Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.


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