Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

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.”)

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

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

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.

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