Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Safe As Band Rooms

This week, quite a number of people in my FB world will return to their musical ensembles – scholastic or church-related or community groups or whatever – stand in front of them, and try to find something to say that addresses the place we find our nation in. Not an easy job. (No easier is the job of the people who will return to their music – or other! – classrooms and try to find the right thing to say to their elementary and pre-school-aged charges. That’s certain.)

I will, too. So, I’ve been thinking furiously (and you may take that however you like). I’ve been remembering ensembles I’ve been a member of, throughout my life, and drawing inspiration from them.

Here’s what I think I would say to any of the ensembles that I get to work with. Here’s what I think I would say to any ensemble I’ve EVER gotten to work with — because there are groups full of people from my recent and distant past that I’ve been thinking of in the last day or so, as well, who happen to be wonderful people but even if they weren’t, it wouldn’t matter. They all were – are – PERSONS, and as such deserve respect unconditionally.

Deep breath.

I feel like I have to say this, in this moment; but I also feel like there’s no need to say this, generally, because you all know this already; but I also feel like it’s worth saying at all times.

In this ensemble, no matter who you are, no matter what you look like, no matter what instrument you play or what flag you wave or what voice part you sing, no matter whether you read music well or somewhat or not at all… no matter what…

When you are on this field, in this choir room, on this stage… you are IMPORTANT… you are WELCOME… and you are SAFE.”

Effectively, that’s what George Parks said (by way of his actions), for all those years. It’s what newly-minted NafME GNP Leadership Award winner Thom Hannum has done for all of his years – and specifically, valiantly demonstrated six years ago when a particular bereft band needed it the very most. It’s what was shown to me and to anyone within reach, by all the band directors and choir directors that I’ve ever played or sung for. And I’ve had the pleasure of working with, and for, a pleasant number of friends who are stellar band and choir directors, and they all personify that sentiment.

As role models go, they’re all far better than some of the public figures we’re fixated on now.

November 9, 2016 Posted by | band, BUMB, CCSUMB, choir, current events, GNP, HCMB, heroes, music, news, politics, SUMC, teachers, Thom Hannum, UDMB, UMMB | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Clap Clap Clap

[Ed. Note: Here’s a piece that will probably run this week in The Chronicle, the weekly electronic newsletter of the church at which I gig.]


“This past Sunday, if you had been a newcomer to this congregation, I am imagining that there was one feature of the service that confused the heck out of you:

“So when DO I applaud?

“As a musician, the reason I’m thinking this is: there were some downright counterintuitive moments of congregational response, as it related to the musical offerings of the day.

“[1] At prelude time, Kevin and our trumpeting friend Richard Given presented J.S. Bach’s ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’, and I believe I recall applause. [2] At offertory time, the choir launched the grand and glorious Ralph Vaughan Williams setting of ‘For All the Saints’, and after its firm and forthright conclusion … no one clapped. Instead, there was a gentle, almost unspoken ‘mmmm’ from the congregation. [3] During Communion, Kevin and Richard brought forth a gently swinging rendition of ‘Just a Closer Walk With Thee’, and it got applause – causing Pastor Joel to do a small eye-take, and causing a few choir members and me to whisper to ourselves, ‘we don’t often applaud right in the middle of Communion, do we? Oh well, it was Good Tunes…’ [4] And after the rousing closing hymn, which was text set to the grand old Beethoven ‘Ode to Joy’ melody and featured a blasting brass arrangement that was decidedly based on moments from its Symphony-No.-9 source, and therefore was played at near-jet-engine decibel levels (well… maybe not THAT loud) … no applause.


“Take note: above, I described these pieces of music as offerings. I didn’t call them performances; and I never do. A worship service isn’t a concert; and the choir and other assorted musicians are really offering up their art to God … although admittedly the congregation gets hit with it on its way by! And whatever effect the musical offering can have on a congregation is also all to the good.

“If this were a concert, we would have some idea as to the proper times to clap. At a musical comedy, it would be right after just about every piece of music. At a classical concert, it would be after each piece, except if a piece was one of several pieces in a multi-movement work like a symphony; then only after the last of a set. At a jazz club, people also clap in the middle of a tune after a soloist has completed her or his improvised solo. At a rock concert, very often they’ll clap any old time they want.

“In church?

“Ordinarily, I’d suggest that it’s much more complicated than mere protocol. If it’s one of those bouncy African-American spirituals, or one of those more contemporary ‘praise songs’ with drums and bass and such, then applause seems to work, either borne of the songs’ emotion or its resemblance to pop music. If it’s a quiet, contemplative choir anthem, then maybe not. If it’s a choir anthem that appeared to take lots of skill, or was quite forceful at the end, then we tend toward the trained response of clapping. If it’s a calm organ prelude, then both the lack of a dramatic stinger at the end and the selection’s placement in the order of service may dictate no applause.

“So the response to Sunday’s music, again, may have made a new churchgoer a little flustered. Do I clap? Do I not? And nobody wants to be the single person who claps, and then looks around. (Early this program year, a number of choir anthems finished, and it sounded as if that single person clapped and then other people jumped in and clapped too, as if not wishing to let that first person feel embarrassed!)

“Short of buying a flashing applause sign, as used to be used in the days of live radio variety show broadcasts, all I can say is … in church, please don’t feel obligated to applaud … but if the Spirit moves ya…!

“*sigh* There are no set rules. There is just what seems appropriate in the moment. Didn’t make that any easier, did I?”

November 3, 2015 Posted by | music, SUMC | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pay Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain -or- Your Pledge Dollars At Work

[Ed. Note: Here’s a piece that will probably run this week in The Chronicle, the weekly electronic newsletter of the church at which I gig.]


File this somewhere under ‘Behind the Scenes’, and cc: it to ‘Your Pledge Dollars at Work’…

Last month, I helped represent SUMC musicians at a pair of workshops offered by the local chapter of the American Choral Directors’ Association. (‘Your Pledge Dollars at Work’: there were tiny fees attached to them – and there’s a ‘staff professional development’ line-item in our church budget for this sort of event. This line-item exists in no other church budget that I know of. And whenever I’ve utilized this money, it’s translated into noticeable improvements in how the choir does its thing, here.)

The second session, ‘Music and Worship for Today’s Church’, was more helpful for choir directors than for choir members: it mainly dealt with repertoire selection and worship-service planning. It seems there are quite a lot of music ministry staff members out there who are allowed to select hymns for their Sunday worship services.

Honestly, when I grasped that, I had a jaw-drop moment. Because I have an idea of how hard it is to draw up the game plan for one Sunday morning, let alone all of them. Certainly, I could crack open the hymnal, pick my favorite hymns, plug them into the three hymn slots, and be happy. But around here, it’s not that easy, and for very good reason.

Sometimes it hits you over the head; sometimes you may not be as aware of the themes that permeate SUMC’s Sunday mornings. But every week, there’s a focus – a program of the church like Social Justice or Outreach, for example, or a larger idea like ‘hope’ or ‘responsibility’ or, as was the case this week, our ambitious and exciting ‘Pave the Way’ capital campaign. And everything – hymns, sermon, prayer content, even the children’s message – everything addresses that somehow.

You might be right in thinking that this makes planning a service easier. At least it narrows down one’s wide range of choices of material to use. And that includes the choir’s anthems.

Pastor Joel is the only senior pastor I’ve ever worked with (and Kevin and I have now worked with a bunch of ’em) who sends us ‘bulletin forecasts’ ahead of time, usually three to four weeks ahead of any given Sunday. When we get them, we get some idea of what specific readings, prayers, and preaching will be utilized – and from this, we can determine what anthems will complement the message of the day. So in order to accomplish this forecast, Pastor Joel needs to get his game plan together at least a month early. And he does, regularly.

Lest you thought perhaps a pastor only works on Sundays! It’s NOT true. In our case, we’re more than getting our Pledge Dollars’ worth. Unfortunately, sometimes, to appreciate someone’s skill-set, you have to be a little bit ‘on the inside’ to have the proper perspective. I’m pleased to be in position to see what needs to happen Behind The Scenes, in order that people can walk out of church on Sunday morning feeling ‘spiritually fed’.

And on the rare occasions when someone asked me, ‘why’d you choose that hymn?’, and I tell them to send their cards and letters to the tall guy in the corner office … I’m not passing the buck, and I’m not deflecting their question gleefully. I’m referring them to the gentleman who’s doing a ton of work on their behalf.

Anyway, I just thought I’d relay this thought or two. Any questions? Feel free to run up to the Chancel after service and ask!”

October 26, 2015 Posted by | choir, SUMC | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment