Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

We Will Receive, We Will Receive

Usually I take a dim view of sports talk radio folks who try to talk politics.  Usually, I think to myself, “you were hired to talk about your area of expertise on the radio; therefore you should try not to talk about subjects that are clearly NOT your area of expertise.

This week, it was the reverse.

Stephanie Miller, my favorite left-leaning political talker, turned her eyes to the Super Bowl, and decided to root for the Atlanta Falcons; because the architects of the New England Patriots’ football prowess, Messrs. Brady, Belichick and Kraft, have all been identified as admirers of Donald Trump, to varying degrees.

When I was in the fifth grade, and prone to hero worship … my view of those gentlemen might have become, if you’ll pardon the expression, a little deflated.

This week, I nonetheless came up with this line of thinking:

Political leanings don’t mean spit when you’re trying not to get sacked, or when you’re trying to analyze the other team’s offensive scheme on very short notice, or when you’re trying to draft the exact right lineman. And if they do, there’s something desperately wrong with your approach to football.

I also try not to validate my personal self-image solely by lining it up with the belief systems of multimillionaire professional sports figures.

On the other hand, I do know these things:

[1] Robert Kraft paid for the construction of Gillette Stadium with his own money and extorted zero dollars from the taxpayers of Massachusetts; which is such a rare thing for an NFL team owner to do that I had to look it up to make sure it’s true. It is.

[2] Bill Belichick has a remarkable (again, not perfect – see also “Aaron Hernandez” – but exemplary) record of taking “problem children” from other NFL teams, parking them in a New England uniform, and succeeding in convincing them to hold themselves up to high standards of behavior and preparation, on and off the field.

And [3] every time Tom Brady completes a ridiculous touchdown pass (into triple coverage, threading the needle in a way no one should be able to do), he always, without fail, visits his offensive line on the bench, letting them know how much he appreciates the fact that they kept him from getting killed en route. Slap on the helmet, whack on the backside, that’s what I’m talkin’ about, let’s do it again.

I also know that, as a Patriots fan since the mid-1970s, I have no business taking Patriot success for granted; as they used to have truly repulsive ownership, ineffectual coaching, and highly breakable quarterbacks with nobody to throw to and nobody to keep them alive. In short, they used to stink the joint out.

So for four hours Sunday, I shall reluctantly set aside my concern for the future medical well-being of large people who crash into each other’s heads for a living; and I shall not wonder, on third down, whether that wide receiver thinks it’s folly to have an oil company executive as Secretary of State.

Go Patriots.

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February 1, 2017 Posted by | current events, Famous Persons, football, politics, sports | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Puzzlement

This isn’t about politics.

Well, it’s not about national, Presidential-level politics. At least not in spite of the first few paragraphs.

It’s a little bit about local politics, but perhaps not the way I’ve set you up to think.

It’s more about dilemmas.

It hasn’t been too often that I’ve stepped into my local voting booth and filled in the little circle for a candidate for President. Much more often, in my lifetime, in a general election, I’ve voted against someone I definitely didn’t want to be President.

It’s said that in primary elections, you fall in love (with a candidate) and you vote with your heart … and in general elections, you fall in line (with your party) and vote with your head, or at least with a bit more recognition that certain things just kinda happen; that things have been done the way things are done … that you’re participating in “politics as usual”.

And sometimes you come out feeling conflicted, and a bit at sea: I wish it were different than it is, but it is what it is, and for all kinds of reasons that aren’t always as pure as “I frickin’ love this candidate and what they stand for and I think they have my personal best interests at heart”.

You’re participating in democracy, as filtered through a party-oriented political system that is, we are forced to admit, almost hopelessly in thrall to money. Therefore you’re participating in a system prone to corruption, even while you are personally against corruption.

You’re often choosing a candidate that you perceive as the lesser of two evils; and you’re often feeling like you’re part of a political setup that is definitely the lesser of two good things.

The grownup, adult world is full of these dilemmas. There are folks who wish to see the world in strictly black-and-white terms; but, sadly, it’s much more grayscale. Takes more thought, more pondering, more head-scratching in the effort to try and see a solution, or a way out, or a way forward.

Which brings me to my alma mater.

Via the good offices of my college band’s alumni association, yesterday I became aware that the UMass Faculty Senate was to vote on a motion to recommend that University administration [1] downgrade UMass football to Division I-A status, or [2] eliminate it altogether. Their reasoning had to do with finances, as well as some other considerations. The motion was voted down, but not before it got me to thinking.

Setting aside for a moment the unlikelihood of the latter [1], within American culture – although my colleagues and I from Boston University in the late 1990s might offer a bit of perspective about killing football programs – and set-ting aside the attractiveness of the former proposal [2] … I will admit to being more than a bit conflicted.

Football has almost always caused me to at least raise an eyebrow. Long before former NFL players were putting it to the NFL that concussions were not just a roster-management nuisance to teams, but were in fact a health crisis generated by the very nature of the sport, I saw football as dangerous to the health of its participants, and let’s face it, a bizarre sport. Football has never been my idea of a great sport to play, myself – I’m pleased that my young nephew is all about baseball – and is assuredly not my favorite sport, period.

On the other hand, as regular readers of The Blogge will know … I did marching band for eight years in high school and college.

The original idea was that American scholastic bands marched because of football games. Then we invented band competitions, so we could have somewhere to perform wherein the spectators were entirely made up of people who cared at least a bit about marching music. But it’s the uncommon ensemble that is deprived of its football context and still thrives. Rarer still is the school marching band that never had a football team to root for, to begin with.

I’m sure that studies have been conducted to determine the adverse effect upon band recruitment of “no football games for your band to play at”, but I can’t quote any right off the top of my head. Do band people care much about that? Would it keep them from continuing to march? (Some of the college bands with whom I have worked have contained people who lived for the exhibitions at high-school band shows, and gritted their teeth all the way through football games. On the other hand, how many people join the Michigan Marching Band and don’t get a little worked up for games against the Spartans or Buckeyes?)

At the same time as I must acknowledge that cutting the football program at a major state university is unlikely … I must also acknowledge that Donald Trump as a major-party presidential nominee was considered most unlikely. So … Starred Thought: never assume anything.

For a brief moment, upon hearing about the vote (before it happened and ended up being a big Emily Litella “never mind!”), I had a Moment: –would the hypothetical axeing of UMass football lead to the end of my beloved Power and Class of New England? If so, at what pace? Via implosion, or erosion?

Now, not just because the motion did fail, but even if it had passed, non-binding as it was … and even if passage had meant something (which current University administration officials appeared to think was highly unlikely anyway!) … in the cold morning light … I’ve decided that I’m not losing sleep over this. (I *am* mixing metaphors like a one-armed bartender.) (And my similes are feeling similar pain, apparently. Sorry.)

After all, if the Boston University Terrier Marching Band could have its football team yanked out from under it (fall 1997; I was there) and still survive and thrive and get into movies and such … then surely the 380-member juggernaut from the Pioneer Valley (with a Sudler Trophy and a DCI-Hall-Of-Fame instructional staff and, dang it, a reputation) ought to be okay. Yes?

I think?

I’m already on record about the decision to move UMass football to Division I (or the BCS, or whatever the folks in charge are calling it). From the get-go, I felt it was among the more ill-considered, more pie-in-the-sky, more arrogant decisions my alma mater has ever made. No need to go into the reasoning behind that opinion, here, since all you have to do is click here and read.

From a strictly football point of view, I never felt there was either the existing interest or even the potentially-develop-able interest (from current students, from local alumni, from the general eastern-Massachusetts public) in supporting Your Alma Mater’s Football Team At Gillette Stadium Squaring Off Against the Mighty ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Big-Whoop Famous Football Teams. And (as it became quickly clear) there was hardly a hope of attracting the kind of football talent necessary to keep UMass from being perennially “Your 2-and-10 Minutemen”. Let’s be honest: this is New England. We don’t have anything remotely like Alabama/Auburn – and, at least as importantly, we don’t have anything remotely like Texas high-school football. (Which for many reasons might be just fine, actually.)

Downgrading (or, as I prefer to think of it, returning) UMass to Division I-A would mean that football would be played in the cozy confines of McGuirk Stadium, not the cavernous one-sixteenth-full Kraft Family Canyon. And it would be enjoyed by the relatively small but loyal constituency of western-Massachusetts fans which has been propping up that little UMass football program for decades. It’d be shorter money (you don’t get a big payday from a major network for playing against the University of Maine) … but UMass would get much closer to breaking even. And the student section would be full of kids who actually would be able to roll out of bed at noon and walk down to the game, rather than having to hop a bus at Absurd O’Clock and kill an entire Saturday.

And the relationship between the band and its halftime and postgame audiences would be far less diluted by the physical distance from stands to front sideline. Which, at UMass, has always been a pretty big deal at least as far back as the first time George Parks perched on that narrow concrete rail at the base of the McGuirk home stands. At Gillette Stadium, when the band crashes the sideline, the audience is still in another zip code. At McGuirk, the band crashes the sideline and the audience can see individual band members’ smiles.

One big part of me agrees with the Faculty Senate (if not its tactics). Football is, at best, a double-edged sword – one that benefits greatly from the phrase about tradition that goes, “but we’ve always done it this way”. It often offers more long-term risk than long-term reward for its participants. From the standpoint of concussions alone, some commentators have advocated abolishing the sport altogether, and I grasp their passion on the subject, oh yes I do. And the Division I version of American college football opens its participating schools up to great sweeping plains of temptation and corruption and mistreatment of people and academic hypocrisy that would make a mud bath feel clean and pristine.

But another, equally large part of me knows that a fall Saturday afternoon at halftime is a great place for the Minuteman Marching Band to do its thing.

It is … a puzzlement.

April 29, 2016 Posted by | band, BUMB, football, marching band, politics, sports, UMMB | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why I Can’t Abide the Stanford Band

Yes, friends, after having repeatedly preached the gospel of “if all us band types can’t support each other, who in the world is going to?” in this space … I’m ripping on somebody else’s band.

Irony alert.

 

So, yesterday afternoon, I was alerted by the social media elves that there had been yet another example of college marching bands behaving badly.

In this case, it was the Rose Bowl halftime. As it was, the University of Iowa football team had been taking it on the chin, at the hands of the Stanford University athletic establishment. The score was somewhere near 35 to nothing at the break.

And then, reportedly (as I am without glitzy cable TV these days, I didn’t see any of it, but the reports were quite insistent), the Stanford band took the field, and took a few liberties.

Some background details to note here.

First, the Stanford band is a member of that subset of college bands who tend not to take themselves, their opponents, their activity, or indeed the concept of dignity, too seriously. And honestly, a band that can’t create a little fun in their show – somehow, and there are many ways to do this – isn’t much of a college band. Right?

Second, the Stanford band could not have predicted that Iowa football was going to tank as badly as it did, in that first half. Their intent wasn’t to pile on, at least in that context.

But pile on they did. And even if the score had been the reverse, apparently their halftime-show mockery of Iowa and its farmers and its Midwestern-ness crossed a few lines of good taste and good sense.

This is a thing that the occasional college band will do. They take shots at opposing teams, or schools, as an integral part of their halftime shows. Usually it involves public-address narration, so there can be absolutely no doubt that they meant that.

(You may recall earlier this fall, when there was debate about whether it was okay for the Kansas State band to take a crack at its in-state rival, Kansas University – when it wasn’t even the K-State/Kansas game! Never mind the issue of whether that drill formation was the Starship Enterprise or something, um, more personal.)

And third: this sort of thing is not new for the Stanford group.

Earlier yesterday morning, as they passed in review for the national-TV cameras at the Rose Parade, I watched how they conducted themselves – just the overall dominant impression they offered the average viewer who perhaps was new to the activity – and I posted this on the Facebook machine:

My apologies to everyone in the world… but the Stanford band is everything about band that I wish would just. please. stop. (Unearned swagger, for openers.)

But it goes back further than that. A lot further. And a lot less “oh, they’re just college kids”. There’s a history here.

There’s even a history on my social media timeline. When the Facebook algorithms told me that I had a few memories from past New Year’s Days to review and remember, yesterday … turns out those memories were of me making very similar commentary about that same Stanford band organization, exactly two years ago, after it covered itself in something other than glory during that Rose Parade.

So… Stanford… … … where to begin?”

And then, during that year’s Rose Bowl halftime clunker:

Here’s the only reason UMass should stay in Div. I-A: so that one bright shining day, they can play Stanford in a bowl game and put on the definitive halftime clinic.”

And then, I scrolled down further and noted my reactions to their Rose Bowl halftime show on New Year’s Day 2013, just a year earlier than that:

The TV camera angle of the day, for me: in the foreground, the Stanford band playing its halftime show … and in the background, the Wisconsin drumline kneeling on the sideline, their faces clearly reading: ‘…whatever.’”

Final score: Wisconsin wins music and dignity captions; Stanford wins ‘you’ll remember our band tomorrow morning at work’ caption.”

 

Sorry. That’s a whole lot of high-and-mighty dumping on one particular band organization – a band whom I have never actually met; whose rehearsals I have not watched; whom I have not actually experienced in real life. All I’m basing my reactions on … is what I’ve seen on TV and on Internet replays.

But that’s the point: you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

This is what a few bands (Stanford being only the most obvious, yesterday) do: they live inside the bubble that is their own heads, or their own organizations, and remain convinced that it would be best if they played the part of arrogant jackwagons, on the field or on the parade route, because, well, WE think it’s funny, anyway. If you’re offended, or think we could try to bring a better musical product, well, that’s your hangup, dude.

On that subject, Australian philosophy professor Patrick Stokes wrote:

The problem with ‘I’m entitled to my opinion’ is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for ‘I can say or think whatever I like’ – and by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful.”

In fact, however, when you’re a band playing a halftime show, it’s not all about you – even if, yes, you’re the only people on the field and in theory you’re the show. You’re playing for somebody (in this case, an audience), and you’re representing someone other than (larger than) yourself. One hopes that, at the time, you realize it.

Or at least that your leadership does.

The training I’ve received via my college band, and then as part of the Drum Major Academy staff, has had at least as much to do with remembering where you are and what effect you have on other people, as it’s had to do with guiding the lines and playing the notes and hitting the drill dots and wearing the uniform frontwards.

Also, once, I read a high school band’s governing handbook, and it said this:

Let me give you some other things that band does for you. … #3. Citizenship: to develop better citizens for the world of tomorrow by devoloping the traits of responsible citizens today. This may be realized through the mental and physical discipline incurred from the enactment of the program experience. … #4. Service: to lend dignity, color, and atmosphere to certain school and civic events.” [Italics mine.]

Also, I read an interview with Richard Goodstein of Clemson University, and he suggested this to future band directors:

…As the administration you have to make sure that your students are good ambassadors of the university, whether they’re at home or on a road trip. … There are so many different stakeholders that you have to take a wide view and it makes you politically astute about what kind of things will make you successfull beyond the narrower view of just the marching band program.” [Italics, again, mine.]

Finally, of course, the purveyor of my aforementioned training in how best to do band (and, by extension, the rest of life) memorably said this, in an interview:

There are standards — standards of behavior, standards of how to project the image of the band, which is the image of the university, which is of course the image of themselves.”

 

So I guess it just bugs the hell out of me that ninety-nine and a half percent of the college band world is just trying to do things right, to put on a decent show, to not get mocked mercilessly for wearing feathers on our heads, and just generally to get even remotely understood by the general public … And then yahoos like the Stanford band leadership have to go and plan stuff – on-field, pre-meditated stuff – that by extension casts all those darn bands full of dumb college kids, in a really poor light.

And in preparation for yesterday’s Rose Bowl, somebody at Stanford University green-lit that project. Okayed it for viewing by tens of thousands of live witnesses, and by millions of viewers … whose opinions of that school, and that band, and unfortunately band in general, would be shaped by what they were seeing in that moment. And who wouldn’t take the time to go to YouTube or wherever, to find out what the “average” college band performance was. Y’know, just so they could figure out where on that continuum a Stanford-esque show actually sat.

The final nail in the coffin: one of the Drum Major Academy students with whom I had the honor of working, this past summer, leapt onto Facebook and posted a thought that referenced one of our head clinician’s Starred Thoughts which happens to be my favorite:

All hype and no substance makes you a fluffhead.”

There ya go.

So thanks a bundle, Band Whose Mascot Appears To Be A Tree: through your efforts, the concept of band is in the news again, and for the worst reason and in the poorest light. Happy New Year to you, too; but only if that happiness comes in the form of dispensing with the attitude and gaining a little perspective.

January 2, 2016 Posted by | band, current events, DMA, entertainment, football, GNP, marching band, music, news, social media, Starred Thoughts | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments