Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

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

Serious Drama

Serious theatre” and I … don’t seem to bang into each other much.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy it when we do. Given the right presenters, I can thoroughly enjoy an evening of Shakespeare, for example. (In performance, ya don’t really need all those footnotes translating 16th century English; you get the gist … you just kinda de-focus your brain a bit and receive the tone of voice and body language, kinda like stepping back and getting a wider-angle view of the scenery.)

I just have much more experience with silly theatre – whether of the children’s-theatre variety or not. Slapstick and bad puns and pratfalls, and books and lyrics that you don’t need Cliff’s Notes to wrap your brain around.

One summer at the fabled creative arts day camp, I participated in the production of a show called “Left Out”, which – in short – was the first time I’d experienced a children’s musical that was a Serious Play With Funny Lines. Its climactic scene, involving the betrayal of the eventual villain by just about everyone else in the cast, was one of those very rare examples of a children’s musical eliciting gasps of surprise from its audience.

But, again, I haven’t trafficked in that sort of drama as a matter of course.

Not that there’s anything wrong with the tougher stuff.

Probably the first play I ever saw which definitely counted as Serious Theatrical Literature came courtesy of a college visit. The college drama guild was performing a fluffy little piece called “The Crucible”.

Holy. o_O

I remember the screaming, and the gnashing of teeth, and the accusations of witchcraft, and the complete and utter lack of a toe-tapping finale.

And not much else. No knock on the collegiate thespians, either. The caterwauling was convincing, and it was in the script, after all. It was impressive; but I determined (with all the life experience of a 17-year-old) that in general, I wasn’t so fond of Dark Foreboding Followed By Shrieking in my stage plays.

So, as I have endeavored in the past several years to dream up some theatrical creations of my own, audiences may note that I tend much more toward quips than angst; more toward character self-examination via brightly-lit song-and-dance than via Hamlet-esque chest-clutching soliloquy in a lonely follow-spot.

Honestly, friends … I wrote a show about chickens and turkeys in a barnyard. It wasn’t exactly entitled “Death of a Poultry Salesman”, either.

So, regarding the coming-to-grips with Serious Theatre, as well as other forms of art and performance, I’ve discovered that sometimes “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” You may not know a thing about sculpture, about poetry slams, about baroque music, about modern dance … but you go because you know a name associated with it. (How many Star Trek fans were introduced to Shakespeare because Patrick Stewart was a purveyor?)

Hold that thought.

This past weekend, I took advantage of that little gateway, and quite enjoyed myself.

I ventured into the eastern sliver of Cambridge, Massachusetts (via the newly-resuscitated MBTA) to attend a play, the final event in a fortnight-long arts festival called “We Are…”

The festival’s organizers, The Poets’ Theatre [www.poetstheatre.org], described the event as “dedicated to the subject of Identity, with a particular focus on gender and race … we will present a series of exciting poets, dance companies, and theatrical events that highlight the urgent discussions about who we are as a nation that fill the headlines today.”

So. Not silly.

And maybe not the kind of thing that I would naturally gravitate toward, as has been previously chronicled.

The play was called “Gilding the Lily”. It was a semi-biographical, ninety-minute piece about Victorian-era English actress Lillie Langtry. The play’s press materials said, “the notorious 19th century celebrity takes the stage as Shakespeare’s Rosalind, but the American critics are unimpressed. Please join Lillie as she examines her life, loves and the Forest of Arden to discover the difficult art of letting our hearts be our craft.”

Okay, there were actually some laughs.

Some of them were in response to Ms. Langtry’s quips; and some were of the sympathetic and somewhat uncomfortable variety, as the audience is reminded of the differences between how we view the world and how the world actually may be. Very few belly laughs; lots more knowing murmurs.

So, an unmistakable air of a character holding back the incursion of realities she may not wish to face directly, just yet.

It was a terrific evening.

It was a one-person show.

It was a play written, produced, performed (and, one must assume, promoted) by one single person.

There’s a reason why I always participated in school theatrical productions from the safety of the orchestra pit: I’m no good at memorizing lines of dialogue. At all. Unless I spend years living with them, and that is not hyperbole.

And a one-person show is in fact one gigantic line of dialogue. I had nothing but admiration for folks who memorize a single role in a show, and can be reminded of what they’re supposed to be doing, if necessary, by the other actors.

If you experience memory block in a one-person show, there’s no safety net. The silence, I imagine, might seem many decades long; the focus of the spotlight, blinding and unforgiving. I’ll keep my show music safely in front of me, thank you.

On top of which, if you’re presenting a one-person show of your own creation, you are laying yourself doubly or quadruply bare. This is my work; this is my performance; if you like it, that’s wonderful; if you don’t, there’s nowhere to deflect the critique. It’s all on you. No risk, no reward, they say. The rewards, I imagine, are grand. The peril, I suspect, is similarly sweeping.

As the play finished, and the lengthy ovation subsided, I leaned over to my theater-going comrade (who doubles as a lifelong friend) and whispered, “I can’t do any of that.” She chuckled madly.

I left you hanging, a while back.

There was that sometimes frustrating “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” aphorism.

This phrase more often applies to securing employment or gigs or similar opportunities for one’s self. In this case, I turned it to my advantage: I accessed a piece of dramatical artistry that I may not have actively sought out otherwise. A different sort of opportunity.

And I did so because I knew the play’s creator, and promoter, and presenter.

Her name is Susannah Melone.

Something like three decades ago, she was a creative-arts day-camp student, acting on stage in the middle of that serious play with funny lines called “Left Out”. I was a member of the camp faculty pit orchestra. And until this weekend, I hadn’t seen her live and in-person, for most of those three decades.

We camp counselors occasionally would wonder which of the on-stage kids might one day do what they were doing, but for a living, professionally … and perhaps dimly wondered if we’d ever get to see them in action.

Yes, of course I came to your show,” I said to her afterward, when she suggested (overestimatingly!) that my presence at the show was any kind of a big deal.

For openers, it’s what we do for friends. Come and support them. Woo hoo! and Rah rah rah guys! and all that.

But via her social media postings over the past few years, I’d gotten the sense, however remotely, of the work and research it took her to wrestle “Gilding the Lily” into being, and of the perspiration and desperation and inspiration and outright love that it took to haul the thing onto stages in New York and, now, “home” to Boston.

And it didn’t take much observation to sense that this was going to be For Real.

Because along with being a producer and writer and such, she’s an Actor. A card-carrying, professional, New York City-based actor, and (to my admittedly unpracticed eye, based at least on what I saw the other night) a great one.

For the first about six minutes, as she trod the boards, I was watching my friend Susannah, whom I hadn’t seen in ages.

For the next about eighty-four minutes, I was laughing and sighing with Lillie.

That, I mused afterward, must be how it’s done.

April 12, 2015 Posted by | arts, CRCAP, entertainment, friends, theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment