Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Confession and (Re-)Connection -or- Where Ya Been?

Hi everyone.

I know. It’s been months.

This was not the plan.

There’s been plenty to write about.

And honestly, it’s not that my schedule, my life, has been that jammed full of every possible commitment and activity that I didn’t have time to sit and park a few thoughts on the Blogge.

I could have gone on and on about, say, current politics. Plenty of writers have done so, and very eloquently and movingly – not that this truth would have deflected me from writing on that topic, as well. I’m not that humble.

My musical life has careened onward at its standard pace. I could have scribbled (metaphorically) a few notes (ha) about all that.

Yes, I had a root canal recently. But it was my tooth that hurt, not my typin’ fingers.

Somehow, several months have gone by.

A friend of mine suggested that it would be a much bigger deal if this were a paid-subscription blog. In that case, then, yes, I would have to process a few refunds!

But still, there are people – not just automated bots, but actual people – who signed up to get eMail blasts every time I published something. They didn’t have to do that. No one was forcing them. They did it – I presume – because they enjoyed something I wrote, and were interested in reading the next one, and possibly even the next one. I need to respect that.

There are others who didn’t sign up, but let me know that they were reading faithfully anyway. I need to respect that, too.

Those are connections.

Connection – most especially these personal connections, with longtime friends and newer friends and friends I’ve never actually met in person! – is something that has become, to me, more important-seeming in the last three or four months of navigating current events. Not that you would know it from my blog activity … so what say we show a little evidence of that?

Write. Write write write.

Will do.

Stand by. Powering back up. Re-acquiring signal. Re-establishing connection. Resurrecting blog in 3… 2… 1…

May 19, 2017 Posted by | blogging, writing | , , , | Leave a comment

Atten-Hut

A couple of my friends just got married. I mean, within the last hour.

And the run-up to it on social media must qualify as one of the most adorable wedding countdowns this planet has ever hosted.

For the last ten months or so, their Facebook posts and photos and such have just gotten cuter and cuter and sweeter and sweeter until you practically had to fall over and kick your feet in the air, it was so adorable. I am not being sarcastic. There is no snark. This is genuine. (Not to be too topical, and not to distract from the fact that these two clearly love each other more than they love air … but they also couldn’t have pulled off this wedding in some US states. Good fortune did smile.)

One truth about these particular two people that has to do with me … because this space is nothing if not “all about me” … is this: one of them I would likely never have met … and one of them I might have only shared a few brief Alumni Band hellos with over the last about 20 years … had it not been for the rather impassioned reaction to the passing of our mutual (albeit in separate decades) college band director.

 

I didn’t intend to start thinking in that direction today. This week, the third anniversary of that passing, had already been one of sufficient introspection and nostalgia. Not that this is a bad thing; but I’d previously expressed blogospherical angst about the process of moving on, and etc. … and didn’t I already submit my annual commemorative blog post last weekend??

On the other hand … if we can draw any Good Things from that passing, and from our band alumni community’s collective and individual responses to it, well, so be it.

Three years ago, after the immediate slap of shock and grief, we turned to each other for support … and then for the exchange of GNP stories, both serious and funny … and pretty quickly, plenty of people became each other’s new Facebook friends. The tangled web of social-media friendships worked its subsequent magic … and suddenly I found myself commenting on silly photos of family barbeques featuring UMass bandos with whom I hadn’t even marched. Por ejamplo.

One response to our director’s passing that became clear right away was that a whole lot of band people from the 1980s were now in regular contact, social-media and otherwise, with band people from the ’90s, the 2000s, … the 1970s… By contrast, I remember many previous Homecoming days when, after Alumni Band rehearsals were done, the ’80s alums hung out with each other, the ’90s folks with themselves, and so on. We weren’t ignoring each other, not at all … but it was a very gentle and benign version of high school clique activity. Not brought on by wanting to ostracize anybody, but just because those were the people we knew well.

And then, in 2010, everyone was kinda snapped into a fresh realization: we’re all Band Alumni. We all share more than we consciously thought about, before. And the many, many photos of 2010’s Homecoming rehearsals and game and etc. display groups of people that include different shades of gray hair, different levels of wrinkle, different versions of the official band jacket! … all getting on like a house on fire. Myself, I’ve re-connected with a number of people with whom I’d pretty much lost contact, and I’m thrilled to be back in touch with them. And I can look with admiration at a couple of entirely new and wonderful friendships of mine … which barely existed or didn’t at all before three years ago.

 

Last week, amidst the third-anniversary tributes, came some thoughts posted by a couple of my colleagues from the band community. I like these people greatly – and, not coincidentally, neither of them marched when I did. And their thoughts were heartfelt and enjoyable to read. But there were a couple of tiny bits in them that made me sit up and think, “do I totally utterly agree with that?”

To paraphrase: these gentlemen supposed that our fallen leader’s most impressive gift to his massive roster of students was delivered those three Septembers ago, posthumously: the high level of connection amongst us, and the great intensity of our efforts to “raise our hands two inches higher” and to live up to his example. And they supposed that perhaps that connection and that intensity hadn’t been in this condition prior to his passing.

I see their joint thesis: that sometimes it does take a wrenching, sad event to (again) snap people back to recognizing what’s important. When someone we know passes away, or becomes ill, or has something else awful happen to them, it adjusts our perspective: make the most of every moment, you never know when you might not have one again, or when life will change permanently somehow. Sit up – because you can. Write your former teachers a letter – before you can’t send it, or they can’t receive it.

But, again, with great respect (because I like these folks), I took issue with one tiny point: I’m not sure that I think we, the band alumni community, weren’t a terribly close-knit group before. Or, that we were more jaded. (Yes, sometimes when Mr. Parks would say something very GNP and yet very silly or awkward … “it only takes two dollars! … every week! … for a couple of years! …” … we would smile sheepishly and murmur, “oh, George.” And many times we’d look at the ominous Homecoming Day weather forecast, exhale deeply, and think, “maybe not Alumni Band this year.”) Or, that we were less inclined to remember and celebrate our time with the Band and our links to all the people with whom we shared that time. We all need reminders, now and again – and this reminder was especially harsh. But we weren’t starting from zero and working up, exactly.

I’m sure my reaction to that tiny point was knee-jerk and self-centered. “Hey! – I was a good person about all this before 2010! … wasn’t I? … I thought so … would someone please reassure me that I was?…” As Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser would put it, I might have had a flash of “I/me” that momentarily obscured my goal of being a “we/us” person. (It’s not them… it’s not them…)

 

One way to think of this … a helpful way? … is this:

Maybe the events of three years ago – the tragic passing, yes, but also the physical and online gatherings that followed – have acted as a focusing lens. We’ve been made more aware of what we have to do to live up to the standards toward which Mr. Parks was always encouraging us. Before three years ago, we were not awful people. We may have been preoccupied. We may not have been thinking of all those things consciously, or as often as we have been, since.

But, it’s possible that the autumn of 2010 reminded us just how great we can be to each other, if we just pay attention.

 

P.S. Happy Wedding Day, you two.

September 21, 2013 Posted by | friends, GNP | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Takeaway

Twelve years ago today was a very tough day.

On a couple of previous anniversaries of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC, I have taken a moment (here in this blog space) to note the date, usually utilizing what I remember of where I was – what I was doing (hmph). I made a connection, without great difficulty, to the music I was making at the time with my students – and the role that music played in getting through the day, or making sense of the day later, or offering comfort to people who needed it for a long time after.

I was teaching today, as well. Since I’m relatively new to my school, I was teaching several classes’ worth of students with whom I had never shared this particular observance. The change of scenery, I think, caused me to think in perhaps wider-angle terms than I would have otherwise. Things are different … somewhat.

My seventh-grade students were weeks or months old in 2001. I was twelve years younger, too; and much closer to the beginning of my teaching career than I am now. I wasn’t as schooled in the ways of geopolitical affairs and foreign policy as I have become, since. Then, I was much more likely to worry greatly about driving under highway overpasses than I am now – or, let’s just say that now I worry more about whether the bridges are going to come down on their own, never mind with help from terrorist people.

One night about a week ago, I noticed my local television listings beginning to fill up with 9/11 documentaries and tribute-laden programs – the Discovery Channel was showing nothing but, all afternoon and all night – and I was frankly shocked for a moment after I found myself thinking, “oh… Here we go. It’s that time of year.”

For those who lost people that they dearly loved, that day, September will always be “that time of year”. I was instantly embarrassed at my thought (which I had unhelpfully delivered to myself in the voice of the “Stewie” character from “Family Guy”). The sister of a good friend of mine from high school was on the second plane that hit the World Trade Center, for heaven’s sake. If the tables were turned, I’d be more than a little put out that somebody was thinking of this particular anniversary with the same kind of jaded outlook that a lot of us carry into, say, the holiday shopping season in December. For many many people, this is and always will be – well, deadly serious.

Not long after 9/11, many people wondered if it would be this generation’s Pearl Harbor – not so much as an impetus for war specifically, but more as an event that was both unforgettable and a turning point in a lot of people’s understanding of the state of the planet Earth, for better or for worse. I doubt people were thinking, “oh… Here we go again,” on December 7, 1953.

So I did several hundred mental pushups, as a sort of penance for my offhand thought. And I thought, okay, then: is there anything that we can take away from that awful day? Anything positive? Anything that we’ve actually learned?

There is the temptation to respond to that question by commenting on political- and military-science permutations of this question. We went to war in two places in the wake of 9/11 and we’re still hanging around in one of those theaters, a dozen years later, and to what end I’m not sure (except that this must be how the Soviet Union felt in 1980 or so). More lives lost; less ground gained, I think.

I am tempted to express deep concern about our temptation – then and now – to knee-jerkily retreat into patriotic fervor, as a means of reassuring ourselves that not only was this an awful, evil act (well, it was that; and no civilian population anywhere “had it coming”), but that becoming victims of that heinous crime automatically made us, or perhaps more properly our government, blameless in all things and justified in any and all responses. Invasions of whole countries followed. Euphemisms like “extraordinary renditions” and “enhanced interrogation” followed. Unnerving titles such as “Homeland Security” were created. Chants of “USA, USA” only make me smile at the Olympics, I think.

As is almost always the case … it’s not nearly as simple as politicians and pundits make it their business to make us believe.

So, while government activities and international politics grind on, actual people still suffer, both directly because of the attacks and indirectly, for a staggering and unnerving variety of reasons. There are vast, sweeping plains of wrong that haven’t yet been made right. There were wrongs before 9/11 that haven’t yet been addressed. There are debates that haven’t even been properly begun.

So what can we possibly take away from 9/11 that can make the human race seem like a noble thing?

Finally, I came around to this:

If thinking about 9/11 causes us to wonder what would possess someone to do such a thing, and we look further afield than just the instinctive, jingoistic “they hate us for our freedoms” answers … then regardless of what we find, we’ve at least tried to imagine the world from someone else’s point of view … and that’s something.

If observing 9/11 will cause us to remember and thank and support first-responders – not just the ones that ran toward the burning Twin Towers, but the ones that run toward trouble and danger in our own communities all the time, right now – then that’s something.

If recalling 9/11 will cause us to remember or be introduced to tales of ordinary people helping other ordinary people in far-from-ordinary circumstances … then that’s something.

If remembering 9/11 will cause us to reach out to people we know who lost friends or family on that day, to offer them some help or support or comfort or connection … then that’s something.

If I can start out sitting in a classroom with students who were mere toddlers in 2001, having conversations with them about those terrible events and these difficult issues … and somehow end up with a teachable moment that boils down to “go out of your way to treat people decently, so that your individual world stands a chance of being a better place”, or “let’s work together because it sure beats working against people” … as happened this morning …

then I guess that’s something.

September 11, 2013 Posted by | blogging, current events, news, politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment