Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Credit Where Credit is Due

Here’s a scenario:

So you’re new on the job, leading an organization with a certain amount of history and tradition; and of all the members of the organization, you’re the only new person. Everybody else all know each other; they all know how things have been done before; and the organization’s past successes have only cemented the feeling that the main job of the new leadership should be … just keeping things going exactly as they have been going for a very long time, and everything will be fine.

And of course as the new person you’re just looking to survive, never mind thrive.

Naturally you will wish to prove you’re the best person for the job.

Starred Thought: Prove you’re the best person for the job.

And also, if you are any kind of strong personality, or if you are the kind of person that possesses even a tiny bit of confidence, you will wish to demonstrate that you have a vision for the future direction of the organization.

And through all this you are walking a tightrope: I want to prove myself! And I don’t want to alienate people.

Starred Thought: It takes ten years to build a program; it takes just one to destroy it.

Starred Thought: Be a builder, not a wrecker.

So you look around, keep your eyes and ears open, make an effort to listen carefully to all the stakeholders and all the constituencies (or at least give that impression!), learn as much as you can about the history of the organization.

Starred Thought: Look for past traditions to uphold.

And you discover that, for weal or for woe, the members of your organization are really really fond of the previous leadership. You also discover that some of them are a little bit more passionate about this fondness, and about expressing this fondness, than is sometimes comfortable. You do your best to reconcile this enthusiasm with your interest in moving the organization forward, Toward The Future.

It is a hard tightrope to walk. A ridiculously hard tightrope. Especially if your predecessor happens to be seen as legendary.

So, at least at the outset, you play the game.

Starred Thought: If you act the part long enough, you become it.

In those first few moments of your time as the leader of this organization, what you don’t do is – in private or in public – dump on those that came before you. Whether you’re firmly confident in your abilities, or you quietly think to yourself, “what in the world kind of bear trap have I gotten myself into?” You don’t take shots at the people who have done your job before you … whether they’re legendary for good reasons or bad.

Starred Thought: The easiest way to mask insecurity is to cut other people down.

And so, you don’t. Especially in the very early stages of your time there, you make sure to go out of your way to publicly appreciate the foundation that previous leaders have laid, so that you can have this amazing opportunity to contribute to the long line of successes that have characterized the organization.

Starred Thought: Support people before they’ve demonstrated support for you.

So, you give credit where credit is due.

 

Here’s a new wrinkle to this scenario:

You are now several years into your time as leader of this organization. You’ve begun to find successes that you can call your own. Some of them are very, very significant – feathers in the cap, to say the least.

You might consider (or you might not) that now, finally, the time may have come when you don’t need to trumpet the accomplishments and the legacy of the leadership that came before you. After all, living in the past isn’t always a great strategy for moving Toward The Future. Appreciating and recognizing the past, yes, but not getting mired in it.

And yet the membership of the organization still hangs on to the legacy. Not in such a way that they’re dumping on you, no indeed … they’re just remembering fondly … but very very often there are references, remembrances, big and small, that continue to canonize the leadership that came before you.

Starred Thought: You can’t do this job without a LITTLE bit of ego.

Be honest. After five or six or eight years, wouldn’t you start to get a bit weary of it? No matter how much the remembrances emphasize the wonderful foundation that you are now getting to build upon. Can you honestly say you absolutely would never even think, quietly, in the most tucked-away corner of yourself, “…can we just ease up about that?” We’re five or six or eight years on now, after all. Is it not time to turn our eyes Toward The Future?

And is it unreasonable for people to allow you (the not-really-so-new-anymore leadership) to have this tiny thought? To allow you, with your growing record of leadership, to begin to shift the focus back in your direction? Or at least not to focus quite so hard on your predecessor’s?

I think it’s probably not unreasonable.

With all this in mind: I’ve become impressed with a particular gentleman’s willingness and ability to play this complicated game, to play it well … and to play it with respect for so many members of an organization, some of whom may not always have responded entirely in kind.

Starred Thought: To be a leader is to do the uncomfortable thing.

And one event in the last couple of days suddenly stood out to me: both as an example of this willingness and ability to play a very tough game, and as evidence that this gentleman all along has had the confidence to play it very well.

 

Two afternoons ago was the last weekday rehearsal of the UMass Minuteman Marching Band before the eighth anniversary of its previous leader’s passing. There have been eight September 16ths during which the current Minuteman Band leader has had to navigate those potentially treacherous waters.

Friday afternoon, the current director of the Band carved out a few minutes at the end of rehearsal so that the band could play “My Way”, the song that the Band’s previous director had established as a UMass band tradition.

Band members and alumni know that in general, they don’t really rehearse “My Way” after band camp is over; they just play it. At the end of most every public performance. Which means they play it a lot, but don’t use rehearsal time during the regular semester on it. (There’s too much else to spend that valuable time on.) So when they do break it out during the week, it’s at least as rare an occurrence as them not playing it after a gig.

The current band director sent his associate director to the podium to conduct the song. Which is now standard practice – the current director yielded that duty to that associate director almost immediately after his arrival at UMass. I imagine that his logic was something like, “that associate director, having been at UMass for more than three decades, can easily be seen as a comforting link to the past, through taking over the reins of this particular band tradition”.

There are people who, in that situation, might not have had that thought.

More publicly than a weekday band rehearsal, right from his first home football game at UMass, the current leader of the Minuteman Band has gone out of his way to acknowledge and appreciate that associate director in public performance settings. He’s pointed out to many, many audiences how important this new (now not-so-new) colleague of his has been, and is, to the Band.

Starred Thought: Saying “thank you” to someone else makes them feel like a million bucks, but it doesn’t cost you a penny.

And the current director of the Minuteman Band has made it a point to recognize and appreciate the legacy of his predecessor. Not just at Homecoming, when band alumni are all around and it would be politically expedient to do so … but consistently, time after time, opportunity after opportunity.

Giving credit where credit is due.

He could have decided not to do so at all.

He could have decided to do so for awhile, and then decrescendo, because after all, it’s been five or six or eight years now.

Instead, he decided to do so … and keep on doing so. Whether by invoking the name of his predecessor specifically … or by acknowledging the associate director gentleman who was at his predecessor’s side for three decades and more … or by putting in the effort, caring and love required to move the organization forward, Toward The Future – and preserving that legacy in the process.

Starred Thought: Go out of your way to treat people kindly.

If you’ve seen and heard the Minuteman Marching Band at the Rose Parade this past January, or at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in New York City a few years ago, or at Gillette Stadium last weekend, or at any relatively mundane home football gig since autumn 2011, you’ve seen a band that plays and moves in an entirely familiar way. The Band’s sound and look, its style, its personality, its impact(!!) still carries with it the spirit of George Parks.

 

It’s a credit to the legions of band alumni that they’re devoted enough to the George Parks legacy that they have been willing to be vocal about not wanting to just push that legacy, that history, those traditions, aside.

It’s a credit to George Parks, and to associate director Thom Hannum, that their effort and caring and love for the Minuteman Band organization was more than fervent enough to inspire reciprocal effort and caring and love from their alumni.

And: it’s a credit to Timothy Todd Anderson that he has been willing to face more than a few slings and arrows, has walked that ridiculous tightrope, and has still doggedly, consistently, genuinely acknowledged and recognized the Minuteman Band’s past leadership, in the persons of George Parks and Thom Hannum especially, that has laid the foundation … so that he can maintain and continue the Band’s success, in an entirely recognizable form, out here In The Future.

Gotta give the guy credit.

Credit where credit is due.

Advertisements

September 16, 2018 Posted by | band, GNP, marching band, Starred Thoughts, Thom Hannum, UMMB | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

You Didn’t Have To Do That

[Ed. note: A brief tale here, and please forgive me if it comes off as self-absorbed and annoying. It’s not supposed to. We may even come up with different “morals of the story”. That’s okay, I think.]

 

I’ve participated in many UMass Homecoming Weekend alumni bands, in the nearly three decades (oi) since I graduated from there.

So, yes, I’m now that pushing-fifty guy, grey beard and all, who is still hauling a saxophone out there, dancing around like a goof, and generally enjoying the heck out of the experience, even if it’s raining, because it was fun then, so it’s fun now!!!

Another portion of my college band experience (other than toting a saxophone around) was getting to be one of the three drum majors during my senior year. Now, please understand: when I sign up online for alumni band activities and they ask what my instrument was … there’s no check-box for “drum major”, and even if there were one, that’s not an instrument!! and I wouldn’t check that box anyway. Really. You don’t believe me, but it’s true.

There have only been two Homecomings wherein I have played the alumni drum major game. One of them was seven years ago, when the alumni band was 925 strong, so it was pretty much all hands on deck. There were at least fifteen former drum majors out there, because it was necessary.

The other time was I think five years ago. That morning, as the weather looked less and less dire and I began to not worry so much about marching a Selmer Mark VI saxophone in the rain, my friend James, a former UMass drum major (who was a DM twenty years after I was), looked over at me and said, “Rob, is your mace in your car?” I said, yeah, it was; and it actually was still in the trunk from back in the summer when I brought it with me to the summer drum major clinic wherein we’d both worked. (Only out of sheer “I don’t have a free hand to grab it when I bring the rest of my life into the house after work”, not “who knows when I might need a twirling mace?”.)

Cool,” he said, “let’s just go out there and throw.” And so, in the midst of the alumni band’s halftime tune, James and I strode onto the Gillette Stadium field, conducted not a single note, and just chucked maces in the air indiscriminately. (We were two redheaded, bearded guys throwing maces. Hmmmmm. Didn’t exactly plan that visual way ahead of time, but okay.) I’m not usually the ostentatious-showmanship type … and though it seemed like fun, and several people subsequently thought out loud that it was fun to watch, I still did feel a wee bit like I’d stepped away from the pack of alumni who were actually playing their horns … and I felt a wee bit guilty. Like, come on, you had your chance in 1987, and took it, and thanks for playing, it’s done. Right?

I know, I’m weird. But that’s the way my head works.

Fast-forward to last weekend, Homecoming Weekend at UMass. I arrive and find a clump of band alumni gathering, early in the morning … and rumors begin flying.

So I hear you’re conducting ‘Let’s Groove’?”

Do you hear that?

So you’re singing Twilight Shadows?”

I’m … willing … … but I didn’t know we were playing the alma mater for halftime?

Gonna chuck a mace today?”

Ummm … it takes two hands to play sax?

Did I mention that, while being a team player and being willing to fill whatever role the organization needs me to fill, I am nonetheless reticent to grab that sort of spotlight?

And please notice particularly that, um, my former-DM colleague from five years ago, James his very own self, is standing over there without his trumpet, and is therefore well-suited for that job, whereas oh look! I’ve got my tenor with me and its reed is actually whole and complete and not dinged for a change?

Naw, I’ll hang with the crazy alumni tenor saxes, some of whom I’ve just met (because they’re relatively or VERY recently graduated from UMass and therefore, no disrespect intended, ARE CHILDREN!! and are tons of fun).

I’ll be fine.

(I didn’t have to do that, didn’t need to jump out in front of the group, in order for my life to be complete or something.)

At some point in the alumni band rehearsal early that afternoon, the current band director, Tim Anderson, wanders over in my direction and asks, “So, ya wanna conduct ‘Fight, Mass.’?”

Urp! Uh, Tim, there’s redheaded James right over there, yeah? I mean, I’ll do what you need, but, uh, really!

I wasn’t even one of “his” drum majors, since he’s been at UMass just the seven years. Again, sweet of him to ask, to keep track and to be aware, but super not-required … No, it’s okay.

Fifteen or so minutes later, we’re most of the way through rehearsing the music for halftime, which includes a couple of tunes by the current undregrads, “Let’s Groove” with just alumni, the finale of the “1812 Overture” with all of us combined, and then the UMass fight song. And one of the current drum majors walks by and says, “okay, so, we’re gonna put you on a ladder for ‘Fight, Mass.’…” As in, I’m going to climb one of the stepladders that the assistant drum majors use, and conduct for the band members too far from the 50-yardline to properly see the conductor on the center podium.

Well okay, it sounds like that would be helpful to somebody; and besides, the particular current drum major who came to talk to me … well, if she tells you to do something, you darn well do it.

Sweet of her to ask, though.

Then I get to the ladder.

Or rather, I discover why I would probably not be a great UMass drum major these days.  In the 1980s… no ladders.

I get four steps up that ladder and realize that there are two more yet to go. And getting to the top of the ladder will mean leaning forward onto a little bitty guard rail using only my lower shins.

And I’d swear that ladder is shifting in the breeze.

Have I ever mentioned, I don’t do super well with heights that aren’t contained by skyscraper windows or airplane fuselages?

So, current UMass drum majors, when you find the five indents on that ladder’s front guard rail, please know that I’ve “left my mark” on the band: I stood only five steps up, conducted that fight song rehearsal righthanded, and held onto that rail with a lefthanded Vulcan Death Grip.

At the actual halftime of the actual game, the bands played through the first two tunes, and as I dashed to the sideline before “Fight, Mass.”, suddenly so did everybody else, having been waved in that direction by director Tim. The halftime show had to be cut short for time.

I was not disappointed.

Which is not to say I wouldn’t have been happy to have gone only five steps up the ladder in performance … but I was also relieved … relieved of the opportunity to pitch off the thing and make the wrong kind of spectacle of myself with thousands of people watching and wondering.

Again, I didn’t go to Homecoming to stick out from the crowd. I went to Homecoming to be in the alumni band, in and amongst my friends, old and new. And that’s what happened, and as usual, it was glorious.

Not *quite* the end of the tale, though.

Rewind a few hours: just before the rehearsal had finished, director Tim was doing a series of last announcements – where to meet, where to go, what time, where to sit in the stands, all the non-glamorous details – and then I heard him get the band ready to do its final traditional end-of-rehearsal call-and-response thing. And I realized he was explaining to the assembled graduates and undergraduates that this former drum major guy from 1987 over here is going to lead it.

He’s what now?

I didn’t focus on this till afterward: while his noted predecessor always asked the band, “how are your FEET?, stomach, chest, shoulders, etc.?” so they could then shout about being Together, In, Out, Back, etc. … Tim has since handed that duty off to his drum majors. And he was handing it off now.

He didn’t have to do that, either. But he did. And it was very kind.

And yeah, even as I picked up my tenor afterward, and spent the rest of the day cheerfully and properly communing with great band-alum friends … I kinda did appreciate the gesture.

 

 

P.S. I am fully in control of my verb tenses at all times. In case you wondered.

P.P.S. But not in control of my sentence lengths.

October 26, 2017 Posted by | band, drum major, friends, marching band, UMMB | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 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