Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Good Dog

There’s something you need to know about me, in order for the following story to make sense:

I’m not a dog person.

My family, as I grew up, had a pet cat for quite a long time; but that wasn’t it. It was probably the three German shepherds (or equivalent) that lived in my neighborhood, as I grew up, which were always in very bad moods all the time. They looked at me like I was either (1) an affront to their existence, or (2) tasty-looking, potentially with ketchup. One of them actually drew blood — mine — when I was three or four years old. So.

I could go on with stories about those miserable ambassadors of the canine world, but the following story is not about them. It is, rather, about a dog much more deserving of admiration and praise.

I met this particular dog several years ago, while I was visiting her mom’s house. When I arrived at the front door, and rang the bell, her mom (a longtime friend from college) came to the door and said, “you thought you even needed to ring the bell? Come in!” Well, it’s polite. Also, I knew there was a dog in the house (and, for the record, at least a couple of cats), and I wanted to give it a nice wide berth, since we had not yet formally met.

As any good guard dog would, the basset hound barked firmly, thrice. “Hello you!” I called, very bravely and with a completely false air of enthusiasm. Since this was a dog belonging to this particular longtime friend of mine, I felt I should be very polite and appear very friendly; so against all my life’s conditioning, I held my hand out in the basset’s direction, and hoped for the best.

Sniff. Sniff. Slight lick. Nod. Little tiny bark, more of a “gruff”. The sound didn’t sound anything like the German shepherds of my childhood had sounded. It didn’t sound at all like the last sound I would ever hear.

We adjourned to the den, which contained snacks and a large television. Upon sitting down on the couch, I sensed a presence down and to the right. Looking down, I discovered that the basset hound had followed at a careful remove, then crept around the couch, stopping at my foot and looking up expectantly. I patted her head. She did not bite my patting hand clean off.

For the next couple of hours, I was conversing with my old college friend, and petting my new basset friend.

For the next several visits, my new basset friend met me at the door with a couple of requisite barks, and then it was as if I hadn’t left. “Oh, it’s that one,” she seemed to muse; and for the rest of each visit, I appeared to be perfectly acceptable to her, and I was pleased that I still appeared to be perfectly acceptable to her. Particularly since those visits were yearly at their most frequent; but she remembered.

I was also always pleased to watch this dog and her mom take care of each other in equal measure.

The basset’s name was Della.

After a lengthy illness, Della passed away this morning.

I haven’t known many dogs well enough to really miss them after they’ve gone to their reward. And I got to hang out with this one no more than a dozen times, probably.

But I’ll really miss Della. And I have no doubt that the reward she meets will very well deserved indeed.

Good dog.


August 29, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Grand Pause

So, here’s the thing about the new Star Wars movie that comes out tomorrow …

For various reasons, I won’t end up seeing the thing until it’s been in theaters for about ten days.

Weep not for me.  I have a roof over my head, and food in the ol’ icebox.

But aside from my desperate attempts to avoid spoilers for a week and a half (and still somehow remain connected to my friends on social media) … and aside from my insane curiosity about things like, “who is this Daisy Ridley running-toward-exploding-spaceships character?  And who is this John Boyega heavily-perspiring-stormtrooper character?  And is there truth to the rumor that Han Solo and Princess Leia didn’t actually stay together, in this new Abrams-verse?  And does Luke Skywalker ever take off that hoodie?  And how in the world did they build that insanely fast rolling droid thingy?” … and all of those questions undoubtedly will transform into the dumbest questions imaginable, come January …

Aside from those mere trifles, the real suspense for me is … what it was when the last batch of prequel things came out, sixteen years ago:

What’s the score going to be like?

Even now, nearly forty years since Star Wars became A Thing, the same John Williams is at the helm of the Star Wars film music juggernaut as was in charge .  Give or take an animated series (i.e. “Star Wars: Clone Wars” spent its first three seasons unsure about whether to avoid the classic sound or embrace it; and the more recent “Star Wars Rebels” has done a very nice job of honoring the good ol’ movie scores, and in some cases gleefully ripping them right off) … the Williams sound has been the sound of the Star Wars franchise.

He and the other handful of composers who have tackled Star Wars projects over the last four decades … have largely been creating new arrangements of that great old material.

The prequel scores, I thought, had the great potential to “reverse-engineer” the original scores (just as the stories were reverse-engineering Darth Vader’s life story) – in addition to being opportunities for more fun treatments of the music that has become, for some of us, like the artistic version of family.

Let’s find out where all those leitmotifs and themes got their start!, I thought. … Ah well.

With the exception of a really clever melodic turn at the end of what was essentially a “kindergarten with ominous foreshadowing” theme for Episode I’s young Anakin Skywalker, the occasional “Force motif” quote, and a marvelous re-setting of the Imperial March as the clone troops inexorably head off to war at the end of Episode II … the music was mostly fresh and new and struck me as the end result of a head-on collision between Harry Potter and Hook, or at least those films’ incidental music.

Well, can you forgive a composer for having a compositional style that has evolved somewhat over forty years of work?

To my eye and ear, the musical scores sold Episodes I, II and III as nearly nothing else did.  And yes, there were blasts of identifiably “Star Wars-y” music.  But that Star Wars Main Title theme only appeared a handful of times in the prequel trilogy, and … I don’t know about anyone else, but (as chronicled in a previous post hereabouts) I thought the Episode IV music had a certain bombastic charm, and I kinda missed it.

It was as if the extended family had come to visit after being away for a long time, and they were sorta recognizable, but there were more than enough things different about them that we had to get reacquainted again.  And it didn’t feel quite the same.

Conceivably, Williams may just have been reacting compositionally to what he was seeing, in the final cuts of the prequels: [1] a story that inevitably will end badly, and darkly; and [2] an editing pace to these films that mirrors the accelerating pace of American entertainment in the years since Episode IV – i.e. there’s barely any time to linger on a visual, or bask in a great extended musical moment.  The goal of a film composer is to reflect and amplify what’s on the screen; and so Williams did.

So, since “The Force Awakens” has threatened to reference the Episode IV-V-VI story and characters so much more directly than the prequel trilogy …

… the London Symphony Orchestra’s performance in Episode VII has the potential to be the world’s most Wagnerian-scale cover band in recorded history.

Whatever it is, I’ll listen to, enjoy, and in all likelihood lay out bucks for, Johnny Williams’ latest hits.  He is arguably at least the greatest living American film composer.  Guy knows a little somethin’ about cinematic sound.

But I’m really hoping he goes back to his Star Wars roots, if you will, on this one.  I hope the family looks more like it used to.

We’ll see.

Can’t wait.

December 17, 2015 Posted by | arranging, entertainment, film, media, movies, music, science fiction, Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

What You Leave Behind -or- Making It Happen

A bit of a prologue for you now:

A few days ago, my good friend and colleague Heidi Sarver wrote this:

48 hours ago I wrote: ‘You made us better.’ You = George Parks. And he did, in fact, make ALL of us better – those who were part of his world, as well as those who ARE part of his world via the next generation. … Maybe some of us took that deep breath and realized that the best way to honor our teacher, mentor, friend and cohort was to take the reins in hand and ‘really make it happen.’ … ultimately the bottom line is this, he made us better…and we will make the next generation better.”

That is what Heidi Sarver wrote.

[You do not need to go cue up Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait”. In fact, please don’t. -Ed.]

She didn’t know that she was actually writing the intro for this post – a post that I had mostly finished shortly before she hit her own blog’s “publish” button. My head snapped back a little bit when I read her words, and realized that. Well … if you associate with people long enough, you may find that you’re able to finish their sandwiches …


Earlier this summer, I did my annual Drum Major Academy tour … ten days full of helping high school folks try to figure out that whole high school band peer leadership thing. Ten days’ worth, also, of hanging out with a staff full of people whose teaching chops I hope one day to emulate.

Shortly thereafter, I took to this space, and noted that for some reason, a considerably greater-than-usual number of DMA students had taken to heart our staff suggestion: stay in touch this fall. Let us know how it’s going. The number of high school drum majors with whom I got to work in July, who have since Facebook-friended me, is in the neighborhood of twenty, which would officially be at least ten times the usual. (Add in some of the collegiate staff assistants, and … I got me lots of new friends.) Maybe it was the extra time we spent in TV rooms during late-afternoon tornado warning, I don’t know …

Social media has turned out to be an easy way to see how everybody’s doing, as the fall marching season kicks into gear. Lots of photos have been posted online, of DMA students (and collegiates) in full drum major regalia for their first performance, or in an Ellen DeGeneres-style selfie on a band bus … and, this particular summer, there were lots of video clips of whole bands accepting the Ice Bucket Challenge.

As it turns out, a lot of these folks aren’t just good conductors and teachers … they’re pretty expressive writers, too. Anywhere from very funny remarks about how nervous they are about Show #1, to very sweet thoughts about how much they love their bands following pre-season camp … some are Tweet-length, and others involve paragraph indents. It’s been instructive.

This week, though, a lot of the folks who experienced the George N. Parks Drum Major Academy took a moment to post thoughts about its founder, on the fourth anniversary of his passing. Mostly, they were appreciating things they’d learned and how they were already able to utilize them in their jobs as drum majors.

A testament, no doubt, to the people who have now taken up the DMA instruction responsibilities that Mr. Parks had assumed, for all those years – the lead clinicians who show the students our version of the about-face, who dole out the Starred Thoughts, who wonder who’s going to win the marchoff (“or will it be a rookiiiiiiieeee?…”), who command the kids, “detail: wash the dishes!” in front of their parents on the final DMA day … the folks who “really make it happen”.


In the spirit of “show, don’t tell” … below are some snippets that I’ve scooped up from my Facebook news feed. (I haven’t asked any of their authors for permission to print them here – so they’re listed anonymously. If you’re curious to know who said what … you’re quite welcome to ask.)

Some of the authors address the online reading audience:

“George N. Parks was, is, and always will be absolutely spectacular.”

“So this upcoming Friday, I want us all to march a little bit taller, salute a little bit stronger, kick out our heels a little bit further, and make sure to show, for once, just a little extra bit of enthusiasm in honor of him. We won’t let his legacy die.”

More often, they’re addressing Mr. Parks himself:

“Even if all I can do for you is play music and try to teach and inspire just a few others, it’s a task that I will take up.”

“I feel your energy every time I get excited for band practice. I feel you when it’s a tough day at practice and I’m really struggling, when suddenly I am flooded with a wave of enthusiasm. I would not be who I am today without you and your teachings.”

“I hope you know how much you changed my life…”

“It has been four years since you have left this earth, and we all dearly miss you. But the legacy you left for all of us will continue to last for the rest of time.”

“I will go and reread your words, your starred thoughts when I’m having a bad day or need inspiration and it brings me right back to Mahar and the Student Union.”

“Thank you Mr. Parks, for letting me be part of your legacy. I wouldn’t be who I am today without it.”

“… the impression you left on me, as well as the thousands of other leaders, will last a lifetime.”

“You’ve touched all of our lives and pushed us to be better. You still inspire me so much to this day, and will forever.”

Here’s what strikes me about all these thoughts: the people who wrote them had never met the guy.

Video clips, yes. The particular cadence of a marching command or a GNP turn of phrase that DMA staff members use, themselves, without even thinking about it? Yes. … But in person? No. Never met him.


With that tiny little detail in mind, have a look at some other snippets of sentiment that have caught my eye this month:

“He was truly an inspiration to us all, even though few of us if any, ever met him.”

“I hope you know how much you changed my life—even 4 years after you passed away.”

“I know we never had a chance to meet, but in a way, I feel like we did.”

“I never knew you personally but you still left a huge impact on me.”

“So here’s to a man I never had the honor to meet, and changed my life more than anyone I know. Always with pride, just like you taught us.”


Okay, that’s a legacy. If the man had ever harbored any doubts about that … well, he shouldn’t have.


One last thought from one of my new friends. He or she (doesn’t matter which) might not have any idea how much it is The Kicker. Are you sittin’ down? …

“Thank you, Mr. Parks, for everything you did for all of us. Thanks to you, marching band is a magical place for everyone. …

I can’t wait to meet you some day.”

“Do you remember the first time you saw your high school band? You saw that drum major up there on the podium, bigger than life … and you said, ‘I want to be there someday!”, didn’t you?…” [Image courtesy A. Lane]





September 19, 2014 Posted by | band, DMA, drum major, Facebook, GNP, marching band, social media, Starred Thoughts, teachers, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment