Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

We Have Reached That Moment

I’ve been following a number of folks on Twitter – psychology professionals as well as lay people with observational experience about decline in mental acuity in older humans (in one case, his own father). They have been helping me kinda keep track of the possibility that the Commander-in-Chief is compromised – not merely in a national security or personal finance or personal-peccadillos-leading-to-possible-blackmail sort of sense, but actually mentally compromised.

Ever since the era of Barry Goldwater, the long-distance diagnosing of Presidents and paupers alike has been frowned upon, sometimes by professional organizations of psychology and psychiatry professionals. If you haven’t formally examined a person, what basis do you really have to judge their, say, fitness to hold office?

On the other hand: as Keith Olbermann asked pointedly in one of his video commentaries from three years ago, is that kinda like suggesting that you’re not qualified to judge whether a brush fire is dangerous unless you personally have been singed by those specific flames?

Nonetheless, I’ve been pretty careful, all things considered, to keep my own anecdotal observations and assessments fairly conservative where Orange Julius Caesar is concerned.

I’ve taken a look at quite a few video clips that have been publicized (click-bait-ily) with headlines or Twitter blurts like “watch as he loses his mind on live TV”, or similar. I’ve watched for the promised physical tics or verbal slips that surely (according to those who post the videos) must indicate the onset of full-blown frontotemporal dementia!!… And most of the time, I’ve thought, yeah, but that’s not nearly as conclusive PROOF as they say it is, at least to my eyes. If you’re looking really hard for something, and you really want to find it, your brain will help you to find it. Call it a personal echo chamber, call it confirmation bias … but in most cases, these videos aren’t rock-solid evidence, admissible in court or in competence hearings, of a person absolutely having lost their grip on things in a clinically diagnosable way.

In fact, I would rather not see rock-solid evidence that the leader of the free world and the holder of the nuclear codes is not all there.

This weekend, though.

I have now found the piece of video that makes me sit back, release a gusty exhale, shake my head in my own partial daze, and say out loud, “okay. Holy hell. NOW it’s clear. He’s somewhere else other than where he needs to be.”

There was no question.

And what really surprised me was: out of all the things that it could have been, out of all the things that have already happened that would have brought out the guys in clean white coats brandishing butterfly nets … it had to do with the national anthem.

The Current Occupant of the Oval Office was hanging out at his south Florida resort, hosting a Super Bowl watch party in a large function room full of fairly fat cats. The game was about to start, and the band (more accurately, a recording of a band) began to play “The Star-Spangled Banner”. Everyone in the room stood silently and respectfully, many with hands over hearts.

Except for one.

The nominal leader of the free world stood, all right; but throughout the smartphone-videorecorded Anthem, he twisted around, this way and that, pointing toward and waving at and mugging for other (offscreen) people in the room, as if they had all stood in order to honor him; as if the evening were one of his rallies. Hey there how ya doin’. What a night. Big smile for the camera I bet you’re holding. No? Well, big smile anyway; it’s a party, ain’t it?

Okay, so I’ve dealt with people who didn’t grasp how to behave during solemn occasions, who couldn’t stand still if their very lives depended on doing so (and not in a neurological way, not in an clinically-diagnosed and medically-recognized ADHD sort of way). Granted, many of them were the first- and third-grade kids to whom I taught music a dozen years ago. But I know adults who have to work at it, too, for various reasons, not all of which are strictly neurological.

So as I was watching this video clip, I thought, yeah, okay, he’s full of himself. We know that. Yeah, we know (thanks to leaked national security briefing anecdotes) that his attention span is remarkably short. Rather than paragraphs on end, he really likes bullet points, and not too many of those at a crack, thank you. This activity isn’t headline-generating anymore. Sadly, a lot of this kind of thing coming from this particular guy has been normalized by supporters and mainstream-media types alike.

Then, though, about halfway through the Anthem, I saw it. I saw the moment that made me realize that we really genuinely have arrived at that different place, the one I was being so careful not to prematurely declare.

It was a behavior that I’ve seen from little kids at band concerts. From them, it’s cute (and sometimes inspiring).

I’ve seen it from folks who, through no fault of their own, are beset with developmental delays that cause them to react to music in this way. From them, it’s understandable, and when we grasp what we’re looking at, we smile a bit and nod. Yes, this happens; and it’s okay.

But that’s about it.

I have now seen it from the fellow who currently holds the highest office in the land.

He raised his arms and flapped them back and forth in front of himself, vaguely almost in time with the music. I’m not convinced it was in a mocking way at all … but he was very definitely pretending to conduct the music of that recorded band playing the national anthem. Not ironically. Not to try and pretend to be a Great And Influential Band Conductor. But only, it really seemed to me, as a literal in-the-moment response to the music.

Now. I spend a week every summer helping train high school students to be the drum majors of their high school bands, and one of the things we help them with is how to conduct the Star-Spangled Banner, because once a week during football season they will have to do this in public. Early in that week, a lot of the first-year drum-major gonna-bees have conducting patterns that can look a little … vague, or a little … flappy, or a little … well, let’s bring those arms down from shoulder-height to waist height, and make ’em look less like you’re waving to your family; and let’s teach you a little bit of technique…

This wasn’t that either, not by a long way.

If the cameras had shown the spectators at the actual Super Bowl last weekend, during the actual singing of the National Anthem, it is very doubtful that you would have seen many … any? … of the spectators conducting along with the music, unless they had fallen into one of the two groups I mentioned a moment ago. Any grown adult member who has grown up in American society as it is currently constructed and as its norms are currently taught and modeled … simply wouldn’t do that.

Again, I am not prone to pointing to one single event and declaring it a trend, then a pattern, then a behavior, then a habit, then a permanent indicator of a permanent condition. Science demands that we gather more than just one data point, that we run experiments or conduct observations that overcome the effect of singular, unusual occurrences.

But this particular, singular, unusual occurrence … at least to my wondering eyes … has to be an exception.

The Current Occupant of the Oval Office is not … well.

And I take no pleasure in noting this.

And I can think of no American institution, governmental or otherwise, that currently is capable of dealing directly with this.

Who is going to stride into the Oval Office and insist that its resident needs to come to a side room, so that we can conduct proper neurological tests and thereby confirm or deny that he is fit to serve as the leader of the most heavily-armed nation on the planet?

Who is the Doctor McCoy to his Captain Kirk? Who is the person who can pull rank and demand that the commanding officer head down to the USS Enterprise‘s sickbay and sit for a full medical workup?

I don’t know.

(And from a strictly personal, nearly selfish, perspective … from the perspective of a former high-school and college-band director … I wonder. Of all the events I could have observed, that would have convinced me that he is not fit to serve as that leader …

(Did it have to be related to pretending to conduct a recording of a band playing the national anthem?)

February 5, 2020 Posted by | current events, government, news | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Not the Point

The following thoughts have a point.

That point is not that ABC’s decision to include former White House press secretary Sean Spicer in the cast of the upcoming season of “Dancing With the Stars” has rubbed a great many people the wrong way.

I have my own feelings about Mr. Spicer’s time as press secretary, but they’re not the point either.

I have my own feelings about the suits in the ivory-tower offices that thought it would be a great idea to reward Mr. Spicer with pop culture celebrity status, when his single claim to fame was accepting a White House paycheck to defend the indefensible … but those feelings aren’t the point either.

The point has to do with Spicer’s own assessment of his likely success, or lack thereof, on the dancing competition show.

Spicer admitted Wednesday [August 21, the day his gig was announced on ABC’s “Good Morning America” program] that he’s not much of a dancer. He revealed that he was kicked out of the school band in sixth grade for having ‘the sense of beat of a steamroller.’”

I don’t know Spicer’s sixth-grade band director. I’ve never seen that teacher teach. I have no idea whether this quote is even accurate, although during this attempt at self-deprecation, Spicer insisted that the steamroller metaphor was indeed a direct quote from his teacher.

(The point of this blog post isn’t even to raise an eyebrow at the steamroller metaphor, since I’ve heard steamrollers that chug along quite steadily; maybe this band director said or meant some other piece of construction equipment, or some other noun entirely. I guess I get the gist, nonetheless; but man, the English language has taken a beating lately.)

But over the course of my time as a public-school music teacher and church choir director, I’ve heard more stories about music teachers of a bygone era dissuading students from continuing their musical interests on account of their alleged musical liabilities than I care to.

Just move your mouth along with the words,” said the elementary school chorus teacher in stories told by church choir members or (worse) wistful grown adults who subsequently never participated in any musical activities again because a music teacher told them they couldn’t sing.

As a high school band director, I encountered students at lots of different levels of musical ability. Some were truly spectacular natural talents; and some worked really hard just to keep pace with “average”. I can think of one or two whose contribution to our high school music program was one part musical skill to about seven eight parts hard work and (occasionally reckless-abandon-level) enthusiasm. They probably know who they are; they might be surprised to know how important they were to my experience as a teacher. I learned more from them than they might have learned from me.

For a truly inspiring concert experience, I will revel in the relatively humble achievements of a pack of music students who are not all Wynton Marsalis or Kathleen Battle and never will be … but who find some success and decide they want to experience it again and so they keep after it.

For all I know, Sean Spicer might not have been a troublemaker, a misbehaver, a disrupter, a hindrance. For all we know, he might have been an earnest “good kid” who tried his hardest and wanted to be a band musician so badly it hurt.

Who knows where Sean Spicer could have ended up, how different his life might have been, had his band director understood that “band is a place for everyone”, and figured out how to keep him around and get him a taste of success … rather than just badmouthing him and then “firing” him at the first sign of weakness.

Hmm. Ain’t that a familiar tale … I can think of another guy who treated Spicer that same way …

but again, that’s not the point.

August 26, 2019 Posted by | band, celebrity, current events, education, entertainment, Famous Persons, music, news, Starred Thoughts, teachers, television | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Take a Cup of Kindness -or- 2018, Your Performance Review is Today

Because I marinate in politics (news roundups, editorials, podcasts, the shootin’ works), I could very easily think that 2018 had been a ridiculous, corrupt, are-we-in-the-Matrix-or-something?, disaster of a year.

But if I just look over this way … perhaps a different story.

[] This year, my church gig is full (to overflowing) of interested and available brass and woodwind and string and guitarhead folks … not to mention a choir that became increasingly affable and chuckly as 2018 progressed. Not to be taken for granted.

[] This year, my work situation … well, let’s just say: not long after the date of the company holiday party was announced, more than one person asked me, “so, is your Mom coming to the party again this year?” — genuinely, without a shred of snark. Not to be taken for granted.

[] This year, in both of the aforementioned arenas, I work for grand and decent (manager-type) people. NOT to be taken for granted.

[] This year, I celebrated my 20th summer of (1) helping to make some quality children’s theatre happen, and (2) helping to teach drum majors how to flap their arms and such. In both cases, I feel like I’ve received far more benefit than I’ve offered. Great times had, great friends made. In a world where nothing lasts forever, these are a couple of activities which I’m starting to mindfully NOT take for granted, in the moments when I’m participating in them.

[] This year, two of the college marching bands with whom I am pleased to be associated in some way made themselves a big ol’ splash in Major Holiday Parades On Live Television this past year. One was celebrating Roses, and the other was celebrating … well, Deep-Frozen Philly Cheese Steak, I suppose.

[] This year, the good people who host my professional website and my blog have not closed either operation down for utter embarrassing lack of activity, even though they definitely should have. (At least the blog don’t cost money!)

[] This year, the house has not sprung a leak. The car has not pooped out. NOT to be taken for granted.

[] I have grand and glorious friends, both newly-made and lifelong. My social media feed is the sort that more people ought to have … calm, cool, collected, and thoughtful. (I do need to see more of them live and in-person, though. So, a New Year’s Resolution.)

[] Number One Niece and Nephew continue to become the kind of people who make a fella thrilled to be the Uncle. Talented, hard-working, smaht … and very, VERY funny.

[] Number One Sister remains the kind of sister you want to have. And I’m one of the lucky folks in the world who thinks that Number One Brother-in-Law is indeed Number One.

[] Mom’s still making a very strong case for Most Agile Octogenarian, and still has not only all her marbles but a few other people’s as well.

[] Oh, and a couple of projects began to develop this year that I will talk about some other time, when it’s appropriate. Vaguebooking is alive and well.

So, at least within my little echo-chamber-y bubble: this year, plenty good stuff, after all.

I do freely admit that as a straight white male, my in-built privilege makes it that much easier to think that life is that much easier. I may well be the last demographic that they come for.

Outside my bubble, there’s still a huge amount of work to do, before life is made that much easier for a great many people in the world. So … time to go get after it in 2019.

But worthwhile to recognize what’s going well, and try to amplify it. Hope you can say some version of the same, in this clearly insane world.

As the good Col. Potter said: “Here’s to the new year. May she be a damn sight better than the old one, and may we all be home before she’s over.”

January 1, 2019 Posted by | current events | , , , | Leave a comment