Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.


Well, I think I know how TV talking heads feel, now.

Ya know – the evening news comes on, the camera swoops in (never used to swoop in, when I was a kid, but whatever), and there are two news anchors, tailored suit, primary-color dress, well-coiffed, serious but inviting.

Good evening everyone.”

That’s what they say first. And what is being said inside their heads (probably… I assume… come to think of it, I do have a former student whom I could ask about this) is: “everyone whom we presume and pray are out there, watching their televisions… watching our specific program… we hope…”

But they look into the camera in such a way that we are convinced that they’re looking at us, talking to us, and knowing that we’re listening.

It’s a skill.

Fortunately, this past Friday night, that skill was not required of me, so much as it was asked of the gentleman running the session.


You’re aware, perhaps, that all over the country, indeed all over the world, precautions are being taken to try to slow down the spread of a virus. (“Oh,” says my dear reader, “I am aware and then some, to the point that I am a walking talking definition of the word paranoia, but prithee continue as if you need to explain.”)

So, large-group gatherings are postponed, canceled, not spoken of in polite society. For heaven’s sake, they cancelled March Madness. That’s how big this is.

You may also be aware, if you’re a regular reader of this blog (not that I’ve been an especially regular post-er, but that’s not your fault), that one of my professional activities kinda involves crowds.

As a church musician, every Thursday evening, I get together with a church choir. Over the course of my nearly two decades in that job, the choir I’ve conducted has been ten, twenty, thirty strong. And our choir room is just not that big. We sing, so we breathe on each other.

And every Sunday, even during the summer when the choir is officially given a couple of months to take a breath, I interact with a couple hundred people or more. Morning service, hello howdy handshake hug; coffee hour afterward, hello howdy handshake hug. In retrospect, when I consider how many other non-COVID-19 contagions are out there, not to mention germy door handles, it’s remarkable that I haven’t gotten sick more often.

But now, all around us, school districts are closing (they also deal with crowds, and not always with crowds of people who are well-practiced in conscious hygiene). And since the schools in the town where we do our church-gigging have closed down for two solid weeks at least … we have been advised to do the same.

For me, this is a first. Growing up in this church, I recall the senior pastor being housed in a parsonage located right next to the church building – so even if the snow is falling at seven inches an hour, he or she could make it to church, so there would be an opportunity for worshippers to worship. Even though our current senior pastor lives in a parsonage a short drive away, on snowy Sundays, he gets there. On a couple of specific recent very-snowy Sundays, we’ve held services that featured congregations small enough to fit into the chancel – please don’t sit on the organ or the altar, but other than that, welcome in! – but as the Bible says: where two or three are gathered…

So now they’re telling us it’s a bad idea for two or three or several dozen to gather.

What to do?

Well, clearly, don’t hold services for several dozen people on Sunday morning, at least for the next few weeks.

No services.

So there are those of us who will definitely will miss it. And not just those of us on the payroll. No indeed.

Every Sunday, our choir sings and belly-laughs in equal measure. Every Sunday, go away from the sermon having learned something, genuinely. Every Sunday, I look forward to seeing friends, checking in, commiserating, celebrating.

And: we have a congregation that mirrors the current trends – all ages, but a great many older members. Who, we are told, are particularly at risk for severe illness and death as a result of contracting COVID-19. So, best not to expose them to the risk of exposure.

But, for them as much as anyone and arguably more, the church community represents a great majority of their connection to other people, their social interaction, their feelings of utility (through our Christian-education programs and community outreach and all the rest of our activities). So if we shut down our church’s activities entirely, and they’re encouraged to stay in their homes … and if they’re not necessarily comfortable with (or conversant in) social media and other forms of electronic communication that would otherwise help keep them connected and such …

Important, then, to maintain some connection.


So, this project emerged: after numerous conversations of past years in which the opportunities and challenges of broadcasting our services out into the world via cable-access TV or the Internet or whatever mass-media option may one day exist but doesn’t yet … Nature has forced our hand, at least in the short term. So, we’re doing that. This week, next week, and the week after, we’ll have a pre-recorded Sunday worship service available on-demand. Thanks to our town’s cable-access TV organization, we’re doing this thing.

This past Friday night, about a half-dozen of us, including our senior pastor and my music-staff colleague and I, gathered in our Sanctuary to pre-record the first of these services.

It was weird, but good. Or it was good, but weird. Both, really.

It was weird to be conducting a Sunday-morning worship service without a congregation. There is a certain energy, obviously, that was missing here. In a similar way to holding basketball games without spectators, or a presidential-candidate debate without a studio audience. There’s a give-and-take, audible and not, in our usual gatherings that was missing on Friday night. We expected that going in.

Pastor makes a funny in the middle of the sermon, and no laugh. Musicians sing a little “We’ll Understand It Better By and By”, and at the end, not even an “mmmm” from the absent congregation. (We don’t require applause; we don’t require any particular reaction at all, really, but it’s still odd.) Liturgist says “let us pray”, and the seven people in the room read the printed prayer together, but it’s not the same as when two hundred people read it in a Collective Voice.

But, as I noted at the beginning of all this, this is how it is when Rachel Maddow or Bob Costas or name-your-talking-head sit in a television studio somewhere and say what they have to say. Apart from an unseen off-camera production assistant chuckling at a funny turn of phrase, there’s no one there to react. The only sounding board in the room is a literal one: the back wall.

They have to assume that there’s someone out there, in another place, who is reacting and, to whatever extent, interacting with them. It’s not easy; but it’s their training … or at least they’ve made their peace with it. They do their thing, and, I assume, they don’t think consciously about the people they’re addressing.

So, I didn’t expect to feel quite the way I did, as I sat at the piano, or toted my bass guitar, or helped speak the congregational responses into my microphone.


My imagination went to work. As I sang, or played, or spoke, I found myself (or I found a tenth of the back of my mind) keeping the potential audience in mind. No – I was keeping the potential congregation in mind.

And not in the way that a televangelist probably does. Your average mass-media preacher accepts that thousands, millions of people are watching, but he or she can’t possibly know them all.

Friday night, I was thinking of this choir member who sits a few feet away from me in the alto section … or that couple who usually sits about two-thirds of the way to the back of the Sanctuary with their two completely adorable children … or this pillar of the church who usually sits up front and all the way over by the windows … or this particular young acolyte who is a stellar candle-lighter even though she’s hardly four feet tall …

and I was imagining that they might be watching on Sunday afternoon (specifically 2 PM, when the recording is available). They could well be watching, and participating in, the service we were conducting in that moment.

Further: as befits my “weird but good, good but weird” thought at the beginning of this … I found that I was doing my best to connect with those people, in whatever small way, as if they were watching and participating right then.

Maybe it was wishful thinking.

Or maybe those news anchors actually have those senses, too, but they’re too professional to let anyone know, in the moment.

On the other hand, they’re reading the news, and keeping people out there connected to information they needed to have, sometimes in order to stay safe in various ways. Not unimportant, most times; but …

Friday night, we were doing our little bit to help keep people safe; and to maintain a more personal connection; and to keep communicating the Good News.




P.S. Here’s how to access our church’s pre-recorded services, if you like:

[1] Go to www.sudburytv.org.

[2] Select the “Watch” option at the top of the computer screen and click “video on demand”.

[3] A new page will appear, where the most recent videos will be listed on the bottom. Our service will likely be the most recent. You can also search “SUMC.” The video will play.

(We’re also researching ways to live-stream Sunday worship so that you may tune-in while the service is happening. When a live option is found, more instructions will be made available for joining remotely with a computer, tablet, or smartphone. Watch this space, and wash your hands!)

March 14, 2020 Posted by | current events, media, religion, social media, SUMC, technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Live-Blogging Adventure -or- Dispassionate Journalism is Overrated

Four years ago this evening, there was a little tiny competition in Indianapolis. It involved about a dozen groups of musicians who tooted and drummed and flagged and danced. Their whole summer had been full of this activity, and as they say, it all came down to this.

As it happened, I knew personally a few of the folks involved with one particular performing group from North Carolina; and was therefore kinda pullin’ for ’em.

Thanks to the magic of the Internet and technology and such, those of us who were not in Indianapolis still got to experience the evening’s festivities, from group #1 to group #12 and then the announcements of who scored how many points.

My own particular version of the Internet, not being the fastest in the world, didn’t allow me to actually see or hear it. Video streaming was just not happening. But I had a devious method or two up my sleeve. So, wishing to put my erstwhile journalism training to work (well… sorta), I set about becoming the “pool reporter” for this event, on behalf of a number of my friends who didn’t have the fastest version of the Internet either.

The plan was to pass along the scores as they were announced. Y’know, dispassionate chronicler of events.

When I was done, I realized I’d actually broken a sweat. I was pulling for that one group pretty hard; and the intensity of the “big reveal” of Drum Corps International Finals scores at the end of the evening was a lot greater than I was expecting.

So, here’s the 21st-century equivalent, I guess, of tuning in to the radio drama and letting your imagination do the heavy lifting: behold … my Facebook post activity (and a few resultant FB Comments) from the evening of August 10, 2013.


The various corps presented their shows…


R: “So, I’ve got the official DCI Finals live blog scrolling along in one browser window and FB in another. I think this must be what it was like when all you could do was gather around the family radio.”


R: “DCI finals live blog commenter, re: [Santa Clara Vanguard]: ‘tempo seems to be up from the last two nights…’ • …up?!”


R: “From the DCI live blog, a royal announcement: ‘Live presentation of the scores will be offered FREE on the homepage DCI.org.’ At which time, the website will do its annual crash.”


R: “DCI live blog commenter, ‘tween corps: ‘Hearing the Cadets play Medea is so weird, since Star [of Indiana] used that in 1993, and the Cadets beat them that year. Then again, they also played Malaguena, which I am sure galled the Madison [Scouts] fans.’ … By this logic, Madison fans were angry with: every marching band in America. Hm.”


A friend of mine from the UMass Alumni Band days, whose niece was in a particular drum corps that night: “Getting so nervous for [Niece]!!!! Switching over to the tunnel. I just saw you, [Niece]!!!”

R: “In for 4 … out for 4 … in for 4 … out for 8 … in for 4 … out for 16 …”


R: “DCI live blog commenter, as [Blue Devils] finishes: ‘This is going to be a bloodbath!!!’ • DCI live blog moderator, as [Carolina] Crown enters: “The chant of ‘Let’s go Crown!’ has started in the crowd.’ • All together now: ‘This… place… is… e-…’”


R: “Every so often one of my non-drum-corps-watching friends posts here, … and it’s jarring!”


R: “[Carolina] Crown horns play, DCI live blog moderator writes: ‘Wow…that horn run back and forth and the impact of the section following it when they lay it all on the line. I can’t write the phrase I want to really use to explain my reaction to that, as I do like my job.’”


R: “DCI live blog moderator: ‘The crowd goes nuts! And for good reasons. Regardless of the outcome, THAT was a championship caliber performance.’ @dcihouseguyhedginghisbets”


R: “Hey, [Friend-With-A-Niece]… you OK over there? ;)”

FRIEND WITH A NIECE: “I’m breathing….barely.”


As the various corps assembled on the field for the awards retreat…


R: “Lemme just say this BEFORE any scores get called: I didn’t actually SEE any corps tonight. If everybody took it up a notch from Thursday night at the movies, –whoa. Good luck to everyone. Everyone’s a winner. It’s all about the audience. If you did your best, that’s all we can ask. … … Okay? Good. … … For the next twenty minutes, I am such a card-carrying member of the Sisterhood of the Purple Pants, it hurts. Get ’em Crown.”


FRIEND FROM THE BU BAND DAYS: “And the DCI page has crashed!!”

R: “They should have gotten the DoD tech guys involved.)”

BU BAND FRIEND: “I blame Snowden.”

R: “<*spit-take*>


R: “As the DCI website has apparently just crashed … *shocker* … I stand ready to reprise my role from last year as the guy with the tin can and string, posting scores from the live blog. My journalism degree, at work.”

DRUM MAJOR ACADEMY STAFF FRIEND: “I’m counting on you Dr. Rob!”

R: “I feel like I need to limber up. Arm circles!”


R: “No scores yet, but the Live Blog guys are taking a beating for the connectivity issues. (I know noth-ink!)”

FRIEND FROM THE UMASS ALUMNI BAND DAYS: “Ahhh! SO frustrating! I’m yelling at my computer right now… but it’s not helping!”

R: “My little fingers are hovering over the keys.”

BU BAND FRIEND: “At least the live blog is up.”

R: “I will defend that open browser window with my life.”

FRIEND FROM THE UMASS ALUMNI BAND DAYS #2: “You’re our link to the inside!”


Well, scoring these competitions is a complex business. Takes time. …


R: “If it makes anyone feel better, the Live Blog guys are blathering on inanely just the same as [DCI broadcast announcers] Rondinaro and DeLucia probably are. … ‘They’re clapping. They’re still clapping. Lots of clapping.’ … ‘Oh look, corps are marching on.’ ‘More clapping.’ … (I paraphrase.)”


R: “Stand by. Control-C, Control-V. Control-C, Control-V. Control-C, Control-V. Control-C, Control-V. …”


R: “In 13th place: ‘America the Beautiful.’ … Oh. Sorry.”


R: “Now [in the stadium] they’re showing a video, apparently. … … They do this on purpose, you know. #frakkers”


FRIEND FROM THE UMASS BAND DAYS #1: [re: what the DCI live bloggers are posting links about while the scores aren’t being announced yet] “aardvarks…. … and barn swallows.”

R: “OMG.”


And, at long last, here we go… blood pressure gently rising… as scores are announced approximately 30 seconds apart…


R: “11th, 86.40 Spirit of Atlanta”


R: “10th, 87.75 Blue Knights.”


R: “Caption awards: George Zingali Award for Best Color Guard to Blue Devils.”


R: “9th, 90.10 Madison Scouts”


R: “The top nine are 90+. Whoa.”


R: “John Brazale Best Visual Performance to Crown.”


R: “8th place, 90.40 Boston Crusaders. … Nearly caught the Cavs.”


DMA STAFF FRIEND #2: “Rob Hammerton is about 10 seconds ahead of [the DCI Finals “Entrance Tunnel” YouTube channel] … refresh refresh refresh” (8/10/2013)


R: “Jim Ott Award for Best Brass Performance to Carolina Crown. No … kidding.”


R: “7th place, 90.50 The Cavaliers.”


R: “Best Percussion Performance (Sanford Award) The Cadets”


R: “6th place, 93.25 Bluecoats”


R: “Don Angelica Best Overall GE Carolina Crown”


R: “5th place, 93.35 Bluecoats”


R: “4th place, 96.85 SCV … A 3 point spread.”


R: “3rd place, 96.95 The Cadets … My God, that only gets them 3rd place.”

FRIEND FROM UMASS ALUMNI BAND DAYS #3: “.1 over SCV? Scoring is crazazazy!”


R: “2nd place … … 98.05 Blue Devils”


R: “1st place, 98.30 Carolina Crown”


R: “Hey, [Friend-With-A-Niece], you can go to bed now.”

FRIEND FROM THE UMASS BAND DAYS #1: “She’s still screaming…”


R: “Yay performance. Yay instruction. Yay support. Not to forget, though: not for nothing are Messrs. Michael Klesch and Thom Hannum [Crown’s brass- and percussion-arrangers] in the Hall of Fame.”


R: “Okay, here’s a (not-) trivia question for DCI historians: Offhand, can you think of any other team of brass and percussion arrangers who have won world championships together … with two different corps? … in two different decades?”


R: “Hey, UMassers – this is what all the fuss was about.” [To this post, I attached My-Friend-With-A-Niece’s photo of Her Niece, who was a percussionist with Carolina Crown, along with a superimposed graphic of her corps’s final score, with a caption: “That’s my niece on the left, crying because she is a DCI WORLD CHAMPION!!!!!!!!!!”]


Granted, I didn’t put in the kind of physical and mental effort that any of the actual musicians did, that night … not remotely close … but I did sleep soundly.

August 10, 2017 Posted by | drum corps, Facebook, Internet, journalism, social media, technology | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Covfefe, or Not Covfefe

I trust, if you’ve been on the local Internets at all today, that you’re up to date on the latest Twitter-generated current event … trending topic … meme …


The tweet read:

Despite the constant negative press covfefe”

And I have to give the Internets credit: by the time the morning commute was over, the responses were just about as creative and snarky and pointed and marvelous as we’ve come to expect from the Internets.

Here’s the thing that we should really be focused on, though:

12:05 in the freakin’ morning, the Toddler-in-Chief is tweeting.

The subject, predictably, starts out as what we might call media criticism if we believed that the thought process were laced with more thoughtfulness than a lot of us suspect it is.

He’s aiming to type “negative press coverage” on his little phone keyboard. At least, I really believe this.

What he actually achieves is “negative press covfefe”.

Granted, the letters “fefe” are, on a keyboard, fairly close to “erage”. You must admit this.

At this point, I’m not sure what exactly went on.

It’s possible that the Toddler’s phone’s autocorrect didn’t kick in. (There are days when I would kill for this outcome.)

Or maybe Autocorrect didn’t have any more idea than we do, as to what “covfefe” was really supposed to be. Which makes me a little better at English, but this is actually to be hoped. Anyway …

Or maybe Autocorrect took something far more bizarre and non-English-based … and its only guess was “covfefe”.

In the normal, “matter” universe, that might be the scariest thing: not that technology with borderline artificial intelligence is coming to take over the world … but that it can be confounded by a toddler’s tweet-spelling.

In the abnormal, “antimatter” universe in which we live, though, here’s what I think is the scariest thing:

The Toddler-in-Chief hit send anyway.

(It’s possible that he looked at the burgeoning Tweet and thought, “yeah, okay; whatever.” I’m not sure what frame of mind one would have to be in, in order to look at “Despite the constant negative press covfefe” and think … “yeah. Greenlight that project.” There’s not a verb or a predicate in it. Come to think of it, that otherworldly non-word is the only thing that really comes close to a genuine, pure noun.)

Sorry. I misled you. That’s not the scariest thing.

This is:

It’s entirely possible that he couldn’t figure out how not to “covfefe”, and panicked. And hit send.


At some point in one’s presidency, no matter who one is … as long as one is remotely human, one will encounter situations in which a remotely average human’s immediate gut reaction would be to panic.

What the hell else is this guy likely to hit, the next time he panics?

May 31, 2017 Posted by | current events, Famous Persons, humor, Internet, social media, technology, Twitter | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment