Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Why I Can’t Abide the Stanford Band

Yes, friends, after having repeatedly preached the gospel of “if all us band types can’t support each other, who in the world is going to?” in this space … I’m ripping on somebody else’s band.

Irony alert.

 

So, yesterday afternoon, I was alerted by the social media elves that there had been yet another example of college marching bands behaving badly.

In this case, it was the Rose Bowl halftime. As it was, the University of Iowa football team had been taking it on the chin, at the hands of the Stanford University athletic establishment. The score was somewhere near 35 to nothing at the break.

And then, reportedly (as I am without glitzy cable TV these days, I didn’t see any of it, but the reports were quite insistent), the Stanford band took the field, and took a few liberties.

Some background details to note here.

First, the Stanford band is a member of that subset of college bands who tend not to take themselves, their opponents, their activity, or indeed the concept of dignity, too seriously. And honestly, a band that can’t create a little fun in their show – somehow, and there are many ways to do this – isn’t much of a college band. Right?

Second, the Stanford band could not have predicted that Iowa football was going to tank as badly as it did, in that first half. Their intent wasn’t to pile on, at least in that context.

But pile on they did. And even if the score had been the reverse, apparently their halftime-show mockery of Iowa and its farmers and its Midwestern-ness crossed a few lines of good taste and good sense.

This is a thing that the occasional college band will do. They take shots at opposing teams, or schools, as an integral part of their halftime shows. Usually it involves public-address narration, so there can be absolutely no doubt that they meant that.

(You may recall earlier this fall, when there was debate about whether it was okay for the Kansas State band to take a crack at its in-state rival, Kansas University – when it wasn’t even the K-State/Kansas game! Never mind the issue of whether that drill formation was the Starship Enterprise or something, um, more personal.)

And third: this sort of thing is not new for the Stanford group.

Earlier yesterday morning, as they passed in review for the national-TV cameras at the Rose Parade, I watched how they conducted themselves – just the overall dominant impression they offered the average viewer who perhaps was new to the activity – and I posted this on the Facebook machine:

My apologies to everyone in the world… but the Stanford band is everything about band that I wish would just. please. stop. (Unearned swagger, for openers.)

But it goes back further than that. A lot further. And a lot less “oh, they’re just college kids”. There’s a history here.

There’s even a history on my social media timeline. When the Facebook algorithms told me that I had a few memories from past New Year’s Days to review and remember, yesterday … turns out those memories were of me making very similar commentary about that same Stanford band organization, exactly two years ago, after it covered itself in something other than glory during that Rose Parade.

So… Stanford… … … where to begin?”

And then, during that year’s Rose Bowl halftime clunker:

Here’s the only reason UMass should stay in Div. I-A: so that one bright shining day, they can play Stanford in a bowl game and put on the definitive halftime clinic.”

And then, I scrolled down further and noted my reactions to their Rose Bowl halftime show on New Year’s Day 2013, just a year earlier than that:

The TV camera angle of the day, for me: in the foreground, the Stanford band playing its halftime show … and in the background, the Wisconsin drumline kneeling on the sideline, their faces clearly reading: ‘…whatever.’”

Final score: Wisconsin wins music and dignity captions; Stanford wins ‘you’ll remember our band tomorrow morning at work’ caption.”

 

Sorry. That’s a whole lot of high-and-mighty dumping on one particular band organization – a band whom I have never actually met; whose rehearsals I have not watched; whom I have not actually experienced in real life. All I’m basing my reactions on … is what I’ve seen on TV and on Internet replays.

But that’s the point: you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

This is what a few bands (Stanford being only the most obvious, yesterday) do: they live inside the bubble that is their own heads, or their own organizations, and remain convinced that it would be best if they played the part of arrogant jackwagons, on the field or on the parade route, because, well, WE think it’s funny, anyway. If you’re offended, or think we could try to bring a better musical product, well, that’s your hangup, dude.

On that subject, Australian philosophy professor Patrick Stokes wrote:

The problem with ‘I’m entitled to my opinion’ is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for ‘I can say or think whatever I like’ – and by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful.”

In fact, however, when you’re a band playing a halftime show, it’s not all about you – even if, yes, you’re the only people on the field and in theory you’re the show. You’re playing for somebody (in this case, an audience), and you’re representing someone other than (larger than) yourself. One hopes that, at the time, you realize it.

Or at least that your leadership does.

The training I’ve received via my college band, and then as part of the Drum Major Academy staff, has had at least as much to do with remembering where you are and what effect you have on other people, as it’s had to do with guiding the lines and playing the notes and hitting the drill dots and wearing the uniform frontwards.

Also, once, I read a high school band’s governing handbook, and it said this:

Let me give you some other things that band does for you. … #3. Citizenship: to develop better citizens for the world of tomorrow by devoloping the traits of responsible citizens today. This may be realized through the mental and physical discipline incurred from the enactment of the program experience. … #4. Service: to lend dignity, color, and atmosphere to certain school and civic events.” [Italics mine.]

Also, I read an interview with Richard Goodstein of Clemson University, and he suggested this to future band directors:

…As the administration you have to make sure that your students are good ambassadors of the university, whether they’re at home or on a road trip. … There are so many different stakeholders that you have to take a wide view and it makes you politically astute about what kind of things will make you successfull beyond the narrower view of just the marching band program.” [Italics, again, mine.]

Finally, of course, the purveyor of my aforementioned training in how best to do band (and, by extension, the rest of life) memorably said this, in an interview:

There are standards — standards of behavior, standards of how to project the image of the band, which is the image of the university, which is of course the image of themselves.”

 

So I guess it just bugs the hell out of me that ninety-nine and a half percent of the college band world is just trying to do things right, to put on a decent show, to not get mocked mercilessly for wearing feathers on our heads, and just generally to get even remotely understood by the general public … And then yahoos like the Stanford band leadership have to go and plan stuff – on-field, pre-meditated stuff – that by extension casts all those darn bands full of dumb college kids, in a really poor light.

And in preparation for yesterday’s Rose Bowl, somebody at Stanford University green-lit that project. Okayed it for viewing by tens of thousands of live witnesses, and by millions of viewers … whose opinions of that school, and that band, and unfortunately band in general, would be shaped by what they were seeing in that moment. And who wouldn’t take the time to go to YouTube or wherever, to find out what the “average” college band performance was. Y’know, just so they could figure out where on that continuum a Stanford-esque show actually sat.

The final nail in the coffin: one of the Drum Major Academy students with whom I had the honor of working, this past summer, leapt onto Facebook and posted a thought that referenced one of our head clinician’s Starred Thoughts which happens to be my favorite:

All hype and no substance makes you a fluffhead.”

There ya go.

So thanks a bundle, Band Whose Mascot Appears To Be A Tree: through your efforts, the concept of band is in the news again, and for the worst reason and in the poorest light. Happy New Year to you, too; but only if that happiness comes in the form of dispensing with the attitude and gaining a little perspective.

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January 2, 2016 Posted by | band, current events, DMA, entertainment, football, GNP, marching band, music, news, social media, Starred Thoughts | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Back Home Again in Indiana

[Ed. note: There’s a postscript to this post, but it belongs here at the beginning.

I sat on this post for a day or so. I was trying to decide whether it was too flame-thrower-y … or not flame-thrower-y enough. And until this morning, I thought to say to you, dear reader … “you can be the judge.”

Then, late this morning, the news broke, via WTTV-TV, the CBS affiliate in Indianapolis.

INDIANAPOLIS (April 2, 2015) – Standing among a group of Indianapolis business and community leaders, Statehouse leaders said they had fixed the divisive Religious Freedom Restoration Act that created a national outcry.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said they consulted with business leaders and members of the LGBT community to fix the bill.

Both said the law had been misrepresented and needed to be changed because of the perception that it could be used to discriminate against the LGBT community. A conference committee convened later Thursday morning to discuss the changes.

It was clear that the perception had to be addressed. Hoosier hospitality had to be restored,” Bosma said about the law, which created an outcry after Gov. Mike Pence signed it last week. “We’re here to announce that it’s fixed.”

We’re clarifying what it doesn’t do today,” Long said. “I think the people standing behind us believe that we have [fixed problems with the law].”

Bart Peterson, a former Indianapolis mayor who now works for Eli Lilly, said public policy matters and words matter. He said lawmakers and community leaders had worked very hard over the past few days to reach a compromise.

The future of Indiana was at stake,” Peterson said. “The healing needs to begin right now. For the first time ever, the words ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ appear in an Indiana statute.”

Peterson said he had complete confidence that Indiana would rebound and that Thursday’s changes “showed the world what the people of Indiana are really made of.”

Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle came out strongly against the clarification:

Our position is that this ‘fix’ is insufficient. There was no repeal of RFRA and no end to discrimination of homosexuals in Indiana. Employers in most of the state of Indiana can fire a person simply for being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Questioning. That’s just not right and that’s the real issue here. Our employees deserve to live, work and travel with open accommodations in any part of the state.”

Now, twenty-four hours after I very nearly hit “publish” on the piece you’re about to read … well, we’ll see how different things are. Meanwhile, you can either imagine that it is still yesterday, and the Indiana state legislature has not yet acted to “fix” its Religious Freedom Restoration Act … or you can replace “Indiana” with “Maine” or “North Carolina” or the names of a few other states where similar bills are being crafted. And see how much of this essay still stands.

Again … and still … you can be the judge.]

 

 

Up till about a week ago or so, the concept of “Indiana” tended to make me smile.

 

I have always been a wand’rer / Over land and sea

Yet a moonbeam on the water / Casts a spell o’er me

A vision fair I see…

 

There are some US states about which I know very little; others, a ton. Some states’ first impressions have been marvelous; some, abysmal. None are perfect, but I’ve got my favorites.

I have friends and colleagues who grew up in Indiana. I have friends and colleagues who went to college in Indiana. They all are terrific folks, every last one, whether they inherited their terrific-ness from that state, or contributed some of their own to it. Either way.

 

The three times I ever set foot in Indiana, I came away with nothing but positives.

I traveled to Indiana more than twenty summers ago to attend the wedding of a friend of mine, who was marrying someone who grew up and went to school in Indiana. After renting a car at Indianapolis’ airport, I drove west to Terre Haute. Upon arriving in this city which had a perfectly understandable waffle-iron of a street layout, I found a CVS (or its local equivalent) and prepared to purchase some postcards, so as to prove to people back home that I’d made it to the Hoosier State. By the time I’d made my purchase, I’d conducted a fifteen-minute conversation with the cashier, who was all thrilled to welcome a Massachusetts native to town. So different from tight-lipped New England, I thought. And I suppose it could have been because my friend, the groom, was a fine and upstanding fellow who thereby attracted fine and upstanding people to him … and his new wife seemed capable of the same … but nobody I met at that wedding, or at that CVS, or at that airport, was anything but fine and upstanding.

A year later, I traveled – this time by bus, and in the company of about 250 college band members – to Indianapolis, to spend a glorious weekend at the Hoosier Dome and environs, participating in the national high school marching band championship tournament. I’ve written about that a little bit, in this space. While a lot of those wonderful memories were generated by a college band playing music from “The Wind and the Lion” and “The Little Mermaid”, anywhere else in town that we went, the people were right friendly.

A decade later, I traveled again – this time in the company of 29 college pep band members – to Indianapolis and the Hoosier Dome (RCA Dome; whatever), as the college we were representing was competing in the first round of a certain large basketball tournament. We didn’t spend long in Indy – the Marquette University men’s team saw to that – but aside from a slightly idiosyncratic bus driver (who was, nonetheless, right friendly), it was a terrific 18 hours.

My first, second, and third impressions of Indiana built a pretty solid foundation, on top of which I felt able to say, “that would be a great place to go back to, I think.”

 

Fancy paints on mem’ry’s canvas / Scenes that we hold dear

We recall them in days after / Clearly they appear

 

And then, late last week, it all came crashing down, seemingly.

 

Some folks who are charged with making law in Indiana decided (or, perhaps, had it decided for them) that it would be a great idea to enact a law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. (I lost track: did someone go repeal Religious Freedom, such that it required Restoration?)

Forgive the metaphor, but … all hell broke loose.

True, the reason that all hell broke loose has a little something to do with the wonderfully viral and vocal qualities of social media, which sometimes even thwarts the capacity of the national, corporately-owned, ratings- and money-driven media for downplaying the import of certain events when it suits the needs of the media to do just that. Shiny keys! Crying piccolo player!

But it’s got at least as much to do with the number of commercial interests that chimed in, and not in a very supportive way, regarding the potential negative impact upon their business. Decisions not to expand companies into Indiana. Decisions not to hold association meetings in Indiana. Decisions by other state governments not to encourage their personnel to travel to Indiana. The NCAA may not end up moving its Final Four event out of Indianapolis (the logistics alone would make your head hurt – I’ve experienced the craziness of preparing for The Big Dance when you do know where it’ll be held).

Simply put, the commercial interests got the very real sense that the money that could have been flowing in toward them … might not be doing so after all.

Follow the money, is the rule. You knew that, right?

Sad that the money aspect is what, as usual, drove certain otherwise unlikely institutions to come down on the side of inclusion and common decency and Constitutional protections and not being jackasses.

Including, astonishingly, … the leadership of the NASCAR organization.

A moment, please, while I catch my breath about that.

Hmm. Whatever works, I guess.

 

So, in the spirit of the thin end of the wedge … in the spirit, perhaps, of seeing a door crack open just a tiny bit, and in the spirit of seeing a little bit of light peek out from the other side of that door, and in the spirit of jamming one’s foot into that crack in the door with as much desperate force as one can muster, knowing that such opportunities won’t come around too often and one should metaphorically strike while the iron is hot …

I guess what I’m doing with this … is making a suggestion to the good people of Indiana, in the spirit of comradeship, and yes, love. And I know that the good people are out there, because it’s statistically unlikely that an entire state can be entirely full of people who would let this stuff go on … can it?

That suggestion, in contrast to what has led up to it, in this space, is brief and punchy:

C’mon, Indiana. Get it together.

Rise up. Fight. Fight the crazies. Fight the crazies who have taken control of your state’s image, at least, via its governmental constructs.

And that means screaming and yelling and waving signs and otherwise challenging the political-money-driven infrastructure that has been set up, not just in your state but nearly everywhere, set up largely in the service of the needs and wants and desires and greed and utter selfishness of a few already-obscenely-wealthy people.

It means loading up your tiny little slingshot and whipping little rocks at the giant, over and over again, until somebody gets the idea – even if it’s only other little people with little slingshots. You gotta start somewhere. Foot in the door. Hot iron. A push on that wedge.

Yes, I’m suggesting this even to those Indiana folks who are good-and-Christian and apt to think that somehow their religious freedom is in peril … even if up to this point, the Christian faith has held nothing but a stranglehold upon the title of “dominant religion in American history”, and honestly shows no signs of being dislodged.

War on Christmas”, my ass. Has it occurred to you yet that major financial backers of major politicians in your state and in this country don’t give a wet slap about Christianity? That they are playing you and your perception of faith for suckers, that they are using you to get themselves to their particular Promised Land?

At the very least, this is a moment in which your state holds in its hands the opportunity to determine a public reputation that will last a long time. Are you in favor of the slippery slope of legalized discrimination of one specific group of people (and who knows what other groups could be discriminated against next, using this statute? Talk about striking while the iron is hot!) … or are you in favor of being thought of as a welcoming state?

‘Cause right now, the “Indiana” that is on display is a punchline.

Spread the word, Hoosiers: it may not have been your crazy to begin with, but it is now. These people in the halls of your state government have managed to sully the reputation of your state – possibly without a lot of your active cooperation; but possibly because you may not have bothered to vote much, or because you believed the crazies when they told you they really weren’t crazy, and they were lookin’ out for you, the great people of the great state of Indiana – or whatever bill of goods they sold you … when in fact they were looking out for themselves only, and how best they could maintain their levels of campaign financing. And now they’re entrenched, and it’s going to take one hell of a push to get them out, and to return a little sanity to the world of Indiana public service.

 

And if logic and reason won’t convince you, maybe this will:

Y’know that law that your legislature just passed, and your governor just cheerfully signed into law? The one that, in spite of the wounded protestations of its creators that it wasn’t at all meant to legalize discrimination, and particularly not discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation, really does do just exactly that, and was never intended to do otherwise?

It’s got one unintended consequence in particular that you ought to know about.

There’s that wonderful tune (and I mean that sincerely and unequivocally), “Back Home in Indiana”. It’s not the official state song of Indiana – that falls to the similarly-wonderfully-early-twentieth-century “On the Banks of the Wabash”. But it may be better known, thanks to its performance before the beginning of, oh, what’s that car race in May every year? They go around the track a few hundred times…

That tune, every year from 1972 till a couple of years ago, has been performed by one particular fellow, a guy whose unconventional looks and wide recognition as the character “Gomer Pyle” at first might have belied the presence of a rich, semi-operatic baritone voice.

Jim Nabors. Yeah! That guy.

He’s 84 years old, and a couple of years ago he got married. It was only in 2013 that he was finally able to make that happen, due to one thing and another.

Mr. Nabors is married to someone called Stan Cadwallader.

So, if this legislation stands, Indiana businesses could … don’t have to … but have the legal right to … tell Jim Nabors that no, sorry, they won’t serve him.

Think hard.

Then raise your voices – baritone or otherwise.

 

Back home again in Indiana / And it seems that I can see

The gleaming candlelight, still shining bright / Thru the sycamores for me …

The new mown hay sends all its fragrance / From the fields I used to roam

When I dream about the moonlight on the Wabash / Then I long for my Indiana home

April 2, 2015 Posted by | civil rights, current events, government, news, politics, religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pardon My Gloat -or- So I Wasn’t Crazy

Writing this blog has taught me the fine art of expressing one’s opinion carefully. Or at least it’s taught me that this expression is an art; and you can be judge of whether I’m doing fine.

Just about three months ago, I noted a news story and had an instant and strong reaction to it. And blogged about it. Everybody is entitled to their opinion; not everybody is required to be entitled to mine; but in that particular case, going in with very few facts but a very strong sense about what was what, I plunged ahead and opined.

The news story had to do with Holy Cross women’s basketball coach Bill Gibbons, and allegations (notably by only one of his former players) of harassment and abuse leveled against him.

In that blog post, I noted that Coach Gibbons was an intense and passionate guy – heavens, all you had to do was watch him work the refs to know that – but that my first impression of him was of someone who cared about his players so much that he wore it on his sleeve right up to his shoulder blades. A few of my follow-up Gibbons-related experiences helped confirm this sense for me.

I got thinking about my first impressions. On rare occasions, they can turn out to be wrong. Very rare, I should note, at least the first impressions that I’m thinking of here. In an infinite universe, anything is possible; but certain things are pretty damn unlikely.

My first impression of Bill Gibbons? Not wrong.

 

Tomorrow evening, he’ll coach his first Holy Cross women’s basketball game since he voluntarily stepped aside while the College conducted an investigation of the charges leveled against him in a civil suit this past fall. Sadly, due to a prior commitment, I won’t be able to be there – and oh, how I would like to be there, as I suspect the Cross’ home arena will rock and roll right from the opening warmup jogs. It’s okay; I’ll get to another game later in the season; it might be a tad quieter, and maybe I’ll be able to get somewhere near Coach, to shake his hand.

The College decided that the suit brought against him “had no legal merit”. I read the document that outlined the former HC player’s case against Gibbons. I’m no legal eagle, but (long story short) as I read it, pretty quickly I started to feel like the lawyer was doing her level best for her client, but that the hill she was climbing was, um, steep.

In November, forty of Gibbons’ former players attended a home game, all wearing purple t-shirts that said “ALUMNI FOR GIBBONS” on the back and “TEAM TOGETHER” on the front. This, after the lawsuit suggested that the women’s basketball environment was so toxic (thanks to Gibbons’ alleged treatment of his players) that former players wouldn’t come back to campus to participate in alumni games.

So it wasn’t just me. And it wasn’t just me hoping my first impression wasn’t tragically flawed.

 

As I said in the blog post three months ago … in school, they told me: write about what you know.

So okay.

My incomplete knowledge, my circumstantial evidence, and my gut feelings about a first impression … all turned out to be on-target. I’ve learned, in the last three years-plus of this blog effort, to treasure the moments when that happens, since they don’t come often. And this afternoon, I learned that every so often, the allegations are judged not to be true, the reputation is not tarnished, and the right person comes out on top.

I admit that this afternoon, I took out the little “gloat” machine, let it run around the desktop for a few seconds, and then put it back into its padlocked box.

I called this one early.

It turned out not to be a tough call.

January 14, 2014 Posted by | blogging, current events, Famous Persons, news, sports, writing | , , , , , , | Leave a comment