Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

See You Next Summer

I figured it out.

It took a little while… most of four weeks… but I got it.

I’ll back up.

My image of summer camp – the stereotypical summer camp of low-budget movies – was not my idea of a good time, not least because it usually involved enforced swimming, and my experience of swimming involved the letters P, T, S, and D.

Swimming and crafts and singed marshmallows around campfires and anything overnight… yeah, kinda no.

My parents found the sixth-grade me a summer day camp.

Oh yay.

I spent the first two weeks of the four-week camp session being very side-eye about it all. At least it was a day camp. You didn’t have to take swimming. I could write for the camp newspaper. Good, I suppose. But I was pretty sure I could have enjoyed my summer just as much, riding my bike and playing catch.

I spent the last nearly two weeks of the session begrudgingly coming around to the idea of this particular camp being kinda okay after all. I connected with a couple of really friendly counselors, made a couple… no, a squadron of pretty good friends… and got mixed up in shadow drama, whaaat?, and fencing (swords, with masks and protective jackets and advance-retreat-ho-hah-dodge-parry-thrust-PRANGG). Not bad, as it turned out.

And at the end of the four weeks, there was a big ol’ camp musical. I wasn’t in it, but some of my new friendlies were, so I went to closing night.

It was tons of fun… catchy songs… good story… great performances… the thing was a full-scale musical, but it was so entertaining that it just flew by. And just like that, it was over.

I made my way over to where the pit should have been breaking their equipment down, but instead was cranking out a celebratory blues jam. I caught the eye of the counselor on the drums. “Thanks for a great summer, Bob!” He smiled, not missing a beat (ever!), and nodded once, almost ceremonially. And I peered around the edge of the upright piano, and caught the eye of the counselor banging out chords upon it. He grinned – “Robbie!” – and I called out to him, over the blues changes.

See you next summer, Jackie!”

Yeah, I said it.

I guess summer day camp was acceptable, after all.

The musical production, by the way, was called “Monopoly”.

The performance, after which I had stumbled upon the truth, that the Charles River Creative Arts Program had passed the audition … was forty years ago tonight.

It had been there all along. And there would be many next summers.

I finally figured it out.


August 19, 2018 Posted by | arts, CRCAP | , , , | Leave a comment

The 31-Day Blog Challenge, Day Twenty-One: As the Songwriter Wrote…

Today’s writing prompt:

31 DAY BLOG CHALLENGE, DAY 21: “Something I miss”.

Well, plenty, since over the course of my first half-century on Earth, I’ve been lucky enough to have quite a few experiences that might or might not ever happen quite that same way again, and that’s a shame! …

Here are two of those that leap immediately to mind:


[1] Franklin DC dinners.

In this space, I’ve dropped a lot of details about my college marching days, but not this: we rehearsed from 4:40 to 6 in the afternoon, every weekday. Not every band gets this. Most bands rehearse twice or three times a week; we got nearly seven hours of rehearsal and that didn’t even include Saturday mornings before games.

So, our daily routine included finishing rehearsal and then tearing across campus to the nearest dining commons (named after Franklin County, in western Massachusetts, and not after anyone named Franklin) to grab dinner before the facility closed its cafeteria line at 6:30. Usually, we stood in line, faintly perspiring both from the hustling across campus and also from 80 minutes of rather dogged band rehearsal, and shuffling slowly up a winding ramp from the entrance up to the second-floor dining level. And then we would sit, and eat, and laugh and joke, at least until 7pm, when the corps of sweepers and moppers and other cleaner-uppers would tiptoe into the dining area and try to slip us silent hints that “at some point we would really like to go home, so we wonder if you might wrap this up some time before 8 o’clock please”. They never actually said this, but I could imagine that those were the hints.

The thing that kept the workers there, and kept us there too, was the particular group of marching band folks (and a couple of other friends-of-band-members who weren’t in the band but might as well have been). We were just over-tired enough that funny things seemed funnier, and we were just friendly enough that we kinda suspected that we might be sharing supper with people who’d eventually become lifelong friends.

Thanks to things like social media connectivity, alumni band, and other sundry gatherings through the years, lots of us have crossed paths since then … but I miss those evenings. The rest of the college experience, full of papers and tests and dorm issues and campus buses and such, was held at bay, and we ate and smiled and just about fell over laughing, for about an hour a night.

I miss that.


[2] Pit crazy.

My time at the Charles River Creative Arts Program was about a decade long. During the last six of those years, I was a staff member of some kind, and thus eligible to be part of the pit orchestras that were formed to accompany each of the two children’s-theater musicals which were the centerpiece of the day camp’s two Arts Festivals, usually in the third week of July and of August, respectively.

We met as a pit during “tech week,” the last few days of intense rehearsals before showtime. The usual schedule included … spending two or three hours after the camp day ended on Monday, desperately preparing the accompaniments to 10 or 12 of the show’s songs. We played what we had for the tech rehearsal (full of children and tech-theater counselors scurrying about) on Tuesday evening. We played it all for the dress rehearsal (full of children and costume staff scurrying about) on Wednesday evening; and then Thursday, Friday and Saturday it was showtime! (And on Sunday we rested, and also looked back and marveled at the amount of work that had gotten done in just six days.)

The pit was full of staff members, not all of whom were music department staff; some were music professionals, and some played our instruments for fun. Lots of different skill levels, but all the same level of commitment to having a blast while we did lots of rather dogged work. There was much silliness. There was a lot of laughing.

One year the pit was a piano, drums, bass and a couple of woodwinds along for the ride. One summer we had a perfect storm of musical staff, and were writing arrangements for piano, bass, drums, acoustic guitar, piccolo, clarinet, two multiple-sax players, trumpet and flugelhorn. It was never the same twice from an instrumentation standpoint; but it was always, always something to look forward to – and there was always an underlying sense of “enjoy this moment; it’ll never happen quite like this again.”

The shows were put up on an outdoor stage, located adjacent to one of the buildings of the Charles River School, where the summer program was based. The pit did its thing off to one side of the stage, beneath one of those rental-company tents, about ten feet square (so, necessarily, our long-time drummer and at least one other player were under the tent in name only). Whenever I smell bug spray, I think of the Charles River pit, because great heavens!, did we ever protect ourselves from bugs (which were of course attracted particularly to our warm and sweaty selves and also to our music-stand lights).

After the closing-night show, a few of us would linger for ten or fifteen minutes (while the cast repaired to another area of the camp to set up its farewell cast party) and engage in a rather spirited C-blues jam session. Myself, I would get to the pit far earlier than our pit-orchestra report time so a friend and I could sing and play as many of our favorite James Taylor songs as we could get to before paying customers (or the rest of the pit) started to show up.

Renovations of and additions to the Charles River School’s campus have actually caused a new building to be slammed down on top of the actual spot where the pit used to set up shop; so the current pit location is actually about fifty feet or so to the south. But whenever I stand near there … and quite often even if I’m not on the grounds … I think of those rather intense tech weeks, and at least I appreciate having been able to be part of that craziness.

I miss that, too.


Because, indeed, life careens on … people’s trajectories head in various different directions … and as much as we’d love it to be so, those exact combinations of people and activities never do happen exactly that way again. But we cart the memories around with us, and smile.

The way your smile just beams
The way you sing off key
The way you haunt my dreams
No, no, they can’t take that away from me

The way you hold your knife
The way we danced till three
The way you changed my life
No, no, they can’t take that away from me

May 21, 2016 Posted by | arts, blogging, CRCAP, friends, marching band, music, theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 31-Day Blog Writing Challenge, Day Nineteen: Under the Wire

Today’s writing prompt: “My worst habits[:]”


My training as a journalism major appears to have ingrained one skill which has led to a formed habit, which has led to a frequent complication in my life: namely, my ability to work well under an extreme, ridiculous deadline.

Bad habit? Read on.


My ability to crank out copy, etc., on short notice and with a screaming deadline bearing down on me was developed in the dusty, musty offices of The Daily Double.

The what now?

Only the finest four-page, mimeographed, totally 8- to 15-year-old-staffed newspaper in the world! The daily news source of the Charles River Creative Arts Program, a summer arts day camp at which I put in time as a camper, a counselor-in-training and a full-tilt counselor, over the course of a decade centered on the 1980s.

You need a story about the project that the Multi-Arts class is doing? I’m on it. You need to poll a cross-section of campers about their favorite food? Consider it done. You need, well, filler? Gimme that pencil.

Unfortunately, what that taught me is that I could write successfully under absurd time constraints. Unfortunate because it also taught me that I could do so even when the deadline started out as far-away.

That, combined with my other very very bad habit … the online, social-media, time-suck … means that, well, you may have noticed that this should have been my response to yesterday’s “31-Day Blog Challenge” writing prompt, and here it is, being published today.

Today’s actual, Day-20 response will also be published later today; but it may take a mighty effort, late in the evening, in order for it not to be *technically the wee hours of tomorrow*.

I have also come to know that “I lost track of time” is not an excuse that is usually met with a lot of sympathy. And rightly so.

I’m working on it.

But usually I work on it just a few micro-seconds before it needs to be worked on.

May 20, 2016 Posted by | blogging, CRCAP, journalism, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment