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Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

The Welcome Will Not End

One of the topics that gets covered during a George N. Parks Drum Major Academy clinic week, as we offer three hundred high school drum majors and color guard captains a metaphorical box of tools with which to survive and thrive in their new autumn jobs, is that dangerous word: traditions.

Ya know,” our lead clinician quipped this week, “the stuff you do two years in a row.” And then you can’t figure out why it was so important, but you keep doing it.

DMA has a few traditions of its own.

One of them, which we’ve been upholding for most of three decades, is an event that I will freely admit to enjoying, even though it can be one of the more melancholy moments of my professional year. It comes toward the end of our last evening with the students. It’s an odd moment to have this kind of “heavens, we’re done” feeling, considering we still have about eighteen hours left – the next day, we do one more morning of clinic activities and then an afternoon demonstration show for family and friends.

The moment comes after our lead clinician has spent better than an hour emphasizing to the assembled high school band student leaders (among other ideas) the importance of making sure that the freshmen – and the upperclassmen! – keep believing in the magic of band. Which, out of context, may strike people as a spectacularly Pollyanna-ish and corny thought, but take my word for it: at the end of this particular lecture session it makes all the sense in the world. The thought comes at the end of a very intense four days.

Such that, in the last few minutes of the session, when our lead clinician brings the DMA instructional staff onto the stage of the little auditorium so she can properly acknowledge us, the students clap and cheer madly. And when she brings the veterans (students who “are crazy enough to come and do this a second or third year”) onto the front edge of the stage, a lot of them are teary before they even get there, never mind when they’re handed a little souvenir DMA “vet pin”, never mind when they’re called to execute a salute and the rest of the non-veteran students and the staff clap and cheer madly.

Such that many of the non-veteran students are also a wee bit teary. The instructional staff does generally keep it together.

At least until!…

Well, here’s the tradition that I both love and (in a simultaneous, slightly out-of-body moment) wonder whether the outside world would think it’s as great as I do.

We play a recording of this one particular tune from the mid-1980s that seems specifically designed to lay waste to most everybody’s composure.

Everybody links arms and sways. Some of us (who have actually heard the tune two or three or thirty times before) sing along. (Some of us sing in five-part harmony with full orchestration. Um, guilty.) A lot of people suddenly realize they’re in the middle of the last time we’ll be together doing this, for a while or maybe ever.

Rewind thirty years.

Can you guys help me with something?”

It was DMA, at Hampshire College in western Massachusetts, during the summer of 1987. The collegiate assistants were gathered at the edge of the practice field where DMA marching and teaching activities were conducted. At the time, it was a much smaller group than it is now – only the UMass band’s three drum majors and a couple other student field-staff members – and after the morning sessions, they’d grab lunch and head back to the UMass campus to continue prep work for the upcoming band camp and marching season; then they’d come back to Hampshire for the evening indoor lecture sessions.

Our band director had asked the question.

Many words have been written in this space, previously, about this gentleman, nearly all of which basically glowed in the dark. We did, and do, think very highly of him.

But nobody’s perfect; and occasionally, we humans looked at our very human band director and wondered what exactly was going on in that mad brain of his. Sometimes there was a plan, and we just didn’t know about it right away. Sometimes there was a plan, and we never did find out what that plan was.

This time, he had a project for us – but he didn’t tell us the whole plan.

Yeah, I found this song, and it’s kinda neat, but I can’t quite understand some of the lyrics, the way it’s sung. Could I ask you guys to take a listen and see what you can make out?”

(Kids, gather ’round your old man and listen to him tell stories of the days before the Internet.)

So we sat down around a picnic table in the middle of that field, fired up the boom box, and pretty much shredded the cassette tape of this, um, more than faintly cheesy-sounding tune.

Back and forth, over and over, we closed our eyes and bore down on what we were hearing, and tried to glean what this tenor pop singing fellow was getting at. A shame that I don’t know where the notebook has gotten to, the one in which we wrote what we thought might have been the lyrics. Or maybe not a shame it’s gone: it’s pretty likely that we got most of the refrain correct, perhaps half of the first verse, and exceptionally little of the second.

None of us knew who Michael W. Smith was, before that morning. That knowledge might have helped. There were a number of lyrics that … well … they couldn’t possibly be religious, could they? We’re a state university, after all.

(They could.)

Packing up the dreams God planted / In the fertile soil of you

Was this song even intended for the UMass band in any way at all?

(It was.)

The fertile soil of you?” What kind of writing is that?

(I know. Trust me. I know.)

Can’t believe the hopes He’s granted / Means a chapter of your life is through

Hmm. Maybe it’s for senior day, or the Band Banquet, or something.

Was this song really meant for too-cool-for-the-room college students, this fairly sentimental-sounding piece of pop fluff?

But we’ll keep you close as always / It won’t even seem you’ve gone

(Even this.)

(After all, our director was one of the world’s foremost authorities on making corny pieces of music into beloved elements of the legacy and lore of one’s college band.)

Hmmmm.

We did our best. We gave him his notebook back. We went to lunch. And (while he was, as it turned out, engaging someone else somewhere else in this project too, since a lot of us now know the lyrics “chapter and verse”, as it were) … we didn’t think about the song again until a few months later, when we were playing an arrangement of it.

The UMass band already had a tune that it performed to close all its performances. So that wasn’t it. And we played this Michael W. Smith tune at about three performances total. We listened to the recording, the one which we DMA helper-types had transcribed almost completely wrong, in maybe only a couple of other non-performance moments. Our director just thought that the song said some things that applied to our band, which he loved very much – or certainly he wanted them to apply to us.

‘Cause our hearts in big and small ways / Will keep the love that keeps us strong

And then, possibly helped along by the fact that band people can just be that way sometimes … we bought into the thing. Hook, line and sinker.

And then our director decided to apply the tune to his Drum Major Academy curriculum.

Fast-forward thirty years, to now …

And here we are. Standing on the stage in an academic auditorium, many of us surreptitiously thinking, “I’m not crying, YOU’RE crying”, and at least as many of us (even those relative cynics amongst us) thinking about how the lyrics have it just about right … as they apply to the staffers who have been doing this relatively forever, but also to the students who have pretty much just met each other, and none of us really want to part company just yet.

There are lots of reasons why I look forward to the summer week or weeks of DMA. For many reasons, I could argue that in fact it is “the most wonderful time of the year”, and not that wintry month during which lots of people buy and wrap stuff. Talk about traditions!…

I’m thinking, here of one particular reason. It’s a reason which is hopefully not the biggest, since the Drum Major Academy purpose is to teach young people not just to conduct and call commands and teach and lead but to take the tools we offer them and utilize them throughout their lives to be decent to other people.

But one thought that regularly leaps into the forefront of my mind as summer approaches is this: I get to spend time with, and hang out with, and joke and be silly with, and learn to be a better teacher from, this pack of marvelous professional educators (and collegiate future-educators) … many of whom I only get to see once a year. As well as, frankly, a great many DMA students who bring some remarkably positive attributes with them as we meet for the first time.

And a few of those students, some of whom have been in my indoor conducting-video sessions or in my outdoor squad-competition companies, have crossed over to the staff side of things … and now are teaching me how better to teach. And thanks partly to the marvel that is social media, but mostly to the rather intense experience that we share each summer, we’re friends and borderline adopted-family; and those song lyrics are Pollyanna-ish and corny and sentimental, but they’re also true …

 

And friends are friends forever

If the Lord’s the Lord of them

And a friend will not say never

‘Cause the welcome will not end

Though it’s hard to let you go

In the Father’s hands we know

That a lifetime’s not too long

To live as friends

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August 5, 2017 Posted by | band, DMA, drum major, friends, GNP, UMMB | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 31-Day Blog Challenge, Day Twelve: If I Won the Lottery

[Ed. Note: due to factors totally within the control of the Blogge’s management, we present yesterday’s post, today.]

 

The writing prompt of the day:

31 DAY BLOG CHALLENGE, DAY 12: “If I won the lottery…”

 

You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take,” said the great philosopher and recreational basketball player Michael Jordan. Which explains, at long last, why I’ve never been able to hit the lottery.  I get it now.

But what if I did hit it?

What if I won a hundred, or a thousand, or a million dollars?

Think big. Why not? Let’s play around with a million bucks’ worth of make-believe.

The first thing I would announce to the world would be this: “Hi, everyone: all the money is staying within the family. Thank you very much for your interest, press conference over.”

Because the easiest way to destroy friendships, to stoke the fires of jealousy and envy, to create divisions, to sow seeds of horrible, is with issues of money.

So I would explain gently that in order to try to preserve as much as possible of what was, and enhance what will be … the money would go toward certain needs within my little extended family.

Beyond that … no comment.

Cleverly, I would end that press conference before defining exactly what counts as family.

As the great philosopher and recreational science officer Spock of Vulcan once said, “I did not lie. I … exaggerated.”

May 13, 2016 Posted by | blogging, family | , , , | Leave a comment

The 31-Day Blog Challenge, Day Eleven: Pride Goeth…

Today’s writing prompt:

31 DAY BLOG CHALLENGE, DAY 11: Most proud moment?

 

Pride goeth before a fall.

Hubris, and all that.

So for a very long time, I’ve been a little hesitant around the idea of “being proud of” people or things or achievements. Mine … or anybody else’s (and is it presumptuous to be proud of someone else’s achievement? … I so need to relax).

Maybe I overthink this.

But perhaps I can make an exception if the pride is directed toward the accomplishments of people I was working with at the time. This would imply a certain amount of basking in a certain amount of glow, but only that. Maybe.

Well, let’s see …

 

I have already described the UMass marching band going into the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis and showing the Bands of America Grand Nationals audience a thing or two about how to do this college band thing (and yes, they played a couple of my arrangements; but THEY played the heck out of them. I didn’t).

I’ve already described the Holy Cross marching band taking a trip to the University of Delaware and playing nice with a college band ten times their size (and yes, I was their director at the time, but THEY took the positively crazy itinerary that I set before them and made it a Trip for the Ages; I just made sure they cleaned out the bus afterward).

I’ve also made mention of the Christmas Cantata that I wrote three years ago, which the church choir with whom I do my church-gigging made to sound like real music. I’ve mentioned the three children’s musicals that I’ve written, with the encouragement of the children’s theater company for whom I happily toil (and the second of them, a little opus that was sorta West Side Story as viewed through a barnyard fowl lens, might have been my perfect storm of silly; I will say that).

And honestly, I am nothing but humbled to be surrounded by the elite company of the other UMass and Holy Cross bands’ halls of fame. I can never say strongly enough how big a deal it is to have been slipped in, amongst the Hannums and Klesches and Principes of the world. No fooling. Sometimes I kinda shake my head in wonderment.

 

I think, though, that … whether I’m observing one of them playing circles around all the other oboes in the room … or whether I’m listening to one of them play a drum set in a way that no not-quite-ten-year-old should be able to play (except that the kid practices his heart out) … or I’m watching one of them throw baseballs *right to me*, with a certain amount of *zip* … or I’m listening to one of them step to the church’s lectern and function as a Sunday morning service liturgist quite ably thank you very much (even if she’s not in high school yet) …

… truly, I think my most proud moments are when I watch my niece and nephew do their thing. Sometimes their “thing” is musical or sporting or some other kind of activity. Other times their “thing” is being truly decent people — treating people younger than they are very sweetly indeed, or hanging out with their peers in a way that makes you think it might be okay that “children are our future”, or interacting with adults in a way that belies their relative youth.

So, with the understanding that I am deeply, deeply biased about this one particular topic …

I’m just proud to be able to say, “I’m the uncle.”

And I can’t wait to find out what’s going to be the next thing each of them do, that will make me doubly proud to say so.

Not hubris, but admiration, then.

May 11, 2016 Posted by | blogging, family | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment