Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Why I Can’t Abide the Stanford Band

Yes, friends, after having repeatedly preached the gospel of “if all us band types can’t support each other, who in the world is going to?” in this space … I’m ripping on somebody else’s band.

Irony alert.


So, yesterday afternoon, I was alerted by the social media elves that there had been yet another example of college marching bands behaving badly.

In this case, it was the Rose Bowl halftime. As it was, the University of Iowa football team had been taking it on the chin, at the hands of the Stanford University athletic establishment. The score was somewhere near 35 to nothing at the break.

And then, reportedly (as I am without glitzy cable TV these days, I didn’t see any of it, but the reports were quite insistent), the Stanford band took the field, and took a few liberties.

Some background details to note here.

First, the Stanford band is a member of that subset of college bands who tend not to take themselves, their opponents, their activity, or indeed the concept of dignity, too seriously. And honestly, a band that can’t create a little fun in their show – somehow, and there are many ways to do this – isn’t much of a college band. Right?

Second, the Stanford band could not have predicted that Iowa football was going to tank as badly as it did, in that first half. Their intent wasn’t to pile on, at least in that context.

But pile on they did. And even if the score had been the reverse, apparently their halftime-show mockery of Iowa and its farmers and its Midwestern-ness crossed a few lines of good taste and good sense.

This is a thing that the occasional college band will do. They take shots at opposing teams, or schools, as an integral part of their halftime shows. Usually it involves public-address narration, so there can be absolutely no doubt that they meant that.

(You may recall earlier this fall, when there was debate about whether it was okay for the Kansas State band to take a crack at its in-state rival, Kansas University – when it wasn’t even the K-State/Kansas game! Never mind the issue of whether that drill formation was the Starship Enterprise or something, um, more personal.)

And third: this sort of thing is not new for the Stanford group.

Earlier yesterday morning, as they passed in review for the national-TV cameras at the Rose Parade, I watched how they conducted themselves – just the overall dominant impression they offered the average viewer who perhaps was new to the activity – and I posted this on the Facebook machine:

My apologies to everyone in the world… but the Stanford band is everything about band that I wish would just. please. stop. (Unearned swagger, for openers.)

But it goes back further than that. A lot further. And a lot less “oh, they’re just college kids”. There’s a history here.

There’s even a history on my social media timeline. When the Facebook algorithms told me that I had a few memories from past New Year’s Days to review and remember, yesterday … turns out those memories were of me making very similar commentary about that same Stanford band organization, exactly two years ago, after it covered itself in something other than glory during that Rose Parade.

So… Stanford… … … where to begin?”

And then, during that year’s Rose Bowl halftime clunker:

Here’s the only reason UMass should stay in Div. I-A: so that one bright shining day, they can play Stanford in a bowl game and put on the definitive halftime clinic.”

And then, I scrolled down further and noted my reactions to their Rose Bowl halftime show on New Year’s Day 2013, just a year earlier than that:

The TV camera angle of the day, for me: in the foreground, the Stanford band playing its halftime show … and in the background, the Wisconsin drumline kneeling on the sideline, their faces clearly reading: ‘…whatever.’”

Final score: Wisconsin wins music and dignity captions; Stanford wins ‘you’ll remember our band tomorrow morning at work’ caption.”


Sorry. That’s a whole lot of high-and-mighty dumping on one particular band organization – a band whom I have never actually met; whose rehearsals I have not watched; whom I have not actually experienced in real life. All I’m basing my reactions on … is what I’ve seen on TV and on Internet replays.

But that’s the point: you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

This is what a few bands (Stanford being only the most obvious, yesterday) do: they live inside the bubble that is their own heads, or their own organizations, and remain convinced that it would be best if they played the part of arrogant jackwagons, on the field or on the parade route, because, well, WE think it’s funny, anyway. If you’re offended, or think we could try to bring a better musical product, well, that’s your hangup, dude.

On that subject, Australian philosophy professor Patrick Stokes wrote:

The problem with ‘I’m entitled to my opinion’ is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for ‘I can say or think whatever I like’ – and by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful.”

In fact, however, when you’re a band playing a halftime show, it’s not all about you – even if, yes, you’re the only people on the field and in theory you’re the show. You’re playing for somebody (in this case, an audience), and you’re representing someone other than (larger than) yourself. One hopes that, at the time, you realize it.

Or at least that your leadership does.

The training I’ve received via my college band, and then as part of the Drum Major Academy staff, has had at least as much to do with remembering where you are and what effect you have on other people, as it’s had to do with guiding the lines and playing the notes and hitting the drill dots and wearing the uniform frontwards.

Also, once, I read a high school band’s governing handbook, and it said this:

Let me give you some other things that band does for you. … #3. Citizenship: to develop better citizens for the world of tomorrow by devoloping the traits of responsible citizens today. This may be realized through the mental and physical discipline incurred from the enactment of the program experience. … #4. Service: to lend dignity, color, and atmosphere to certain school and civic events.” [Italics mine.]

Also, I read an interview with Richard Goodstein of Clemson University, and he suggested this to future band directors:

…As the administration you have to make sure that your students are good ambassadors of the university, whether they’re at home or on a road trip. … There are so many different stakeholders that you have to take a wide view and it makes you politically astute about what kind of things will make you successfull beyond the narrower view of just the marching band program.” [Italics, again, mine.]

Finally, of course, the purveyor of my aforementioned training in how best to do band (and, by extension, the rest of life) memorably said this, in an interview:

There are standards — standards of behavior, standards of how to project the image of the band, which is the image of the university, which is of course the image of themselves.”


So I guess it just bugs the hell out of me that ninety-nine and a half percent of the college band world is just trying to do things right, to put on a decent show, to not get mocked mercilessly for wearing feathers on our heads, and just generally to get even remotely understood by the general public … And then yahoos like the Stanford band leadership have to go and plan stuff – on-field, pre-meditated stuff – that by extension casts all those darn bands full of dumb college kids, in a really poor light.

And in preparation for yesterday’s Rose Bowl, somebody at Stanford University green-lit that project. Okayed it for viewing by tens of thousands of live witnesses, and by millions of viewers … whose opinions of that school, and that band, and unfortunately band in general, would be shaped by what they were seeing in that moment. And who wouldn’t take the time to go to YouTube or wherever, to find out what the “average” college band performance was. Y’know, just so they could figure out where on that continuum a Stanford-esque show actually sat.

The final nail in the coffin: one of the Drum Major Academy students with whom I had the honor of working, this past summer, leapt onto Facebook and posted a thought that referenced one of our head clinician’s Starred Thoughts which happens to be my favorite:

All hype and no substance makes you a fluffhead.”

There ya go.

So thanks a bundle, Band Whose Mascot Appears To Be A Tree: through your efforts, the concept of band is in the news again, and for the worst reason and in the poorest light. Happy New Year to you, too; but only if that happiness comes in the form of dispensing with the attitude and gaining a little perspective.


January 2, 2016 Posted by | band, current events, DMA, entertainment, football, GNP, marching band, music, news, social media, Starred Thoughts | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments


This just in!

The Boston Red Sox have traded veteran infielder Kevin Youkilis to the Chicago White Sox for a 25-year-old minor-league pitcher and a 28-year-old utility infielder who has seen limited action this season.

The Boston Red Sox have traded veteran infielder Kevin Youkilis to the Chicago White Sox.

The Boston Red Sox have traded Kevin Youkilis.

Sox Deal Youk.


A pause, please, to consider a few things.

At least three things are happening right now in New England.

First, the idiot-sports-talk-radio shows’ telephone lines are lighting up like Roman candles. Fred from Everett and Dave from West Springfield and Butch from Down The Cape (well, no, not Butch) are weighing in. The Sox did something monumentally stupid. The Sox did the right thing. The Sox got nothin’ in exchange for a former All-Star. The Sox eased a logjam in their lineup. The Sox traded away a clubhouse leader. The Sox found a new home for a guy whose season wasn’t going well. Et cetera, nearly ad infinitum, full of sound and fury and signifying very close to nothing.

The second thing that is happening is that someone, somewhere, is reminding people around him or her that, considering what else is going on (and going wrong) in the world, this is not the biggest story of the day. People are going hungry. People are out of work. People can’t afford to pay for any medical care they may need. And Kevin Youkilis, being a well-paid athlete, fits into none of those three categories. Statistically, Kevin Youkilis is a member of the much-maligned One Percent.

I’ll leave that second thing alone now. Enough people will beat that one to death.

The third thing that is happening is: legions of Red Sox fans under the age of about 12 just sat down real hard. Some of them will not eat much supper tonight. Some of them will weep, or perhaps are weeping even as we speak.

There are many, many Little Leaguers who own Red Sox t-shirts with a big #20 on the back … who have gleefully called out “Yooooooooooooouk!” whenever the intense ballplayer smacked another one over the Wall, or made a diving stab at third base, even though they were at home watching the game on TV … who declared repeatedly that their favorite player was this burly, baby-faced young third baseman, or first baseman man, or designated hitter.

Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield spent their entire major-league baseball careers as hard-working Red Sox players and got to retire as such. Kevin Youkilis worked hard too, but he’ll finish up somewhere else. In many minds, especially young ones, there’s something just not right about that.

But for many years now, professional sports has been as much a business as a game. Before the establishment of a Players Union, professional baseball players were basically indentured servants. Some writers have used the term “slaves”, and while I would wish to conduct more research before I went that far, before the 1970s, baseball team owners could pretty well do with their players what they wished, send them where they wished, treat them as badly as they wished, and not only could the players not do anything about it, they didn’t make a whole heck of a lot of money doing it. They were playing the game they loved, and the game wasn’t loving them much in return.

Gallons of ink (or perhaps nowadays it’s better to say, endless numbers of electrons) have been spilled by sportswriters on this subject. Rather than duplicate their work, I choose to remember when I was a young’un and the home team traded away my favorite player for no very good reason.

Carlton Fisk. All-Star catcher, immortalized by his home-run-hitter body language in extra innings of the sixth game of the 1975 World Series. Claimed by the White Sox after Red Sox management screwed up his new contract on a technicality. Played another several productive seasons with the White Sox, and there was great debate about whether he would be enshrined in the Hall of Fame wearing a Red- or White-Sox jersey.

Bobby Orr. Only the best defenseman (arguably) in NHL history. Claimed as a free agent by the Chicago Black Hawks (okay, WHAT is it with Chicago, please!?). I didn’t realize at the time that injuries had wrecked his knee, nor did I care that the Black Hawks got two decent seasons out of him before he retired.  The guy who just walked away from you is Bobby Orr!

Robert Parish. A member of the Celtics’ “Big Three”, unquestionably one of the best frontcourts in NBA history. Signed as a free agent, after 14 seasons with the Celtics, by the Charlotte Hornets. Dude, that jersey looks weird on you; and why wouldn’t the C’s re-sign him a genuine future Hall of Famer?

Seeing one’s favorite player traded or otherwise let go by one’s favorite team is incomprehensible to the very young sports fan who has not become conversant in the language of sports business. Some nights, a majority of “ESPN Sportscenter” stories have nothing to do with events that transpire on the field, court or ice. Most nights, I find myself wishing I’d never come to understand vocabulary words like “free agent,” “lockout,” “signing bonus,” and “player to be named later.”

For me, the main reason I’m disappointed that Youk won’t be in Boston anymore is that he was one of those players who (at least to my eyes) worked as hard as he could, all the time. Granted, it takes work for anyone to get to the majors and stay there; but to paraphrase a colleague of mine, it was pretty obvious that he tried and he cared. There was a scuffle in the Red Sox dugout some years ago between Youkilis and Manny Ramirez. My memory of exactly the genesis of that dust-up is a bit faint, but I seem to recall that it had something to do with Youkilis’ dim view of Ramirez’s (relative) (apparent) lack of intensity, and Ramirez’s dim view of Youkilis’ admittedly hyper-intense way of playing the game. I imagine that the one thing that ticks Youk off the most would be if a teammate didn’t seem to be “busting it”, running out the grounders, diving for the Texas-League bloop fly balls, swinging for the fences, taking one for the team … and Manny Ramirez often appeared to be The King Of Relax.

I can’t recall a time when I didn’t see Kevin Youkilis work, and try, and care; my mental highlight reel will always include Youk running out a grounder and being called out, or taking a called third strike, and hurling his helmet, two-handed, to the ground in frustration. Not frustration at the umpire; but at himself for not beating the throw to first or recognizing that pitch as crushable. “I can do better. I should do better. I can work harder.”  Whether he was having an All-Star season, or the kind of painful season that 2011 was shaping up to be.

During this period in Red Sox history, when (por ejemplo) star pitchers loiter in the clubhouse instead of getting into the dugout and putting on a rally cap during a tight game that they didn’t start … and during a period of major-league history where all of us average Joes, who are scraping to make ends meet, watch people play a game and get paid multimillionaire bucks for it … the contrast can be just that much more stark. If actions speak louder than words, Kevin Youkilis spent a long time in Boston speaking very loudly indeed.

And anyway, I can always pop the 2007 World Series DVD into the machine and smile.



June 24, 2012 Posted by | baseball, sports | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment