Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

A Big Deal

Something I’ve said to lots of people … so if you’ve heard it before, my apologies … is this:

Any time someone visits a former teacher of theirs in their classroom, it’s a big deal. The former student only thinks they’re the most excited to reconnect … but the former teacher recognizes that the student returned of their own free will. And that’s a truly big deal.

Perhaps the only bigger deal is: when a former student [in this case, perhaps more appropriate and accurate to say former young-adult music-ensemble colleague?] invites a former teacher [college band director] to their wedding. “Your presence is requested at this Life Event.” A big deal, indeed.

So this weekend I happily attended such a Life Event, the third time I’ve been invited to do so. The general concensus was that the day was at least 99.8 percent perfect in terms of logistics and meteorology.

The added bonus was the presence of a rank of other former students [young-adult music-ensemble colleagues] – friends of the bride, who had all run out onto a college football field at halftime together, wearing purple-and-white uniforms and carrying musical instruments – whom I had not seen (give or take a Homecoming) for a decade or so.

The nuptials were, of course, the impetus for getting us all back in the same room again; they were the point of the day, and it was meet and right to emphasize them. Suzie (along with her new husband) gets the credit.

The bonus feature of the day, though, was no mere footnote. Spending the afternoon with Alison, Julie, Suzy, Tom, Maggie, Caroline, Rose and James … and marinating in the glow for the rest of the evening? Glorious.

Suzie gets the credit for that, as well.

The hoped-for goal, obviously, is for there to be a maximum of one wedding per person. Shame we can’t experience this particular day again, though.

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August 14, 2017 Posted by | band, friends, HCMB, marching band | , , , | Leave a comment

The Welcome Will Not End

One of the topics that gets covered during a George N. Parks Drum Major Academy clinic week, as we offer three hundred high school drum majors and color guard captains a metaphorical box of tools with which to survive and thrive in their new autumn jobs, is that dangerous word: traditions.

Ya know,” our lead clinician quipped this week, “the stuff you do two years in a row.” And then you can’t figure out why it was so important, but you keep doing it.

DMA has a few traditions of its own.

One of them, which we’ve been upholding for most of three decades, is an event that I will freely admit to enjoying, even though it can be one of the more melancholy moments of my professional year. It comes toward the end of our last evening with the students. It’s an odd moment to have this kind of “heavens, we’re done” feeling, considering we still have about eighteen hours left – the next day, we do one more morning of clinic activities and then an afternoon demonstration show for family and friends.

The moment comes after our lead clinician has spent better than an hour emphasizing to the assembled high school band student leaders (among other ideas) the importance of making sure that the freshmen – and the upperclassmen! – keep believing in the magic of band. Which, out of context, may strike people as a spectacularly Pollyanna-ish and corny thought, but take my word for it: at the end of this particular lecture session it makes all the sense in the world. The thought comes at the end of a very intense four days.

Such that, in the last few minutes of the session, when our lead clinician brings the DMA instructional staff onto the stage of the little auditorium so she can properly acknowledge us, the students clap and cheer madly. And when she brings the veterans (students who “are crazy enough to come and do this a second or third year”) onto the front edge of the stage, a lot of them are teary before they even get there, never mind when they’re handed a little souvenir DMA “vet pin”, never mind when they’re called to execute a salute and the rest of the non-veteran students and the staff clap and cheer madly.

Such that many of the non-veteran students are also a wee bit teary. The instructional staff does generally keep it together.

At least until!…

Well, here’s the tradition that I both love and (in a simultaneous, slightly out-of-body moment) wonder whether the outside world would think it’s as great as I do.

We play a recording of this one particular tune from the mid-1980s that seems specifically designed to lay waste to most everybody’s composure.

Everybody links arms and sways. Some of us (who have actually heard the tune two or three or thirty times before) sing along. (Some of us sing in five-part harmony with full orchestration. Um, guilty.) A lot of people suddenly realize they’re in the middle of the last time we’ll be together doing this, for a while or maybe ever.

Rewind thirty years.

Can you guys help me with something?”

It was DMA, at Hampshire College in western Massachusetts, during the summer of 1987. The collegiate assistants were gathered at the edge of the practice field where DMA marching and teaching activities were conducted. At the time, it was a much smaller group than it is now – only the UMass band’s three drum majors and a couple other student field-staff members – and after the morning sessions, they’d grab lunch and head back to the UMass campus to continue prep work for the upcoming band camp and marching season; then they’d come back to Hampshire for the evening indoor lecture sessions.

Our band director had asked the question.

Many words have been written in this space, previously, about this gentleman, nearly all of which basically glowed in the dark. We did, and do, think very highly of him.

But nobody’s perfect; and occasionally, we humans looked at our very human band director and wondered what exactly was going on in that mad brain of his. Sometimes there was a plan, and we just didn’t know about it right away. Sometimes there was a plan, and we never did find out what that plan was.

This time, he had a project for us – but he didn’t tell us the whole plan.

Yeah, I found this song, and it’s kinda neat, but I can’t quite understand some of the lyrics, the way it’s sung. Could I ask you guys to take a listen and see what you can make out?”

(Kids, gather ’round your old man and listen to him tell stories of the days before the Internet.)

So we sat down around a picnic table in the middle of that field, fired up the boom box, and pretty much shredded the cassette tape of this, um, more than faintly cheesy-sounding tune.

Back and forth, over and over, we closed our eyes and bore down on what we were hearing, and tried to glean what this tenor pop singing fellow was getting at. A shame that I don’t know where the notebook has gotten to, the one in which we wrote what we thought might have been the lyrics. Or maybe not a shame it’s gone: it’s pretty likely that we got most of the refrain correct, perhaps half of the first verse, and exceptionally little of the second.

None of us knew who Michael W. Smith was, before that morning. That knowledge might have helped. There were a number of lyrics that … well … they couldn’t possibly be religious, could they? We’re a state university, after all.

(They could.)

Packing up the dreams God planted / In the fertile soil of you

Was this song even intended for the UMass band in any way at all?

(It was.)

The fertile soil of you?” What kind of writing is that?

(I know. Trust me. I know.)

Can’t believe the hopes He’s granted / Means a chapter of your life is through

Hmm. Maybe it’s for senior day, or the Band Banquet, or something.

Was this song really meant for too-cool-for-the-room college students, this fairly sentimental-sounding piece of pop fluff?

But we’ll keep you close as always / It won’t even seem you’ve gone

(Even this.)

(After all, our director was one of the world’s foremost authorities on making corny pieces of music into beloved elements of the legacy and lore of one’s college band.)

Hmmmm.

We did our best. We gave him his notebook back. We went to lunch. And (while he was, as it turned out, engaging someone else somewhere else in this project too, since a lot of us now know the lyrics “chapter and verse”, as it were) … we didn’t think about the song again until a few months later, when we were playing an arrangement of it.

The UMass band already had a tune that it performed to close all its performances. So that wasn’t it. And we played this Michael W. Smith tune at about three performances total. We listened to the recording, the one which we DMA helper-types had transcribed almost completely wrong, in maybe only a couple of other non-performance moments. Our director just thought that the song said some things that applied to our band, which he loved very much – or certainly he wanted them to apply to us.

‘Cause our hearts in big and small ways / Will keep the love that keeps us strong

And then, possibly helped along by the fact that band people can just be that way sometimes … we bought into the thing. Hook, line and sinker.

And then our director decided to apply the tune to his Drum Major Academy curriculum.

Fast-forward thirty years, to now …

And here we are. Standing on the stage in an academic auditorium, many of us surreptitiously thinking, “I’m not crying, YOU’RE crying”, and at least as many of us (even those relative cynics amongst us) thinking about how the lyrics have it just about right … as they apply to the staffers who have been doing this relatively forever, but also to the students who have pretty much just met each other, and none of us really want to part company just yet.

There are lots of reasons why I look forward to the summer week or weeks of DMA. For many reasons, I could argue that in fact it is “the most wonderful time of the year”, and not that wintry month during which lots of people buy and wrap stuff. Talk about traditions!…

I’m thinking, here of one particular reason. It’s a reason which is hopefully not the biggest, since the Drum Major Academy purpose is to teach young people not just to conduct and call commands and teach and lead but to take the tools we offer them and utilize them throughout their lives to be decent to other people.

But one thought that regularly leaps into the forefront of my mind as summer approaches is this: I get to spend time with, and hang out with, and joke and be silly with, and learn to be a better teacher from, this pack of marvelous professional educators (and collegiate future-educators) … many of whom I only get to see once a year. As well as, frankly, a great many DMA students who bring some remarkably positive attributes with them as we meet for the first time.

And a few of those students, some of whom have been in my indoor conducting-video sessions or in my outdoor squad-competition companies, have crossed over to the staff side of things … and now are teaching me how better to teach. And thanks partly to the marvel that is social media, but mostly to the rather intense experience that we share each summer, we’re friends and borderline adopted-family; and those song lyrics are Pollyanna-ish and corny and sentimental, but they’re also true …

 

And friends are friends forever

If the Lord’s the Lord of them

And a friend will not say never

‘Cause the welcome will not end

Though it’s hard to let you go

In the Father’s hands we know

That a lifetime’s not too long

To live as friends

August 5, 2017 Posted by | band, DMA, drum major, friends, GNP, UMMB | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We’re Done Here

I try to think of myself as a pretty good listener.

Partly because my early college years were so full of me bending friends’ ears so often, as I tried to navigate this or that social or academic minefield, that I’ve since wanted to try and make it up to them, by paying it forward.

But also, it’s not a bad quality to aspire to, just to deal with people well.

My goal – maybe not overtly, or always in the forefront of my mind, but still, my goal – is to try to see things from the other fellow’s perspective. It can be hard to reach common ground if you only stare at your own feet.

It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth the effort. Even if you didn’t reach that common ground, well, Yoda was wrong: there is “try”.

I could say that the last month, or three, or eighteen, have been challenging from this perspective, upon my social media feed. But it’s actually not completely true, at least in this one regard: as it works out, the great majority of folks with whom I have Facebook Friendships happen to share a lot of my political views. Thanks to one thing and another, we seem to share the same attitudes about how you treat other people, even beyond the battle lines of modern politics. Politically, it is without question an echo chamber. But (and not every online outlet can lay claim to this) it’s also a place that I can visit which features a whole lot of sympathy and empathy, a whole lot of people showing support for each other. The concrete, actual world surely could use more of this.

I’m actually pleased to say that I have several friends (Facebook- as well as brick-and-mortar) who identify as Republicans – Eisenhower Republicans, to be sure, but it technically counts – with whom I regularly have constructive conversations and, just as importantly, I have a pretty good time hanging out with. Online or in person.

This is not about that.

This isn’t about party lines, and although you may have trouble believing it, it isn’t about the current occupant of the Oval Office either.

It took all of the most recent month, or three months, or really eighteen months. I was right on the verge, but several times I fought the urge. And tonight, I finally did it.

I unfriended somebody.

For a long time, I’d made a quite conscious effort – after reading one of this gentleman’s posts or observing whatever link was being proffered – to keep his contributions around. To not push him away, virtually speaking. After all, never a bad idea to see how the opposition is thinking, what their approach is – whether it’s politics or football or what. A new thought may occur to you … or at least you can use that “opposition research” to hone your argument.

And this gentleman’s posts and links had consisted of thoughts that I definitely didn’t agree with, but they were always fitting into one of two categories: earnest opinion about policy, or snarky remarks about folks on my side of the political aisle. The swings that he took were always metaphorical.

This little meme was different, though.

Not to fall into the “both sides are just as bad” trap – because I happen to believe that on a great many counts, in a great many ways, one side is in fact substantively worse than the other. But I do acknowledge that in the world of pointed snarky memes, one political side doesn’t have a total monopoly on the sort of meme humor that cuts pretty close to the bone.

I can appreciate clever a lot more than I can appreciate ham-handed. Although sometimes ham-handed has its place.

Again, the meme that finally caused me to pare down my list of Friends by one … was substantively different than the usual.

It was effectively a two-panel cartoon.  Panel #1 had a caption that read, “HOW PROTESTERS SEE THEMSELVES”, and the captioned image was a photograph of half a dozen people who clearly were part of some protest march or demonstration or other, protesting and demonstrating passionately.

Panel #2’s caption read, “HOW I SEE THEM”.

The image was of a series of speed bumps.

Whether or not you remember the recent terrorist attack in Nice, France, during which a man drove a truck straight through throngs of strolling tourists and killed many of them, doesn’t matter.

If you post that meme – if you attach your name to it, and thereby declare that you are standing behind the sentiment – then you are, very simply, advocating violence. Possibly lethal violence. You are saying that you think it’s okay to mow down other human beings with a motor vehicle. You are, further, making a joke out of it.

Aaaaaaand we’re done here.

I’m done with you.

Doesn’t matter whether you support Trump or Trudeau or a trumpet or a truffle. Doesn’t matter whether you’re a conservative or a conservationist or a concierge or a contra dancer.

I am done with you.

There are many more mature ways to express an opinion. There are many more humane ways to deal with other people. There are other people out there who are mature, or humane, or in many cases both, that I would prefer to deal with — whether I agree with them politically or not.

I won’t go to my unFriend’s house and throw things at it in order to let him know. In this case, he’ll only know that I’m done with him when it occurs to him that he hasn’t seen my posts in a while. (Given the capricious way that Facebook’s algorithms cycle people in and out of other people’s feeds, it may not strike him at all.) Social media allows me to excise his view of the world from my immediate daily awareness with a simple mouse click. No muss, no fuss.

I know; it’s a passive-aggressive way of dealing with this.

There are enough aggressive-aggressive behaviors in the world to contend with, which increasingly we need to address, though; and it’s not always crucial to fight fire with fire.

But I just don’t have it in me to try to engage with somebody who thinks people are speed bumps.

February 22, 2017 Posted by | current events, Facebook, friends, humor, Internet, news, social media | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment