Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Attitude Adjustment

In no way should the very tall, balding, bearded, bespectacled gentleman have needed to do what he did.

But he did. And it said a lot about who he was, before I even saw him “in context.”

 

I stood at the registration table for the weekend event and noted that my housing assignment appeared to be screwed up. This was long enough ago that I really don’t remember exactly what the issue was; only that suddenly, attending an event that would last from Thursday morning to Saturday noon was looking a little more dicey, since one does prefer to spend evenings in some form of lodging, rather than, say, not.

The tall gentleman happened to be standing very near the registration table, which made it easier for him to detect the waves of “…uhh…” that were coming off me.

In that moment, in addition to staring down the barrel of two nights without an assigned place to sleep, I was the following things:

[] A newbie at that weekend event.  [] Recognizing exactly zero other people attending that event. (Not recognizing anyone yet, as it happened; but in that moment it was the first day of pre-school all over again.)  [] Not even a resident of the state in which I stood swaying gently.

Upon inquiring about my predicament, the tall gentleman looked me up and down, and said, “Well, come on upstairs.”

I trailed along after him, with all my baggage (interpret that however you like), as he ascended a set of stairs and headed down a couple of hallways to a small office. One short and amiable phone conversation later, he’d set things right, by setting me up with a proper dorm room assignment, and my weekend was off and running.

Half an hour removed from that little episode, I mused that the tall gentleman could easily have passed that duty off to one of his lieutenants. I mean, I was a newbie from a whole different state with an issue that quite honestly was probably very small, considering all the other responsibilities he had … considering he was the fellow in charge of the entire event.

But he saw a moment where he could be helpful to someone, knew what needed to be done, and determined that he was in the best position to do it. Regardless of rank or station. (Likely because of rank and station, in this case; but still.)

 

And so, for the next ten summers after that, I made my way north to Plymouth State University, for the New England Band Directors Institute; secure in the knowledge that the event, dreamed up by the tall gentleman and put together by the New Hampshire Band Directors Association that he led, was an event during which all the attendees were viewed as valuable and important, and were taken care of, and were almost instantly seen as old friends. Even the new ones.

A mentor of mine once suggested that “a band is a reflection of its leadership.” And NEBDI was assuredly a reflection of its leader, PSU’s director of bands, Professor Gary Corcoran.

At an NEBDI edition a few summers after my housing-assignment rescue moment, I took time to thank Gary again for his above-and-beyond effort, and he responded exactly true to form: in so many warm and unassuming words, you’re welcome, and don’t mention it, and anyone would have done it, and glad it worked out, and you’re welcome. It was almost as if all of us faithful NEBDI attendees were his kids, and he made sure to take care of us.

(In many ways. When he was addressing the group of attendees, he very often sounded like a gentle father figure … and then he would get a tiny mischievous glint in his eye, announcing the Friday evening attendees’ party at a tavern down the road – and calling it the “attitude adjustment session”.)

Three summers ago was the most recent NEBDI I’ve gotten to, for various reasons. By that time Gary had retired, but was hanging around the summer workshop event – at least partly because the NHBDA board had determined that they should award Gary their equivalent of the lifetime achievement award. He’d been at PSU for an amount of time that, rounded to the nearest whole number, was approximately forever. In that time, he had (amongst other things) built NEBDI up into an event that was known nationwide as a unique professional-development conference for school band directors.

At the Friday-evening dinner (which preceded the attitude adjustment session), the Association formally honored its longtime leader. When summoned to make a little speech, Gary got through a few appreciative sentences before choking up, just a little. And when he finished his remarks, the resulting standing ovation lasted long enough that he sheepishly tried to get us to siddown … and tried again … and again. We just wouldn’t. He was clearly not comfortable with the idea that he was getting this ridiculous, protracted standing-O … but we figured he had it coming.

 

Gary Corcoran passed away this past Friday at the age of 74.

I’m pleased that on several occasions, I took advantage of the opportunity to make sure he knew how much I appreciated his work – both in the larger, sweeping, lifetime-achievement sense, and also in the rescue-a-rookie-from-his-own-administrative-incompetence sense. And every time I took advantage of that opportunity, I couldn’t help but notice that although he only ever saw me three days a summer … so, a total of 27 times ever … he always knew exactly who I was, no re-introduction necessary. And always seemed a little startled that anybody thought he was a big deal.

He was a big deal.

And I hope the New England Band Directors Institute continues for as many more summers as is humanly possible – if only to stand as testimony to how big a deal he really was.

Godspeed, Gary.

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July 10, 2018 Posted by | band, education, teachers | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Crying Babies Doesn’t Look Good Politically”

A couple of weekends ago, as part of my church musician work, I helped wrangle a pack of Sunday School kids as they stood up at the front of the church sanctuary and sang a couple of songs they’d been working on. I smiled and sang along with them and encouraged them to try to remember the words. I was reminded, strongly, of my experience with teaching public-school music to packs of kindergarten kids nearly a decade ago. I got back up to speed really, really fast. I was reminded, strongly, of just what kind of backflips can go into working with kids that small … never mind teaching them; just helping them be comfortable in new situations, doing unfamiliar things, for the first time.

That Sunday, in church, there were kids as old as sixth grade, and as young as pre-school. Some of them walked to the front steps of the church; some of them toddled, led by Mom or Dad. Some of them stood straight and smiled. Some of them were inclined to wander off (so we gently guided them back to the steps). Some of them threw their heads back and sang lustily, just like the United Methodist Hymnal suggests; some of the kids mouthed the words a split-second after they heard the rest of the group sing them.

Some of them I’ve known all their lives; some of them I haven’t known very long at all. Some of them were from families who had come to our church pretty recently; some of them had been part of our church family for a very long time (relatively). Some of them looked totally at ease with standing up in front of the congregation and singing. Some of them looked more than a little bewildered, because they don’t often stand up in front of the congregation and have everybody lookin’ at ’em.

I remember being more than a little bewildered — pretty freaked out, really — the first time my mom delivered pre-school-age me to a Sunday School classroom in the church where our family were members, a building where I’d spent plenty of time, a building where I already recognized plenty of people. I was more than a little nervous that she was going away … even though she’d always picked me back up from whatever classroom she’d delivered me to, in my life to that point. Intellectually (at age 4?), I knew she always would. But in that moment, the parallel instinctive separation-anxiety wiring kicked right in, and I got really really freaked out.

This morning I tried to imagine myself taken away from my mom, and parked in a “tender age shelter”.

This morning I tried to imagine any of the kindergarten kids that I taught, or all of them, parked in a “tender age shelter”.

This morning I tried to imagine any of our Sunday School kids, or all of them, parked in a “tender age shelter”.

This morning I tried to imagine my niece and nephew, when they were toddlers, or infants, parked in a “tender age shelter”.

Oh, hell no.

My mind recoiled at the prospect.

Someone’s mind didn’t, though.

 

People in our government, working for our government, representing us by doing so … have acquired the kind of cognitive dissonance that allows them to not merely consider that prospect in the abstract and not retch, but to actually create and implement and enforce an immigration-control policy that takes toddlers and infants away from parents (who are seeking asylum from places that are dangerous enough that they want to remove their children to keep them safe) … and chucks ’em into a holding pen. (Or, as has been postulated by people who are putting one and one together and getting at least two, in the case of all the girls that no one can find, chucks ’em into an even worse place.)

There are monsters running our government.

There is only one remedy for this.

There are members of our elected government –- members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives –- who support this policy wholeheartedly. There are those who are remaining mealy-mouthed or dead-silent in the service of political expedience, political ideology, and political campaign contributions. In a meeting with the Congressional majority yesterday, the Short-Fingered Vulgarian who currently occupies the Oval Office reportedly declared, “The crying babies doesn’t look good politically.”

There are, astoundingly, plenty of elected officials who refuse to condemn taking babies from parents and parking them in “tender age shelters” — should we call them detention playpens? – no, we should cut the delicate-sensibility-preserving bull-pucky and call them baby jails, because that’s what they are …

We must identify them. Mark them. Tag them.

And vote the bastards out.

And thereby send a message to them and to anybody who supports them. Big sign in the window: “Congress inside. Only humans need apply.”

It’s long past time to stop “trying to understand” any of these people. Because there is no way for a compassionate person to understand this. The cognitive dissonance-fueled gap between “pro-life” and “pro-family”, “family values”, “What-Would-Jesus-Do?” … and THIS … is too vast to bridge.

 

It’s time to stop pulling punches. With respect to Mrs. Obama, who had the right idea … nonetheless it’s time to stop “going high when they go low”. If it isn’t time to take to the streets on this, it’s awfully damn close.

In November, remember this moment … even along with all the other moments, the Parklands and Pulses, the Pruitts and Princes, the “thoughts and prayers” and rage-Tweeting … remember this moment, when the Republican Congressional majority entirely failed to access some basic humanity and call this policy what it is: domestic terrorism.

In November, flood the polling places with so many people voting to rid our government of these conscience-less, soul-less ghouls that no amount of Putin-driven Russian bot farms and Kremlin election-machinery-hacking will remotely matter.

November.

Remember.

Remember the people who are okay with traumatizing infants and toddlers, who are okay with scarring them for life, on purpose.

Remember these domestic terrorists.

Remember these monsters.

And vanquish them.

June 20, 2018 Posted by | civil rights, current events, government, news, politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Children in Cages

Children in cages?

In cages?

Not in playpens.

Not in cribs.

Not in rooms.

Children in cages.

High-school-aged children.

Middle-school-aged children.

Grade-school-aged kids.

Toddlers.

Toddlers and infants.

Infants in cages.

In cages.

 

Is anyone changing any of their dirty diapers?

Is anyone drying the tears that guaranteed are being shed?

Is anyone talking to them?

Is anyone feeding them?

While they’re in cages?

Children in cages.

If your state or local child-protection agencies find children in cages in your home, they take the children to somewhere safe, where they’ll be better cared for. And they’ll haul you in front of some magistrate or other authority who will hold you accountable.

Who’s coming to take the federal government employees and haul them in front of some kind of accountability?

Who are all those federal government employees, who didn’t invent the policy that takes children away from asylum-seeking migrants who themselves are awaiting immigration hearings and processing (which takes several weeks at least), but who are carrying it out anyway?

Who are all those federal government employees, who for whatever reason have decided to stay on the job anyway, even though their job is currently awful and inhuman?

(“I was just following orders” was proven, as recently as 75 years ago, to be not a valid reason. “I need to keep hold of this job so I can feed my family” is hardly a better reason, and might even be more hypocritical. Your family isn’t living in cages.)

Who are all the federal government people who crafted and created and instituted and ordered the policy to be carried out?

Who are these people who decided that it was okay to house children, some as young as two years old, in cages?

Children in cages.

In cages.

 

I’m going to suggest that “both sides” do not do this.

This is a policy that was invented after January 2017.

There are plenty of immigration control policies that were invented before that which deserve serious critique. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) as a federal agency was invented after 9/11, with all the haste and desperately PR-driven inspiration that implies. There are plenty of immigration policies that were continued during the previous presidential administration, and yes, we would be justified in demanding to know why that was.

But this policy, the policy of separating children from their parents and putting them in cages, was created by the current administration*.

They’re putting children in cages. And leaving them there indefinitely. They’re effectively abandoning children. And they think that’s fine.

Why do they think that?

They think that, because the majority of those kids come from families that are poor, and are brown.

And poor and brown children aren’t as important, aren’t as worthy, aren’t as human as kids who aren’t poor or brown.

That’s what they think. That’s what that side thinks.

This is nothing that the current platform of the Congressional minority party lays out.

This is, rather, symbolic of nearly everything that the current platform of the Congressional majority party, and the party that currently controls the federal executive branch of government, supports.

Both sides don’t do this.

One side does this.

The side that is currently in power.

Ryan and McConnell, implicitly, do this.

Sessions, implicitly, does this.

Pence, implicitly, does this.

Trump, implicitly, does this.

Only one way to fix this: come out in utter, overwhelming droves in November, and vote during the midterm elections in such a way that the people who think this policy is fine … are GONE.

Candidates need to campaign on many issues, but perhaps none more striking than this: would you vote for someone who thinks it’s okay to put children in cages? Or would you prefer to vote for someone who thinks it’s awful, and inhumane, and inhuman, to put children in cages?

Children in cages.

In cages.

June 7, 2018 Posted by | civil rights, current events, government, news, politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment