Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Go Team

[Ed. note: The following is a rant. If you’re a fan of American football, this rant will not make you happy. There’s nothing I can do about that.]

I have problems with football.

With respect to the professional ranks, those problems include, but are not limited to, concussion protocols, Ray Rice and his fist, and the fact that Colin Kaepernick is better than at least half the league’s quarterbacks and still can’t get a gig.

With respect to all levels, but particularly the high school and college strata, those problems also include a concept that I have occasionally pointed to in this space called unearned swagger.

At least once, I recall hearing my college marching band director suggest that football and band are equally weird activities, with participants dressed in equally weird outfits … it’s just that football people have managed to convince everyone that their activity is cool.

And, of course, with perceived cool comes great opportunity for lording it over everyone else.

Case in point: this report from CollegeMarching.com:

It was a great day for the Stephen F. Austin University Lumberjack Marching Band on Saturday until a visiting Graduate Assistant Coach, Ben Seifert, from Tarleton State University[,] decided to stay on the field during halftime.

What happened next is still a bit of [a] head scratcher.

During the Lumberjack Marching Band’s halftime show the coach refused to move off the field. The band carried on with their show expecting him to leave the field or at least stay out of the way of the band. He didn’t[;] and as Kitty Hall, a piccolo player, marched towards her spot which he was standing on[,] he raised his elbow directly in line with her face. The result was a serious bruise along her nose and upper lip and a very angry band wondering why he would not move.

The band also reported that he told other marchers to go around him while he stood there.

After I got elbowed, my nose and head hurt for the rest of the game,” tweeted Hall afterward. “I’m prone to headaches and this set one off almost immediately.”

Naively, I note that Coach Siefert is working for an institution of higher learning, in which adults are hired to facilitate the education and development of America’s youth – with all the human and educational responsibility that implies. In a perfect world, it is understood that assistant football coaches, just as much as assistant professors, are educators. At its core, higher education’s mission is much more to develop American youths’ heads than to elbow them.

Yeah. I know. Naïve of me. Particularly when it comes to college football’s prevailing attitude toward, well, the rest of the world, seemingly.

True, there’s more than a hint of dramatic tension inherent in this college marching band aficionado’s view of all this. With very few exceptions (Boston University, sa-LUTE!), college bands depend upon the sport of football to provide a venue in which to do their good work.

Which they do, year in and year out. For five or six or seven home games a year at least, they lose their minds cheering for a pack of athletic specimens who in general represent the crowd that made band kids’ lives miserable in middle school.

(And, in a relatively new tradition called the Team Walk, long before kickoff many bands form a tunnel and play the school song exuberantly … while the football players walk in street clothes through that tunnel en route from the bus into the stadium, heads down, earbuds plugged firmly in, sparing hardly a glance of acknowledgement of their fellow students.)

Meanwhile, CollegeMarching.com continued its account of the Ben Seifert incident: “We spoke with Lumberjack Marching Band Director[,] Dr. Tamey Angelly[,] about the incident. She explained that the athletic departments of both universities have been discussing this matter and will take swift action to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

In a statement, Dr. Angelly continued: “[Hall] has recently received a letter of apology from the member of the coaching staff and I know that Tarleton administration is handling the situation appropriately.”

Jim Rome‘s and Bill James‘ recent Twitter snark directed at high school and college marching band participants is one thing. Sticks and stones versus name-calling, and all that. We band folks can withstand that sort of thing; hell, we’ve got all kinds of experience shaking it off.

But the raised elbow that Tarleton State University graduate-assistant football coach Ben Siefert directed at the marching activity … injured a student.

That Neanderthal move was premeditated assault. And further, it demonstrated the arrogant mindset of that subset of the higher education community, the football team, that seems to consider that football is the apotheosis of human achievement – and therefore is placed firmly above all the other organizations and institutions that create the Saturday-afternoon environment that props that myth up. And that this reality therefore allows its purveyors to address those supporting characters with disdain at best – and in this case, with physical violence. Because what is football, really, if not a game of channeled violence? Its participants and fans practically take pride in that characteristic.

So here’s the upshot of all the vitriol which I have just now completely unapologetically launched:

Ben Siefert doesn’t need merely to be made to apologize. He doesn’t need merely to be reminded how to properly represent his school, or how to properly treat other humans. He doesn’t need merely to be reprimanded by his head coach. He doesn’t need merely to have his situation “handled appropriately” by his school’s administration. He doesn’t need merely to be suspended from his job, or merely to have his graduate assistantship taken away from him.

Siefert needs to be bagging groceries, or delivering pizzas, or sweeping corporate office hallways after hours, by the end of this week.

Tarleton State University graduate-assistant football coach Ben Siefert needs. to. be. fired.

Go Team.

(And by “Team”, of course, I mean “group of legal professionals whose services ought to be engaged in the filing of assault charges.”)

September 11, 2019 Posted by | band, education, football, marching band, sports | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Puzzlement

This isn’t about politics.

Well, it’s not about national, Presidential-level politics. At least not in spite of the first few paragraphs.

It’s a little bit about local politics, but perhaps not the way I’ve set you up to think.

It’s more about dilemmas.

It hasn’t been too often that I’ve stepped into my local voting booth and filled in the little circle for a candidate for President. Much more often, in my lifetime, in a general election, I’ve voted against someone I definitely didn’t want to be President.

It’s said that in primary elections, you fall in love (with a candidate) and you vote with your heart … and in general elections, you fall in line (with your party) and vote with your head, or at least with a bit more recognition that certain things just kinda happen; that things have been done the way things are done … that you’re participating in “politics as usual”.

And sometimes you come out feeling conflicted, and a bit at sea: I wish it were different than it is, but it is what it is, and for all kinds of reasons that aren’t always as pure as “I frickin’ love this candidate and what they stand for and I think they have my personal best interests at heart”.

You’re participating in democracy, as filtered through a party-oriented political system that is, we are forced to admit, almost hopelessly in thrall to money. Therefore you’re participating in a system prone to corruption, even while you are personally against corruption.

You’re often choosing a candidate that you perceive as the lesser of two evils; and you’re often feeling like you’re part of a political setup that is definitely the lesser of two good things.

The grownup, adult world is full of these dilemmas. There are folks who wish to see the world in strictly black-and-white terms; but, sadly, it’s much more grayscale. Takes more thought, more pondering, more head-scratching in the effort to try and see a solution, or a way out, or a way forward.

Which brings me to my alma mater.

Via the good offices of my college band’s alumni association, yesterday I became aware that the UMass Faculty Senate was to vote on a motion to recommend that University administration [1] downgrade UMass football to Division I-A status, or [2] eliminate it altogether. Their reasoning had to do with finances, as well as some other considerations. The motion was voted down, but not before it got me to thinking.

Setting aside for a moment the unlikelihood of the latter [1], within American culture – although my colleagues and I from Boston University in the late 1990s might offer a bit of perspective about killing football programs – and set-ting aside the attractiveness of the former proposal [2] … I will admit to being more than a bit conflicted.

Football has almost always caused me to at least raise an eyebrow. Long before former NFL players were putting it to the NFL that concussions were not just a roster-management nuisance to teams, but were in fact a health crisis generated by the very nature of the sport, I saw football as dangerous to the health of its participants, and let’s face it, a bizarre sport. Football has never been my idea of a great sport to play, myself – I’m pleased that my young nephew is all about baseball – and is assuredly not my favorite sport, period.

On the other hand, as regular readers of The Blogge will know … I did marching band for eight years in high school and college.

The original idea was that American scholastic bands marched because of football games. Then we invented band competitions, so we could have somewhere to perform wherein the spectators were entirely made up of people who cared at least a bit about marching music. But it’s the uncommon ensemble that is deprived of its football context and still thrives. Rarer still is the school marching band that never had a football team to root for, to begin with.

I’m sure that studies have been conducted to determine the adverse effect upon band recruitment of “no football games for your band to play at”, but I can’t quote any right off the top of my head. Do band people care much about that? Would it keep them from continuing to march? (Some of the college bands with whom I have worked have contained people who lived for the exhibitions at high-school band shows, and gritted their teeth all the way through football games. On the other hand, how many people join the Michigan Marching Band and don’t get a little worked up for games against the Spartans or Buckeyes?)

At the same time as I must acknowledge that cutting the football program at a major state university is unlikely … I must also acknowledge that Donald Trump as a major-party presidential nominee was considered most unlikely. So … Starred Thought: never assume anything.

For a brief moment, upon hearing about the vote (before it happened and ended up being a big Emily Litella “never mind!”), I had a Moment: –would the hypothetical axeing of UMass football lead to the end of my beloved Power and Class of New England? If so, at what pace? Via implosion, or erosion?

Now, not just because the motion did fail, but even if it had passed, non-binding as it was … and even if passage had meant something (which current University administration officials appeared to think was highly unlikely anyway!) … in the cold morning light … I’ve decided that I’m not losing sleep over this. (I *am* mixing metaphors like a one-armed bartender.) (And my similes are feeling similar pain, apparently. Sorry.)

After all, if the Boston University Terrier Marching Band could have its football team yanked out from under it (fall 1997; I was there) and still survive and thrive and get into movies and such … then surely the 380-member juggernaut from the Pioneer Valley (with a Sudler Trophy and a DCI-Hall-Of-Fame instructional staff and, dang it, a reputation) ought to be okay. Yes?

I think?

I’m already on record about the decision to move UMass football to Division I (or the BCS, or whatever the folks in charge are calling it). From the get-go, I felt it was among the more ill-considered, more pie-in-the-sky, more arrogant decisions my alma mater has ever made. No need to go into the reasoning behind that opinion, here, since all you have to do is click here and read.

From a strictly football point of view, I never felt there was either the existing interest or even the potentially-develop-able interest (from current students, from local alumni, from the general eastern-Massachusetts public) in supporting Your Alma Mater’s Football Team At Gillette Stadium Squaring Off Against the Mighty ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Big-Whoop Famous Football Teams. And (as it became quickly clear) there was hardly a hope of attracting the kind of football talent necessary to keep UMass from being perennially “Your 2-and-10 Minutemen”. Let’s be honest: this is New England. We don’t have anything remotely like Alabama/Auburn – and, at least as importantly, we don’t have anything remotely like Texas high-school football. (Which for many reasons might be just fine, actually.)

Downgrading (or, as I prefer to think of it, returning) UMass to Division I-A would mean that football would be played in the cozy confines of McGuirk Stadium, not the cavernous one-sixteenth-full Kraft Family Canyon. And it would be enjoyed by the relatively small but loyal constituency of western-Massachusetts fans which has been propping up that little UMass football program for decades. It’d be shorter money (you don’t get a big payday from a major network for playing against the University of Maine) … but UMass would get much closer to breaking even. And the student section would be full of kids who actually would be able to roll out of bed at noon and walk down to the game, rather than having to hop a bus at Absurd O’Clock and kill an entire Saturday.

And the relationship between the band and its halftime and postgame audiences would be far less diluted by the physical distance from stands to front sideline. Which, at UMass, has always been a pretty big deal at least as far back as the first time George Parks perched on that narrow concrete rail at the base of the McGuirk home stands. At Gillette Stadium, when the band crashes the sideline, the audience is still in another zip code. At McGuirk, the band crashes the sideline and the audience can see individual band members’ smiles.

One big part of me agrees with the Faculty Senate (if not its tactics). Football is, at best, a double-edged sword – one that benefits greatly from the phrase about tradition that goes, “but we’ve always done it this way”. It often offers more long-term risk than long-term reward for its participants. From the standpoint of concussions alone, some commentators have advocated abolishing the sport altogether, and I grasp their passion on the subject, oh yes I do. And the Division I version of American college football opens its participating schools up to great sweeping plains of temptation and corruption and mistreatment of people and academic hypocrisy that would make a mud bath feel clean and pristine.

But another, equally large part of me knows that a fall Saturday afternoon at halftime is a great place for the Minuteman Marching Band to do its thing.

It is … a puzzlement.

April 29, 2016 Posted by | band, BUMB, football, marching band, politics, sports, UMMB | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What, Me Worry?

I wasn’t worried when the bus lurched to one side, that fateful morning.

I was worried even before then.

This is a story of things that should have worried me, but didn’t. And a story of things that shouldn’t have worried me, but did.

There were more of the former than the latter, happily.

 

Some time during the 2004-05 school year, I got a phone message from my friend Heidi that said, approximately, “…Hey! Just got the football schedule for next year, and you’re on it. So. You comin’ down?”

At that moment, I was in my third year of directing the marching band at the College of the Holy Cross. Heidi was in her tenth year of directing the band at the University of Delaware.

At that moment, the Holy Cross band was a group of not quite forty absolutely sweet collegiate folks who were stalwart and sturdy marchers. At that moment, the Fightin’ Blue Hen Marching Band was a group of sweet college kids who were stalwart and sturdy, too; and they were also about ten times our size.

That might have worried some folks, but not me.

When I returned her call, my first question to Heidi was, “…do you know what a hell of a bad football game that’s gonna be?”

Delaware football was only about 15 months separated from its 2003 national championship win over Colgate University. Holy Cross played in the Patriot League, which long ago abandoned the silly idea of offering scholarship money for something like football. Perhaps you grasp the enormity of the challenge that faced the Crusaders?

Yeah, well,” she declared. “So should we schedule High School Band Night for that date? Get you a little more exposure.”

Hard to argue with that.

 

It wasn’t that the trip would have been lengthy. We had traveled to Bucknell University during that football season, and that took better than six hours on a bus. So.

It wasn’t the idea of our small-but-mighty band performing for lots of high school bands as well as the local home crowd. We’d had experience with that – the Bucknell game was their high-school band day, and after the trip was all over, I got a letter from Bucknell’s assistant athletic director, praising the band’s performance and good-natured spirit, and insisting that we were welcome to come back any time. So.

And the year before that, we’d gone out to UMass, to participate in their high-school band day, and that thing was full of just about 4,000 high school band kids, and Holy Cross wasn’t even the football opponent. So.

(Thanks to a number of happenings that day that were anywhere from inconvenient to too-sweaty to logistically-confusing to a-really-long-day, I took a bit of flak for the trip from some of my charges … but honestly I didn’t really factor those in. Partly because: look, kids, a Saturday football game when you’re in band is inconvenient, is sweaty, and takes up a whole day. And honestly, in spite of what it looked like from the field, surrounded by a sea of other band uniforms worn by people rather younger than you … hey gang, UMass has that Band Day organization thing down to a science, really. And didn’t you guys get a chance to perform at postgame, by your lonesomes, when all the kids were up in the stands and could see and hear you?, and didn’t they cheer loudly for you guys?, and wasn’t the UMass band on the sidelines the best audience you’ve ever had? Right. So suck it up, and ac-cen-tuate the positive.)

It wasn’t even the idea of yet another road trip. That was what Holy Cross did: made sure the band traveled to road football games. Because if there’s one thing HC alumni do really well, it’s show up at Holy Cross road football games. If the band isn’t there, they ask hard questions. I learned about this early – my first HC game was on the road at Harvard University, and given my experience of Harvard and being the visiting band there, I was a wee bit nervous. But there was this sea of purple in the visiting stands that cheered us before we played a single note, and I was properly enlightened. And quickly came to understand the value (and fun!) of being on the road in a purple jersey. So.

The band kids, of course, knew it long before I figured it out. And had a ton of fun, on the road, in enemy territory (except for the nearby alumni), chanting “HC! MB! HC! MB!” By the way, we don’t get intimidated easily, in case you missed it.

My HC higher-ups were all in favor of us going down to Delaware. Neither the team nor the band had ever been there, so … a whole new region of the country that would get to see us! But they were not super-in-favor of a double-overnight trip. We traveled a lot, and so we had to mind our budget, and two nights in a hotel would run into serious money.

 

So we created what I can only describe as the Itinerary from the Imagination of the Optimistic:

Load the bus Friday afternoon and drive into the night. Stay overnight Friday into Saturday morning at a hotel in southern New Jersey. Load the bus that morning and drive the rest of the way to Newark, Delaware. Play the game. Load the bus one more time, after the game, and drive straight home. Straightforward.

Did I mention that the game was a Saturday night game? Kickoff around 7 o’clock? So, load the buses after the postgame show, say, around 11, and get back to central Massachusetts as the sun was starting to come up.

That makes sense.

Actually, in the college world, it kinda does. Also, this being Holy Cross, quite a number of my band people were interested in getting to Mass on Sunday morning, rather than still being on the road home. And I had a church gig of my own. Which is where a bit of the insane part comes in (he said, selfishly, thinking of his own 8:45am Sunday-morning choir warmup); but y’know, it was going to be a great experience.

So I sold this trip hard. Straight from the top of the fall-2005 semester, I went full-court press on the kids. This late-September trip will be one of the absolute highlights of your marching life. The Delaware home crowd is 16,000 people who have been trained by their own band to cheer loudly even for the visiting bands. The Delaware band will replace UMass as the best audience you’ve ever seen – and you’ll go nuts for their show.

By the way, their band is about 380.

What?!

No,  they’re sweet people! They know how to play the game. My friend is their director; she’ll make sure they’re nice. They won’t eat you.

Three-eighty?!

Judge me, by my size, do you?” Do you guys play musically?

…Yeah.

Do you march well?

…Yeah.

Do you have a fun show?

We think so.

Do you trust me not to throw you to the lions?

…Well, in three years, you haven’t.

Right. Suck it up. You’ll be fine.

<*sniff*> O-okay.

 

We hit the road on time … got to the hotel on time … the next morning, the hotel staff said they’d love to have us back … we hit the road on time again … we found the Delaware campus … and our bus turned the corner into the parking lot adjacent to the Fightin’ Blue Hens’ rehearsal field.

And the bus leaned perceptibly to the left.

Not because the bus driver hit a curb or anything. No, our drivers were from the Silver Fox Bus Company (free plug) and for my money they were the best in the business, early in the day or late, clear weather or stupid.

No, that bus leaned to port because a bunch of the Holy Cross bandos on board suddenly were plastered to the bus windows, getting their first look at the particular three hundred and eighty people who were making music on the field, on the left of our bus.

Holy crap!”

No, I said, unable to repress a smile … that’s not our name.

They have more tubas than we have brass players.”

Didn’t I tell you? You’ll be fine. Relax. Sit back down, you’re making the driver nervous.

Yeah, I made a great show of confidence that morning. What was also true was that in the back of my mind, since we’d loaded the buses at the hotel in Jersey that morning, was the nagging question: what if this somehow doesn’t turn out to be the absolute best marching memory my gang will have this season? Have I bitten off more than I chew on this one?

The first moment that I knew I didn’t have to worry was when, shortly after my band pretended to relax, I saw a troupe of Delaware marchers heading for our bus. Drum majors, and other student-staff members, sauntering over, smiling.

I called out from the front of the bus, “hey Suzie? Jay? Come on up here.” The kids in the UD welcoming party had been on the summer Drum Major Academy “IMPACT” collegiate team … and so had Suzie and Jay, representing HC. “You guys have some greetings to do.”

As soon as the rest of the HC band saw, out the left-hand-side windows, the UD and Holy Cross IMPACT team mini-reunion happen, they relaxed for real. Hugs and handshakes all ’round, out there on the parking lot. It’ll be all right after all.

Didn’t I tell you?

And after that came moment after moment after astounding moment of knowing we didn’t have to worry.

At that afternoon’s rehearsal, after the two college bands had rehearsed the tune they would play together at halftime, they jointly passed the time while waiting for the high school bands to arrive. I looked over and saw our lone mellophone almost literally swarmed by the, um, many Delaware mellophonists. I saw our drum major hanging out with theirs. Memorably, I saw the Delaware and HC clarinet sections, intermingled, sitting in a big circle on the turf and playing duck-duck-goose.

(Man. Only in college.)

While the HC band ate their suppers, I stood with my friend Heidi, looked around, and marveled that these two former UMass drum majors seemed to have gotten their two college bands together for what amounted to a play-date.

The actual game began. By the third quarter, I had actually seen the Holy Cross football team hold their own with the recent national champions. My band played its fight song more than just ceremonially. (In the fourth quarter, the team ran out of steam, and the score ended up not an embarrassment but a mere loss. And at least as much of a moral victory, if you believe in that sort of thing. Which we did, that night.)

At postgame, I saw the Holy Cross band play the living snot out of their Earth, Wind & Fire opener, and I heard the fans in the stands cheering, but more importantly I heard the Delaware band losing its mind on the sidelines. No, those thirty-eight musicians weren’t bigger and louder than the 380 in gold and blue … but they were laying it all out there. And the gold and blue team was right with ’em.

And then the Fightin’ Blue Hen band took the field (and I mean they took it) … and by the end of their show, far from being intimidated or humbled or Mom I wanna go home … the Crusader Band people were standing (some of them on the offensive line’s benches), and adapting their usual cheer for to be pumpin’ ourselves up

UD! MB! UD! MB! UD! MB!”

 

Several years later, I had a Facebook exchange with one of (I say selfishly) “my” HC band alumni, which started out not really about that particular band trip. But something in the midst of the conversation reminded me, and I said so, of that absurd weekend in Delaware, and my alumni friend immediately responded, “Favorite band trip? Ever!”

About which I was, and am, pleased. I was worried … but a bunch of stellar college marchers took the hyper-optimistic game plan laid out by their director guy and turned it into a trip that, if it’s not my absolute favorite band trip ever, it’s certainly in the top two.

The final, clinching proof of that?

We loaded the bus at around 11pm, after the lengthy Band-Day postgame show was over, and headed north. People caught what sleep they could … the bus, at one point, was unnervingly silent … but as the sky got lighter, and the bus crossed into Massachusetts from Connecticut, on Interstate 84, I thought I heard band members quietly singing Billy Joel songs at each other, and with each other. And, far from hearing other band members gently asking them to quit it … I heard more of them join in. And laugh. And suggest the next singable songs. All the way to Worcester.

As we drove up the hill toward campus, I found the bus driver’s PA mike, and murmured into it (it was 5:30am, after all), “I have no business expecting you guys to be in this good a mood. I would travel with you anywhere.”

And the bus lurched to the left again … but only because that’s what buses do when they have to navigate the main parking lot at Holy Cross.

That trip began ten years ago tonight.

I can’t find my car keys sometimes … but I remember the Delaware trip like it was just this afternoon.

No worries.

September 23, 2015 Posted by | band, DMA, marching band, music, UDMB | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments