.

At least once, I recall hearing my college marching band director suggest that football and band are equally weird activities, with participants dressed in equally weird outfits … it’s just that football people have managed to convince everyone that their activity is cool.

And, of course, with perceived cool comes great opportunity for lording it over everyone else.

Case in point: this report from CollegeMarching.com:

It was a great day for the Stephen F. Austin University Lumberjack Marching Band on Saturday until a visiting Graduate Assistant Coach, Ben Seifert, from Tarleton State University[,] decided to stay on the field during halftime.

What happened next is still a bit of [a] head scratcher.

During the Lumberjack Marching Band’s halftime show the coach refused to move off the field. The band carried on with their show expecting him to leave the field or at least stay out of the way of the band. He didn’t[;] and as Kitty Hall, a piccolo player, marched towards her spot which he was standing on[,] he raised his elbow directly in line with her face. The result was a serious bruise along her nose and upper lip and a very angry band wondering why he would not move.

The band also reported that he told other marchers to go around him while he stood there.

After I got elbowed, my nose and head hurt for the rest of the game,” tweeted Hall afterward. “I’m prone to headaches and this set one off almost immediately.”

Naively, I note that Coach Siefert is working for an institution of higher learning, in which adults are hired to facilitate the education and development of America’s youth – with all the human and educational responsibility that implies. In a perfect world, it is understood that assistant football coaches, just as much as assistant professors, are educators. At its core, higher education’s mission is much more to develop American youths’ heads than to elbow them.

Yeah. I know. Naïve of me. Particularly when it comes to college football’s prevailing attitude toward, well, the rest of the world, seemingly.

True, there’s more than a hint of dramatic tension inherent in this college marching band aficionado’s view of all this. With very few exceptions (Boston University, sa-LUTE!), college bands depend upon the sport of football to provide a venue in which to do their good work.

Which they do, year in and year out. For five or six or seven home games a year at least, they lose their minds cheering for a pack of athletic specimens who in general represent the crowd that made band kids’ lives miserable in middle school.

(And, in a relatively new tradition called the Team Walk, long before kickoff many bands form a tunnel and play the school song exuberantly … while the football players walk in street clothes through that tunnel en route from the bus into the stadium, heads down, earbuds plugged firmly in, sparing hardly a glance of acknowledgement of their fellow students.)

Meanwhile, CollegeMarching.com continued its account of the Ben Seifert incident: “We spoke with Lumberjack Marching Band Director[,] Dr. Tamey Angelly[,] about the incident. She explained that the athletic departments of both universities have been discussing this matter and will take swift action to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

In a statement, Dr. Angelly continued: “[Hall] has recently received a letter of apology from the member of the coaching staff and I know that Tarleton administration is handling the situation appropriately.”

Jim Rome‘s and Bill James‘ recent Twitter snark directed at high school and college marching band participants is one thing. Sticks and stones versus name-calling, and all that. We band folks can withstand that sort of thing; hell, we’ve got all kinds of experience shaking it off.

But the raised elbow that Tarleton State University graduate-assistant football coach Ben Siefert directed at the marching activity … injured a student.

That Neanderthal move was premeditated assault. And further, it demonstrated the arrogant mindset of that subset of the higher education community, the football team, that seems to consider that football is the apotheosis of human achievement – and therefore is placed firmly above all the other organizations and institutions that create the Saturday-afternoon environment that props that myth up. And that this reality therefore allows its purveyors to address those supporting characters with disdain at best – and in this case, with physical violence. Because what is football, really, if not a game of channeled violence? Its participants and fans practically take pride in that characteristic.

So here’s the upshot of all the vitriol which I have just now completely unapologetically launched:

Ben Siefert doesn’t need merely to be made to apologize. He doesn’t need merely to be reminded how to properly represent his school, or how to properly treat other humans. He doesn’t need merely to be reprimanded by his head coach. He doesn’t need merely to have his situation “handled appropriately” by his school’s administration. He doesn’t need merely to be suspended from his job, or merely to have his graduate assistantship taken away from him.

Siefert needs to be bagging groceries, or delivering pizzas, or sweeping corporate office hallways after hours, by the end of this week.

Tarleton State University graduate-assistant football coach Ben Siefert needs. to. be. fired.

Go Team.

(And by “Team”, of course, I mean “group of legal professionals whose services ought to be engaged in the filing of assault charges.”)

September 11, 2019 Posted by | band, education, football, marching band, sports | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment