Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Playing the Hand You’re Dealt

This is a follow-up, non-chronological, postscript of sorts to an article posted earlier today on a friend’s blog.

In that article, my friend remarked on the stress she feels at this time of year: when she’s auditioning, interviewing, and accepting some of her university marching band students into student-leadership positions. And not accepting others. And empathizing with their disappointment … at the same time as she’s reminding herself that it’s not a bad thing for college students to learn to deal with disappointments before they leave college and go out into the big scary unfeeling world.

And reminding the world that: you can make a difference in a band, or any group, even if you don’t have a title. Even if you’re not a Rank Leader, or a Uniform Manager, or a Drum Major.

She wrote, specifically:

The students wait with baited breath for the Facebook post to hit. They get worked up, filled with anxiety, desperate for the results of auditions and interviews. I, however, sit and stare at the list for days on end. No matter what I do I am going to disappoint some of my students. Some will take a deep breath when they don’t see their name on the list and are ok. Some will become so angry they will throw a chair through a glass door (yes, this happened once). Some will be furious with me – they think I hate them, or at the very least, don’t like them. Some will quit band altogether.”

When I read her words, it kicked loose a memory from my senior year in college, during which I got to be one of the Drum Majors of my college band.

Regular readers of the Blogge may recall a stretch of time several years ago wherein I was inspired to inflict many memories of that memorable autumn in the late 1980s upon them. Well … so here’s a memory that didn’t make that cut (in part because it didn’t have a whole lot to do with the topic of that moment, namely, how great our late great band director was).

When I auditioned for one of the three drum major positions, during the prior spring semester, so did nearly a dozen other band members: soon-to-be seniors, juniors and sophomores were in the mix … the brass, woodwinds and color guard were represented … there were people with drum-major experience and people without … there were people who thought it was important to be able to chuck a mace, and people who didn’t. Within those dozen people, a lot of different skill sets and personalities.

And our director could only take three of them as drum majors. Traditionally, he would then draw two or three or four names from the list of those whom he had not chosen as drum majors, and install them on the student field instructional staff as Drill Instructors. The DIs were a bit higher in the field staff hierarchy than Rank Leaders, who each were in charge of one group of eight marchers; but a bit lower than the Drum Majors. DI responsibilities tended to differ a bit from year to year, depending either upon the Drum Majors’ skill sets or upon a new idea our director had had since the end of the previous season. Mostly, when field drill was being taught, DIs jumped out of the form and assisted with teaching a subset of the band near them, when asked.

During that spring’s audition process, I got into a conversation with one of my fellow auditioners, a newer but pretty good friend of mine (we’ll call her Robin), that went along the lines of: “If we BOTH make Drum Major, great! Fun! If one of us gets to be a Drum Major, the other will still stay in band. If we NEITHER of us are accepted, we still have to be in band. Because at the end of the day, being in the band is more important.” The best thing you can ever do, etc. Robin and I felt like we saw eye-to-eye on that, and we also wanted to be adults about this. Dealing with disappointment is hard; but we would do it.

One of the other auditioners had in fact been one of the Drum Majors during the previous season – the only one of the three DMs who wasn’t graduating. That particular year, our director had decided not to “grandfather” Drum Majors from one season to the next; instead everyone would re-audition. So okay; this former Drum Major … we’ll call her Dana … re-auditioned. Cheerfully, which not everyone in the world might have managed. So, give Dana points for that.

Audition and interview days came and went … the student field staff was not announced … the semester ended, finals were taken, the mid-May commencement happened, everyone cleared out of the dorms … and finally the student field staff was announced, albeit in the second week of June.

I was one of the three applicants who made Drum Major.

Robin and Dana each were not.

If you were someone who had been a high school drum major, and were a very competent marcher and musician, and had performed very well as a Rank Leader the season before, but weren’t selected for Drum Major, you might well be very disappointed.

Now, if you had been a Drum Major of that college band before … and then suddenly were no longer Drum Major … how would you take the news?

I would like to think that I would play the part of good person and loyal bando, and be in the band again, regardless.

I would like to think this.

I don’t know for sure, though.

Here, meanwhile, is the part that taught me a lot:

All season long, Dana, our former Drum Major, was nothing but enthusiastic and professional and fun and friendly and helpful as a DI, and had (within my hearing, at least) nary a down-in-the-mouth thing to say about the whole experience. (There was a time or two wherein she genuinely helped this Drum Major look better than he really was, as it happened.)

We never saw Robin again.

And I was genuinely surprised.

Now, I don’t say all this in order to dump on Robin; or to suggest that she was a horrible disloyal immature person. At all.

Again, in her shoes, I would like to hope that I would have played the hand I was dealt, cheerfully, enthusiastically … but I genuinely don’t know. I didn’t have to find out … but it would have been instructive to have to find out.

I don’t know how much time Dana spent, in private, throwing things at the wall, after the student field staff was announced. And I wouldn’t blame her for doing so. (Smile in public, and grouse in private, goes the Starred Thought, approximately; something many public figures could stand to get better at.)

But Dana made a difference, without the title of Drum Major. (Most remarkably, again, she did so after having previously held the title of Drum Major.)

So it can be done.

Easy to say that, either from the safe perspective of thirty elapsed years, or from the comfortable position of having made Drum Major and therefore having weaseled out of experiencing all this. Or, um, both. I admit this freely.

But there is proof that it can be done.


May 19, 2017 Posted by | band, drum major, marching band, UMMB | , , , , | Leave a comment

Moments of “…–Oh.”

So, Bill Cosby’s step-grandaughter has made a few waves.

Sorry. Let me back up.

It’s the actress Raven-Symone, who portrayed (among other roles) the impossibly-cute sixth-season addition to the 1980s’ “Cosby Show”, that I’m writing about. As all humans do, she has since grown up. She’s acquired various other facets of a career, and seems to have maintained a status as a moderate- to low-level public figure. If you’re a fan of “That’s So Raven”, you immediately take issue with the term “low-level”. If you’re not, she might have slipped off your radar in the time since she routinely, completely upstaged Bill Cosby on a weekly sitcom basis.

Last week, quietly, via her Twitter feed, she came out, expressing gratitude (in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decisions concerning same-sex marriage and other rights) that if she wanted to get married, now she could.

Predictably … because this is how the Internet works … many people were crushed, and said so via their Twitter feeds. The hashtag of choice was, “#childhoodruined”.

For the moment, let’s set aside any concerns about hyperbole here … because most online commenters set them aside, so what the heck.


I wonder, have you ever had a moment when you were disillusioned? When you found out that what you knew about someone … or what you thought you knew … or what you hoped you knew … wasn’t actually true?

Given my nerd status, you will not be shocked to know what some of my disillusionment examples are.

Or maybe I should call them Moments of “…–Oh.” That moment when you have to hit, not exactly the RESET button, but maybe the RECALIBRATE button. What I thought it was … is not what it is … and I shall have to adjust.

Some of those “…–Oh.” moments can be as small as discovering that the burger-and-ice-cream restaurant you loved as a kid actually doesn’t clean their kitchens very well. Or doesn’t treat their employees very well. They can be as personal as realizing (as a small child) that your parents don’t get along with their sisters and brothers (who are your aunts and uncles) absolutely all the time. They can be as wrenching as the fourth-grade moment when you discover that your best friend appears to be allied with the playground bully now. They can be as superficial as discovering that this year, your favorite drum corps abandoned last year’s uniforms, the ones you thought were perfect for them.

Don’t go trying to figure out which of those were mine, and which ones I made up off the cuff. That’s not important right now. What’s important right now is this:

The following two examples are, without question, my Moments of “…–Oh.”:

[] As a ten-year-old nerd, I watched, read, play-acted, wore Star Trek. Admired Mr. Spock’s cool, but really admired Captain Kirk’s ability to buckle his swash. And when I read a chapter in a book about Trek that detailed “behind-the-scenes at the filming of Star Trek” – the Original Series from the 1960s – well, that William Shatner guy certainly came off seeming like the guy you wanted to hang around with. Funniest guy on the set, endlessly devoted to getting that scene just right, willing to sign autographs at any moment.

Well, when you read an article written by someone who’s a big fan, what do you expect to read? So when I read, years thereafter, accounts of how Mr. Shatner didn’t always treat his fellow actors with a huge amount of respect, how he was just as concerned about the number of lines he had compared to other stars … how he wrote and directed Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, enough said … well, this young fan was a mite disillusioned. You were perfectly admirable, Admiral! What happened?

Real life, that’s what. Actors have egos. You couldn’t maybe discern some personality traits from listening to him deliver lines? The written version of those dramatic pauses has a name now. So now, I listen to Shatner interviews with a healthy grain of salt, and appreciate what there is to appreciate.

[] During the summer of 1998, I had all kinds of fun watching Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa duel for the title of Who Can Hit the Most Home Runs in a Season? Not only could they be counted on to deposit pitches in the outfield bleachers, seemingly at least once a night, they seemed to be genuinely likeable fellows who also, when their two teams met (and of course the Cardinals and the Cubs were in the same National League division, so they met often), the two of them seemed to genuinely enjoy each other’s company. Each seemed to push the other to greater heights, but the rivalry was friendly in a way that made me enjoy it that much more. They’re actually not being jerks to each other, while managing to hit homer after homer after homer. Back back back back back…

Gone. Three years ago, McGwire was interviewed on MLB Network and admitted, finally (after having pointedly not admitted it in a Congressional hearing years earlier), that he had used performance-enhancing drugs and human growth hormone treatments throughout his 16-year pro baseball career. (Sosa was accused of similar drug use, but only in years following 1998.)

It was not the first time such admissions had been made, or that such accusations had been denied. It was not exactly a “say it ain’t so, Joe” moment for me. But it was kinda disappointing anyway.

Not long after that, accusations were leveled at Major League Baseball regarding the manufacturing of the actual baseballs – a number of major-league pitchers and others charged that the baseballs were “juiced”, manufactured in such a way that they traveled farther when hit. Such accusations were denied by the league, and dismissed by the official baseball manufacturing companies themselves (although it might have been in their best interests to make such denials!). But it did plant the idea in many people’s heads, mine included, that while folks like McGwire and Sosa still had to actually react to pitches well enough to hit them, if it had been the 1970s or 1980s, a lot of outfielders might have been able to pad their defensive statistics, instead. And fly-ball outs just ain’t great theater.

So, now I still watch my beloved Red Sox; but if I want absolutely pure baseball, played for the sheer enjoyment of the game, and devoid of commercial and corporate interests, I go down to Cassidy Field, across from the reservoir near Boston College, and watch the Park League teams get after it.

Those are two of my moments.


A couple of years ago, I followed an online link to video of a cable-news interview with a Congressman from New York. The interviewer wasn’t terribly respectful to him – he’s a United States Congressman, for heaven’s sake, maybe just a little deference, please? Even the bulldog interviewers at BBC keep it polite when they hold politicians’ feet to the fire! – and, satisfyingly, this Congressman handed it right back to the interviewer, effectively and substantively and forcefully (and politely, but it was close) refusing to be interrupted into silence. As it happened, I agreed with his politics, but either way, the interview had not been close to an actual conversation, and I admired his willingness to hold the journalist’s feet to the fire, too.

That Congressman, nowadays no longer a Congressman, was Anthony Weiner. Who, in the last few weeks, has been, well, forgive me, but … has been revealed to be aptly named.

Here, apparently, was his plan, over the last several years: [1] Start out as a staunch advocate for progressive politics. Acquire many admirers. Fail to get your name on a whole lot of actual legislation, but never mind that now. [2] Get caught doing something “virtually” adulterous. (At this time, I shall avoid doing a pop-psychology analysis of someone who thinks it’s a good move to e-mail photos of his nethers to someone who, um, isn’t his wife. Or, for that matter, is.) [3] Apologize, go into therapy, resign from Congress (at the urging of the Speaker of the House, so that’s what you do). [4] Not too many years later, test to see whether your public image has been adequately scrubbed by running for mayor of one of the world’s largest cities. Then get caught having not actually stopped doing what got you electronically into trouble in the first place!

Back and forth, the internal monologue voices rage. But he’s a strong progressive voice! He’s also got problems. But those problems are strictly personal, not public! Not if he’s a public figure. And, more significantly, not if they reveal a tendency to make unwise (arguably narcissistic) decisions. But those problems don’t have anything to do with running the world’s largest city! Well, actually, they do if he ever wants to advocate, as mayor, for or against certain behaviors by using his Moral Force. That’s the name coined by Keith Olbermann (speaking of people whom one can admire and shake one’s head at simultaneously!) to denote the moral and ethical authority invoked by someone’s accumulated life experiences and behaviors. At a certain point, an Anthony Weiner-like politician may not have enough of a strong Moral Force remaining. Do as I say, not as I kinda did.



Meanwhile, in slightly more current news than Anthony Weiner’s virtual life … the former child star and current actress and singer Raven-Symone has come out. A segment of the Twitterverse has essploded, although perhaps you may have missed the earth-shattering kaboom. A number of Twittering folks claim to have had their childhoods ruined, knowing now that they were watching and admiring a lesbian all that time. Gasp.

(A slight swerve away from this post’s main thrust, in order to offer a gentle suggestion to those Twitterers: when she joined the Cosby Show cast, she was FOUR years old, and you weren’t thinking about her in that way. I hope. And anyway, if that’s all it took to crush your childhood, in retrospect, by this slight change in what you know … what kind of a childhood was it really? How did you survive middle school?)

Some Moments of “…–Oh.” may have more to do with us than with the object of our disappointment.

Some don’t.

It’s worth being able to figure out which Moment is which.

August 8, 2013 Posted by | celebrity, civil rights, current events, entertainment, Famous Persons, media, news, politics, social media | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment