Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

The 31-Day Blog Challenge, Day Sixteen: They Can’t Take That Away From Me

I marched with UMass in the late 1980s, and I saw a gentleman clearly having a ball doing his job.

I assisted with Boston University’s marching band in the mid-1990s, and I watched another gentleman in his element: in the midst of a group of student musicians, teaching, leading, encouraging, holding feet to fire occasionally, with humor and wisdom.

Regular Blogge readers will already (likely) have read my various notes about my time writing for the Delaware band, and the dominant impression that their director leaves with anyone who has watched her interact with her charges for twenty-plus years now.

In some form or another, it is or was their dream job, certainly in that moment. Nowhere else I’d rather be, etc.

Part of my answer to the question, “what’s your dream job?”, is rooted in my observations of those folks.

Yep. My dream job: directing a college band.

Actually, to really fully answer that, I would have to say, “directing a college band which is performing a field show full of music from Star Trek”, but I think I’ll refrain. I mean really.

One out of two ain’t bad. And I got to do it, for a time.

I have chronicled, in this space, the two-day road trip that I took with the College of the Holy Cross’ marching band, wherein they played nice with the University of Delaware band, and wherein I spent about thirty-six hours totally immersed in what I wanted to be doing.

In the late summer of 2002, the perfect storm occurred: a small college very near where I lived posted a job opening, for athletic-bands director. It was a college whose band I knew fairly well, since my alma mater and that school had played football regularly while I was a marcher. It would have been a ten-minute commute.

It was part-time – administratively VERY part-time – but that was okay. I applied, I interviewed, they liked me, they offered me the job. Spectacular.

And it was.

Ten years ago next month, I made (what was to that point) the hardest professional decision that was ever obvious: I gave that gig up.

Well, it was so part-time that it wasn’t possible to maintain my full-time public-school music teaching gig and do the Holy Cross job, each, at the level I would have liked to. And, since my full-time job was funding my house … the conclusion I reached was very sad, but very necessary.

I scheduled a meeting with whatever band members were still local, three weeks after classes had ended. They thought it was to talk about next year. In a sense, it was, but not exactly. And, to their enduring credit, when I described my decision to walk away from all this … they spent probably four seconds’ worth of jaw-drop, and then they immediately swung into “how do we move forward?” mode. As much as a band director’s ego could be massaged by an extended period of wailing and gnashing of teeth … much better to see a group of band members become, or continue to be, great leaders.

Starred Thought: “A Drum Major (leader) does what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, whether s/he likes it or not.”

Starred Thought: “A good leader is one that can adapt and overcome in the face of adversity.”

Holy Cross was in good hands, no matter who my successor would be.

As I’ve said many times, at least I can say I did that job for four years, as well as I could; worked with spectacular people; had great experiences … and was in front of a college marching band full of people that worked hard, played hard, entertained people, and with whom I would have traveled anywhere.

I miss it. Thanks to Facebook and such, happily, I get to stay in touch with lots of the good people of Crusader Band Nation. So I get lots of opportunities to flash back to great memories and funny stories.

But I miss it.

But … I did it. And nothing can take that away.

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May 16, 2016 Posted by | band, blogging, BUMB, GNP, HCMB, marching band, music, Starred Thoughts, UDMB, UMMB | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We Give Thee Thanks For Glorious Days

Here’s another example of “I’m weird like that”.

For some reason, I’ve kept hold of some sort of evidence that today is the anniversary of a momentous occasion in my professional life. I could well be classified as a calendar pack rat.

I got a phone call from a friend of mine, and as was (and still is) our custom, we launched into a lengthy conversation; “how’s life?” and all that. Most times, when the phone rings, the route between “Hello?” and “all right, I gotta go let the dog out” takes an hour to navigate; and it’s an hour that usually seems like far less time than that.

I like friends like that.

I like them whether they ask me intriguing questions like, “how’d you like to write for a big college band?”, or not.

Fun question, though.

Somewhere close to the beginning of the phone call I’m thinking of, that question indeed arose. I said, “… …” Well, I didn’t say much for a moment, but finally I did throw the face into gear and asked, “what’s going on?”

Well, you’re talking to the new director of the University of Delaware band.”

Congratulations!” should have been the thing that instantly came out of my mouth, because – with respect to East Overshoe State College – the University of Delaware ain’t just East Overshoe State College.

It’s a major university with a big ol’ band. People have heard of the University of Delaware. I mean, Joe Biden, for openers.

One of the reasons that, again, my mouth was frantically paging my brain, waiting for instructions … was that the University of Delaware wasn’t just any band, or just any school, within the context of the recent shared band experience of my friend and me. We did, after all, march together at the University of Massachusetts.

How to analogize? It was kinda like being asked to join the coaching staff of the Toronto Maple Leafs after having played for the Montreal Canadiens. By one of your former Habs linemates, who is now the Leafs’ GM.

In fact, these two friends, who were on the way to qualifying as the Lifelong variety, had started out as two of the three UMass drum majors in the fall of 1987. Our big road trip that year was called the “Southern Tour”. We didn’t nearly make it to the actual South – the Mason/Dixon line was never in danger of being crossed – but it was a solid six hours of bus travel south from western Massachusetts. The kind of bus ride where you pointedly took your shoes off – this was going to take a while. And the centerpiece of the trip was the UMass/Delaware football game.

For quite a long time, UMass and Delaware had played football in the same conference. Which, again, is a little like saying the Habs and the Leafs had a history of enjoying a friendly hockey tilt now and again. The rivalry might not have been as famous as Ohio State and Michigan, or Auburn and Alabama, but when you were in the middle of it, it was plenty foam-at-the-mouth, thanks.

The bands were polite to each other (no video of band brawls!) … but they were also interested in making sure the crowds knew which school was the top dog at halftime, too.

For a lot of UMass band alumni, all you have to say is, “Delaware 1981”, or “Delaware 1983”, or in my case, “Delaware 1987”, and they use their imagination and fill in all the gaps.

So, a former UMass drum major is saying that she’s heading up the rival band now.

Well, … this could be fun.

I hadn’t gone into lockjaw mode because my friend had asked me to write for her band. She had a knack for doing that. When she taught in the New York public schools, I got a couple of calls – “I got a tune I want to do with my jazzers – how fast can you write it?” She had been assistant director at a prominent Philadelphia-area university (curiously, one that shared a faintly intense rivalry with our alma mater in the world of men’s basketball), and somewhere in there, she called and asked, “mind if I steal a couple of your charts?”

As if the answer to either of those questions wasn’t a complete gimme.

So my brief pause, following this latest offer to pull me into association with yet another of my friend’s teaching hitches, had nothing to do with yea or nay.

I was just taking note that, well … once is an event, they say aphoristically, and twice is a coincidence. Holy heck: I’m involved in a pattern, then.

Cool.

So, testing the waters with an arrangement of a Barbra Streisand tune, and following up with a particular Beatles song … and then swerving back and forth amongst such justly famous performers and composers as Erich Korngold and Huey Lewis and that guy Tchaikovsky and Andrew Lloyd Webber and Meat Loaf (stop right there!), I’ve had the great good fortune and fun of getting to be some small part of the most recent incarnation of the University of Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hen Marching Band.

That incarnation just celebrated its twentieth year under the direction of my good friend from the eighties. The band has performed in front of national high school marching band championship audiences, and in support of a national-championship Division I-AA football team, and in front of the President of these United States and a certain Delaware alum who was his running mate. “How they do things in Delaware” is a topic that has been featured at a national college band directors’ event.

And at least partly because of her efforts, that incarnation of the UD band is on very good terms with a certain other college band from western Massachusetts.

My friend has some idea of how to do things right, in the band world.

I’ve just felt fortunate to be along for that ride, in some capacity.

Not going to discuss the pros and cons of “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” … here, at least … but it’s safe to say that I hitched my wagon to the right star.

I’m a friend of Heidi Sarver.

I get to write for her band.

Those are two sentences I love to be able to type.

Twenty years ago today, it became clear that those two sentences were indeed not a coincidence.

At the time, it would have been absurd to try to imagine life that far into the future. Sometimes even the question “where do you see yourself in five years?” is a ridiculous question – butterflies, and flapping, and Tokyo, and all that.

Hindsight being 20/20, though, at least one thing is clear: for the experience of arranging music for a Big College Band … and for all kinds of good stuff that’s happened in my life because of that phone call in the middle of 1995 … I’ve got my good friend Heidi to thank.

I think she knows that, … but it’s worth getting it in writing.

June 13, 2015 Posted by | arranging, band, friends, marching band, UDMB, UMMB | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Pause to Consider

Twenty (20) (oi, TWENTY) years ago this very day was the first time I ever heard a college band play one of my arrangements live in performance.

It was UMass, playing the theme from “American Bandstand”, at Fitton Field, on the campus of the College of the Holy Cross.  I’m not sure how many people get to have their first arrangement played by a 300-member band with the percussion written by Thom Hannum.

[Coincidentally, Fitton Field was the location of my first road-trip performance as a UMass band freshman; and a lot later in life I got to be the band director at … Holy Cross.  That’s a heck of a field.]

How did it sound?  How did it feel? … Let’s just say that I remember chatting with Michael Klesch, who was also writing for UMass at the time, and who has been responsible for a few kinda neat arrangements in his time.  He asked me how it felt to write for UMass.  “You have no idea,” I said, quite fuzzily.  “Oh wait, right … you do.”  He then said something which is very true, and has not changed in all this time: “We have an opportunity that so few other people get.  Isn’t it something?”

For that opportunity (as well as, happily, lots of ensuing ones), I have George Parks and particularly Thom Hannum to thank.  Thom was brave enough to read my second unsolicited attempt at a UMass Hoop Band arrangement during my sophomore year there – the first one, um, wasn’t great! – and since then he has been nothing but unfailingly supportive of my writing work.  That would be Thom: always willing to use whatever considerable clout he’s got to help his students.  I never took a single percussion lesson with him – watching his drumline was education enough! – but I surely was one of his students.

Happily, as I say, since then, I’ve had the opportunity to continue to write for other bands (high school, college and community).  Some of my arrangements have gone to fun places like Bands of America performances, or NCAA tournaments … and some have gone onto local football fields and seemed to make bunches of band kids fairly happy.  It all proves that as much as what you know, it’s who you know, and which ensembles you get lucky enough to be associated with.  (Go BU.  Go Gardner High.)

Speaking of: this is my sixteenth year of writing arrangements for the University of Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hen Marching Band.  And for that large and unusual opportunity, I have UD director Heidi Sarver to thank.  She had kindly conscripted me to write a thing or two for her while she was at her first high school teaching job, then again when she was at Temple University; and then in the summer of 1995, she asked me, “how’d you like to write for a major college band?”  She was under no obligation to do it, but she did.

One more thing.  I could dig back and really try and figure out who my music-writing “ancestors” are – the people who gave me my very first breaks.  I think that distinction probably goes to Jack Megan, a music counselor at the summer arts camp (Charles River Creative Arts Program, Dover, MA) where I spent many summers as a kid.  One day, my first summer (1982) as a junior baby rookie staff member, as we were nearing production week of our children’s musical, Jack tracked me down and asked if I could write a pit band arrangement for one of the tunes.  I suspect he probably thought it would save him some time, down-to-the-wire as we were.  When I handed it to him the next morning (and this was before computer notation software; we were still working by hand, yeesh … so I guess I appeared just a *little* enthusiastic), he paused but an instant, and said, “…okay, can you do these two others?”

Nobody gets places on their own.  Everybody gets help from somewhere.  I’m fortunate to have gotten huge help from generous sources.

[Proofreaders’s note: Math and I didn’t get along after I got to the 7th grade.  Upon further review, the ruling on the field is overturned: 1990 was twenty years ago, not thirty, as my original post suggested.  Well, I knew how to spell it, anyhow. 😛  ]

September 8, 2010 Posted by | arranging, band, CRCAP, GNP, Hoop Band, marching band, music, Thom Hannum, UDMB, UMMB | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments