Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Say No To This

The headline: “President-elect Trump Demands Apology from HAMILTON Cast”

That breathless news story of today, the timing of which has caused many people to note that it owes its existence to the need to bury a different breathless news story (namely a $25 million settlement of a civil case involving a certain real-estate “university”), is nonetheless what I’m going to focus on today, here, since … well, there are a couple of tiny things to note about it. And those things are anything but tiny.

Especially to someone (me) who has spent the bulk of his life pretty tight with the arts, and artists, and free creative expression.

Quickly now, the back story:

Current Vice President-elect, Michael Pence, paid a visit to Broadway’s revolutionary mega-hit, ‘Hamilton’ last night and reports from inside the theater confirmed a less than enthusiastic reception. The forthcoming Vice President got a mixed reception from the packed as he was both cheered and booed upon arrival.

So the current President-elect did the Presidential thing, which of course was to immediately climb onto the Twitter machine without adult supervision:

Our wonderful future V.P. Mike Pence was harassed last night at the theater by the cast of Hamilton, cameras blazing. This should not happen!”

Further back story:

Following the show (as reported by the Washington Post in the quote below), Brandon Victor Dixon, the actor currently portraying Aaron Burr, read a brief statement to the Vice President-elect on behalf of the company:

‘You know, we have a guest in the audience this evening,’ he said to audience laughter. ‘And Vice President-elect Pence, I see you walking out, but I hope you will hear us just a few more moments. There’s nothing to boo here, ladies and gentlemen. There’s nothing to boo here. We’re all here sharing a story of love. We have a message for you, sir. We hope that you will hear us out.’

As he pulled a small piece of paper from his pocket, Dixon encouraged people to record and share what he was about to say ‘because this message needs to be spread far and wide.’

‘Vice President-elect Pence, we welcome you, and we truly thank you for joining us here at “Hamilton: An American Musical.” We really do,’ Dixon said to further applause. ‘We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us. All of us. Again, we truly thank you truly for seeing this show, this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men and women of different colors, creeds and orientations.’”

The current President-elect tweeted, by way of response:

“The Theater must always be a safe and special place. The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!

Great art doesn’t always feel safe. Great art doesn’t always spare your feelings. Great art doesn’t always confirm your beliefs. Great art doesn’t always stay polite. Great art doesn’t always conform to its audience’s idea of propriety.

Great art takes risks and dares you to experience them too. Great art challenges your feelings and your beliefs. Great art is a bumpy ride. And great art wouldn’t be great art if it did exactly what you wanted, all the time – that being the case, it would be pablum.

So the President-elect’s tweets make sense. Because all his life he’s reacted badly to having his feelings and beliefs challenged, to having people do something other than exactly what he’s wanted, all the time.

Not long after the President-elect expressed all that dismay, and demanded apologies, one supporter of his on Twitter (whose Twitter handle I won’t include here, because I’m uninterested in giving that supporter any more exposure) tweeted this:

An artist’s job is to make people smile, not to make political statements. Apologize to Mike Pence, or stop calling yourselves artists!

The President-elect seems so concerned about the artistic environment being a safe and special place – when his political friend’s feelings may be endangered. He wants an apology from the “Hamilton” cast – for expressing those subversive thoughts about the effect they hope their show has.

He’s not likely to get it.

Fair is fair: I’m pretty damned concerned about the coming Administration’s policies making the American environment into a not-very-safe or special place for many groups of people – when their rights and freedoms, livelihoods and very lives may be endangered. And I want an apology from the President-elect – for the past seventeen months of expressing truly subversive thoughts in the past seventeen months about the effect he hopes his “show” has.

I have a feeling I’m not likely to get that, either.

But what’s obvious is the President-elect’s (and his groupies’) fundamentally stunted understanding of free, creative, artistic expression.

Happily for him – and for us – I have the sense that he’s going to experience a lot more of it in the next few years.

He’s going to get an education, all right.

Apologize, … or stop calling yourselves artists”?

Say no to this.

RESIST.

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November 19, 2016 Posted by | arts, current events, music, news, politics, theatre, Twitter | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 31-Day Blog Challenge, Day Twenty-One: As the Songwriter Wrote…

Today’s writing prompt:

31 DAY BLOG CHALLENGE, DAY 21: “Something I miss”.

Well, plenty, since over the course of my first half-century on Earth, I’ve been lucky enough to have quite a few experiences that might or might not ever happen quite that same way again, and that’s a shame! …

Here are two of those that leap immediately to mind:

 

[1] Franklin DC dinners.

In this space, I’ve dropped a lot of details about my college marching days, but not this: we rehearsed from 4:40 to 6 in the afternoon, every weekday. Not every band gets this. Most bands rehearse twice or three times a week; we got nearly seven hours of rehearsal and that didn’t even include Saturday mornings before games.

So, our daily routine included finishing rehearsal and then tearing across campus to the nearest dining commons (named after Franklin County, in western Massachusetts, and not after anyone named Franklin) to grab dinner before the facility closed its cafeteria line at 6:30. Usually, we stood in line, faintly perspiring both from the hustling across campus and also from 80 minutes of rather dogged band rehearsal, and shuffling slowly up a winding ramp from the entrance up to the second-floor dining level. And then we would sit, and eat, and laugh and joke, at least until 7pm, when the corps of sweepers and moppers and other cleaner-uppers would tiptoe into the dining area and try to slip us silent hints that “at some point we would really like to go home, so we wonder if you might wrap this up some time before 8 o’clock please”. They never actually said this, but I could imagine that those were the hints.

The thing that kept the workers there, and kept us there too, was the particular group of marching band folks (and a couple of other friends-of-band-members who weren’t in the band but might as well have been). We were just over-tired enough that funny things seemed funnier, and we were just friendly enough that we kinda suspected that we might be sharing supper with people who’d eventually become lifelong friends.

Thanks to things like social media connectivity, alumni band, and other sundry gatherings through the years, lots of us have crossed paths since then … but I miss those evenings. The rest of the college experience, full of papers and tests and dorm issues and campus buses and such, was held at bay, and we ate and smiled and just about fell over laughing, for about an hour a night.

I miss that.

 

[2] Pit crazy.

My time at the Charles River Creative Arts Program was about a decade long. During the last six of those years, I was a staff member of some kind, and thus eligible to be part of the pit orchestras that were formed to accompany each of the two children’s-theater musicals which were the centerpiece of the day camp’s two Arts Festivals, usually in the third week of July and of August, respectively.

We met as a pit during “tech week,” the last few days of intense rehearsals before showtime. The usual schedule included … spending two or three hours after the camp day ended on Monday, desperately preparing the accompaniments to 10 or 12 of the show’s songs. We played what we had for the tech rehearsal (full of children and tech-theater counselors scurrying about) on Tuesday evening. We played it all for the dress rehearsal (full of children and costume staff scurrying about) on Wednesday evening; and then Thursday, Friday and Saturday it was showtime! (And on Sunday we rested, and also looked back and marveled at the amount of work that had gotten done in just six days.)

The pit was full of staff members, not all of whom were music department staff; some were music professionals, and some played our instruments for fun. Lots of different skill levels, but all the same level of commitment to having a blast while we did lots of rather dogged work. There was much silliness. There was a lot of laughing.

One year the pit was a piano, drums, bass and a couple of woodwinds along for the ride. One summer we had a perfect storm of musical staff, and were writing arrangements for piano, bass, drums, acoustic guitar, piccolo, clarinet, two multiple-sax players, trumpet and flugelhorn. It was never the same twice from an instrumentation standpoint; but it was always, always something to look forward to – and there was always an underlying sense of “enjoy this moment; it’ll never happen quite like this again.”

The shows were put up on an outdoor stage, located adjacent to one of the buildings of the Charles River School, where the summer program was based. The pit did its thing off to one side of the stage, beneath one of those rental-company tents, about ten feet square (so, necessarily, our long-time drummer and at least one other player were under the tent in name only). Whenever I smell bug spray, I think of the Charles River pit, because great heavens!, did we ever protect ourselves from bugs (which were of course attracted particularly to our warm and sweaty selves and also to our music-stand lights).

After the closing-night show, a few of us would linger for ten or fifteen minutes (while the cast repaired to another area of the camp to set up its farewell cast party) and engage in a rather spirited C-blues jam session. Myself, I would get to the pit far earlier than our pit-orchestra report time so a friend and I could sing and play as many of our favorite James Taylor songs as we could get to before paying customers (or the rest of the pit) started to show up.

Renovations of and additions to the Charles River School’s campus have actually caused a new building to be slammed down on top of the actual spot where the pit used to set up shop; so the current pit location is actually about fifty feet or so to the south. But whenever I stand near there … and quite often even if I’m not on the grounds … I think of those rather intense tech weeks, and at least I appreciate having been able to be part of that craziness.

I miss that, too.

 

Because, indeed, life careens on … people’s trajectories head in various different directions … and as much as we’d love it to be so, those exact combinations of people and activities never do happen exactly that way again. But we cart the memories around with us, and smile.

The way your smile just beams
The way you sing off key
The way you haunt my dreams
No, no, they can’t take that away from me

The way you hold your knife
The way we danced till three
The way you changed my life
No, no, they can’t take that away from me

May 21, 2016 Posted by | arts, blogging, CRCAP, friends, marching band, music, theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shameless Self-Promotion

There was a time, you know, when I frankly couldn’t have imagined saying “I’ve written a musical theater show!” … let alone, “we’re just a fortnight away from putting up the third one that I’ve written.”

But here we are.

Thanks to a series of interesting brainstorms involving the founders of Bellingham Children’s Theater (of Massachusetts — there’s another one, out in the Pacific Northwest, but this is THIS one, not THAT one!).  BCT is an outfit for whom I have had the pleasure of musically-accompanying since 1999, … hey kids, let’s put on a show!

This one happens to be the 35th year that that BCT has produced a musical in late spring. An organization like this doesn’t just magically achieve such longevity without having some clue as to how to do it right – and do they ever have said clue.

The end result of those curious brainstorms is a cautionary-tale of a musical that tries to address these Crucial Issues Of Our Time: When does technology help, and when does it hinder? … Are computers and social media the first human invention that needs children to explain it to adults? … and … Does interactive technology keep people from interacting?

Only with a laugh track.  (Which, of course, could be you!)

Stylistically, the best way I can describe this show is: “A Very Special Episode of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In”.

It’s called “Reset”. Unofficially, I have offered the alternate title of “Tech Theatre”, which is a joke aimed at a smaller subset of humanity; but either way, by the end of the thing, the very present question is: in the struggle between us puny humans and our mighty technology, who’s going to prevail?

And as with a lot of technology, by the end of the thing it’s going to be obsolete. I think I’m only half-joking. In the time since it was written, we’ve seen and then discarded at least half a dozen Important Memes Of Our Time, including the “Crying Piccolo Player” and the Apple Watch.

And it’s curtain-up in two weeks! Or less, depending on when you’re reading this. And I’d love for you to come to our air-conditioned theater (a very helpful technology in New England’s version of June) and have a laugh or two, and admire the cast of about fifteen talented children and their instructors – who, after producing my previous two musicals, somehow still wanted me to help create a third one!

So, here’s an invite for anyone interested (and/or you can check out the glitzy PR page attached here for more details):


WHAT: “RESET (or, Tech Theatre)”

WHEN: Friday & Saturday, June 19 & 20, 2015 (7 PM curtain; doors open at 6:30pm)

WHERE: Bellingham (MA) High School

TICKETS: $(I need to find this out!, but you won’t have to take out a second mortgage); discount for younger persons


How to get there: From the Mass. Pike: Take Rt. 495 south … take Exit 17 (“Rt 140 – Franklin/Bellingham”) … follow Rt 140 North for ~2 miles … Blackstone St. is the 2nd set of lights inside Bellingham, just past the “Cottman Transmission” sign (…if you get to the intersection of Rts. 140 & 126, you’ve overshot) … Bellingham HS is on your left (after the Fire Dept. and Senior Center).

Or, fittingly, program your car’s GPS device. See? It takes work to keep up!!


Hope to see you there.

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June 6, 2015 Posted by | arts, music, social media, theatre | , , , | Leave a comment