Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Are We Good?

Well? … Are we?

I’ll back up.

Recently, I’ve had occasion to consider the state of a few friendships. No worries; this is not dire. It might be the opposite of dire. It might be right on the edge of complacency. Not all the way there, but within rock-throwing distance.

Earlier this week, I saw several posts right in a row from Facebook friends of mine (yes, we’ve gone to that social-media world) that suggested that Facebook’s mighty Algorithm For Predicting Your Online Viewing Wishes (Or Ours, Re-Packaged As Yours) had been causing all us Facebookers to only see posts from about two dozen of our online friends. So, if you only have that many, you’re in luck, I guess? But if you have ten times that, is it possible you’re missing posts from the rest of your community? LOTS of them? How many births, deaths, snow day announcements, jokes, political screeds, ESSENTIAL TRUTHS!! have you missed, just because the Evil Lords of Facebook are spoilsports?

Comment below,” said the posts, “so that we can thwart this Dire Turn of Events!”

So I did. What’s the harm? Keeping in social-media contact with somebody? No harm there, regardless of whether this Rumor turns out to be True.

And then I went to Snopes.com, and their fact-checkers pretty roundly pooh-pooh’d the rumor. Facebook’s doing a lot of weird things, they said, but this ain’t one of them.

Okay. Crisis averted. Stand down from red alert. Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.

Meanwhile, though, concurrently with that little (extremely) minor day of frantic … I also noticed posts from Facebook friends of mine that – when their names floated in front of my eyes for the first time in a while – made me realize that indeed, I was seeing their names for the first time in a while. Was it an algorithmic thing? Or just that I hadn’t scrolled down very far (or very often) in my News Feed lately, so that it was pretty much an effect of my Real Life taking precedence over my Online Existence?

The latter, I suspect. I can only be a conspiracy theorist about so many things, after all.

But, I thought, “it’s good to see those names.” And to bask for a moment in a good memory or two that we got to take part in, long ago or within the last few months. And especially good to think that, in all probability, the people attached to those names are still my friends, even if we haven’t interacted much online, or In Real Life, for a while.

I am fortunate, I further mused, to have a pack of people in my life about whom I never have to wonder, “are we still friends? Do we still care like we did once?” I enjoy seeing their posts, and I’ve amassed enough Likes and Comments to suspect that they enjoy seeing mine.

A lot of those people, well, I don’t get to see them in person more than once or twice a year. And it doesn’t seem to damage the relationships.

When social media first got going, I wondered if it would take the fun out of meeting in person on those semi- or fully-annual occasions. Before Facebook, by whose good offices you can kinda peek into other people’s lives and see what’s going on (or at least what they want the world to see is going on) … and, curiously, during and after Facebook, my college homecoming weekends have still been full of “Hey! How are ya! What’s going on! What’s new!” conversations. When we gather to open up another Drum Major Academy summer clinic week, we fall right back into all the prior silliness.

It’s good, every so often, to check in on the people whose avatars I see more than I see their actual live selves. But even if for some reason we don’t, very much … I like the idea that there are people in my circle of relationships about whom I don’t have to worry, “have we forgotten each other? Do we still think as fondly of each other as we used to?”

Sounds complacent, I know.

It would be, yes … if I didn’t have a pretty good sense that the answer to those questions, in a great many cases, is still yes. Whether we’ve known each other for forty years … or forty months … or forty weeks.

It’s a nice sense to be able to have. Especially in a world which, at the moment, seems intent on providing only the worst outcomes, the most craven and cruel attitudes, the least humane or friendly expressions.

Are we good?

Yeah. Yeah, we are. And no mere algorithm can come between us. Cue the violins. Get me Irving Berlin on the line, stat.

Good not to take this for granted. Note to self: make a retroactive New Year’s resolution to actively Not Take This For Granted.

But yeah. We’re good.

Advertisements

February 7, 2018 Posted by | Facebook, friends, social media | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

You Didn’t Have To Do That

[Ed. note: A brief tale here, and please forgive me if it comes off as self-absorbed and annoying. It’s not supposed to. We may even come up with different “morals of the story”. That’s okay, I think.]

 

I’ve participated in many UMass Homecoming Weekend alumni bands, in the nearly three decades (oi) since I graduated from there.

So, yes, I’m now that pushing-fifty guy, grey beard and all, who is still hauling a saxophone out there, dancing around like a goof, and generally enjoying the heck out of the experience, even if it’s raining, because it was fun then, so it’s fun now!!!

Another portion of my college band experience (other than toting a saxophone around) was getting to be one of the three drum majors during my senior year. Now, please understand: when I sign up online for alumni band activities and they ask what my instrument was … there’s no check-box for “drum major”, and even if there were one, that’s not an instrument!! and I wouldn’t check that box anyway. Really. You don’t believe me, but it’s true.

There have only been two Homecomings wherein I have played the alumni drum major game. One of them was seven years ago, when the alumni band was 925 strong, so it was pretty much all hands on deck. There were at least fifteen former drum majors out there, because it was necessary.

The other time was I think five years ago. That morning, as the weather looked less and less dire and I began to not worry so much about marching a Selmer Mark VI saxophone in the rain, my friend James, a former UMass drum major (who was a DM twenty years after I was), looked over at me and said, “Rob, is your mace in your car?” I said, yeah, it was; and it actually was still in the trunk from back in the summer when I brought it with me to the summer drum major clinic wherein we’d both worked. (Only out of sheer “I don’t have a free hand to grab it when I bring the rest of my life into the house after work”, not “who knows when I might need a twirling mace?”.)

Cool,” he said, “let’s just go out there and throw.” And so, in the midst of the alumni band’s halftime tune, James and I strode onto the Gillette Stadium field, conducted not a single note, and just chucked maces in the air indiscriminately. (We were two redheaded, bearded guys throwing maces. Hmmmmm. Didn’t exactly plan that visual way ahead of time, but okay.) I’m not usually the ostentatious-showmanship type … and though it seemed like fun, and several people subsequently thought out loud that it was fun to watch, I still did feel a wee bit like I’d stepped away from the pack of alumni who were actually playing their horns … and I felt a wee bit guilty. Like, come on, you had your chance in 1987, and took it, and thanks for playing, it’s done. Right?

I know, I’m weird. But that’s the way my head works.

Fast-forward to last weekend, Homecoming Weekend at UMass. I arrive and find a clump of band alumni gathering, early in the morning … and rumors begin flying.

So I hear you’re conducting ‘Let’s Groove’?”

Do you hear that?

So you’re singing Twilight Shadows?”

I’m … willing … … but I didn’t know we were playing the alma mater for halftime?

Gonna chuck a mace today?”

Ummm … it takes two hands to play sax?

Did I mention that, while being a team player and being willing to fill whatever role the organization needs me to fill, I am nonetheless reticent to grab that sort of spotlight?

And please notice particularly that, um, my former-DM colleague from five years ago, James his very own self, is standing over there without his trumpet, and is therefore well-suited for that job, whereas oh look! I’ve got my tenor with me and its reed is actually whole and complete and not dinged for a change?

Naw, I’ll hang with the crazy alumni tenor saxes, some of whom I’ve just met (because they’re relatively or VERY recently graduated from UMass and therefore, no disrespect intended, ARE CHILDREN!! and are tons of fun).

I’ll be fine.

(I didn’t have to do that, didn’t need to jump out in front of the group, in order for my life to be complete or something.)

At some point in the alumni band rehearsal early that afternoon, the current band director, Tim Anderson, wanders over in my direction and asks, “So, ya wanna conduct ‘Fight, Mass.’?”

Urp! Uh, Tim, there’s redheaded James right over there, yeah? I mean, I’ll do what you need, but, uh, really!

I wasn’t even one of “his” drum majors, since he’s been at UMass just the seven years. Again, sweet of him to ask, to keep track and to be aware, but super not-required … No, it’s okay.

Fifteen or so minutes later, we’re most of the way through rehearsing the music for halftime, which includes a couple of tunes by the current undregrads, “Let’s Groove” with just alumni, the finale of the “1812 Overture” with all of us combined, and then the UMass fight song. And one of the current drum majors walks by and says, “okay, so, we’re gonna put you on a ladder for ‘Fight, Mass.’…” As in, I’m going to climb one of the stepladders that the assistant drum majors use, and conduct for the band members too far from the 50-yardline to properly see the conductor on the center podium.

Well okay, it sounds like that would be helpful to somebody; and besides, the particular current drum major who came to talk to me … well, if she tells you to do something, you darn well do it.

Sweet of her to ask, though.

Then I get to the ladder.

Or rather, I discover why I would probably not be a great UMass drum major these days.  In the 1980s… no ladders.

I get four steps up that ladder and realize that there are two more yet to go. And getting to the top of the ladder will mean leaning forward onto a little bitty guard rail using only my lower shins.

And I’d swear that ladder is shifting in the breeze.

Have I ever mentioned, I don’t do super well with heights that aren’t contained by skyscraper windows or airplane fuselages?

So, current UMass drum majors, when you find the five indents on that ladder’s front guard rail, please know that I’ve “left my mark” on the band: I stood only five steps up, conducted that fight song rehearsal righthanded, and held onto that rail with a lefthanded Vulcan Death Grip.

At the actual halftime of the actual game, the bands played through the first two tunes, and as I dashed to the sideline before “Fight, Mass.”, suddenly so did everybody else, having been waved in that direction by director Tim. The halftime show had to be cut short for time.

I was not disappointed.

Which is not to say I wouldn’t have been happy to have gone only five steps up the ladder in performance … but I was also relieved … relieved of the opportunity to pitch off the thing and make the wrong kind of spectacle of myself with thousands of people watching and wondering.

Again, I didn’t go to Homecoming to stick out from the crowd. I went to Homecoming to be in the alumni band, in and amongst my friends, old and new. And that’s what happened, and as usual, it was glorious.

Not *quite* the end of the tale, though.

Rewind a few hours: just before the rehearsal had finished, director Tim was doing a series of last announcements – where to meet, where to go, what time, where to sit in the stands, all the non-glamorous details – and then I heard him get the band ready to do its final traditional end-of-rehearsal call-and-response thing. And I realized he was explaining to the assembled graduates and undergraduates that this former drum major guy from 1987 over here is going to lead it.

He’s what now?

I didn’t focus on this till afterward: while his noted predecessor always asked the band, “how are your FEET?, stomach, chest, shoulders, etc.?” so they could then shout about being Together, In, Out, Back, etc. … Tim has since handed that duty off to his drum majors. And he was handing it off now.

He didn’t have to do that, either. But he did. And it was very kind.

And yeah, even as I picked up my tenor afterward, and spent the rest of the day cheerfully and properly communing with great band-alum friends … I kinda did appreciate the gesture.

 

 

P.S. I am fully in control of my verb tenses at all times. In case you wondered.

P.P.S. But not in control of my sentence lengths.

October 26, 2017 Posted by | band, drum major, friends, marching band, UMMB | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Big Deal

Something I’ve said to lots of people … so if you’ve heard it before, my apologies … is this:

Any time someone visits a former teacher of theirs in their classroom, it’s a big deal. The former student only thinks they’re the most excited to reconnect … but the former teacher recognizes that the student returned of their own free will. And that’s a truly big deal.

Perhaps the only bigger deal is: when a former student [in this case, perhaps more appropriate and accurate to say former young-adult music-ensemble colleague?] invites a former teacher [college band director] to their wedding. “Your presence is requested at this Life Event.” A big deal, indeed.

So this weekend I happily attended such a Life Event, the third time I’ve been invited to do so. The general concensus was that the day was at least 99.8 percent perfect in terms of logistics and meteorology.

The added bonus was the presence of a rank of other former students [young-adult music-ensemble colleagues] – friends of the bride, who had all run out onto a college football field at halftime together, wearing purple-and-white uniforms and carrying musical instruments – whom I had not seen (give or take a Homecoming) for a decade or so.

The nuptials were, of course, the impetus for getting us all back in the same room again; they were the point of the day, and it was meet and right to emphasize them. Suzie (along with her new husband) gets the credit.

The bonus feature of the day, though, was no mere footnote. Spending the afternoon with Alison, Julie, Suzy, Tom, Maggie, Caroline, Rose and James … and marinating in the glow for the rest of the evening? Glorious.

Suzie gets the credit for that, as well.

The hoped-for goal, obviously, is for there to be a maximum of one wedding per person. Shame we can’t experience this particular day again, though.

August 14, 2017 Posted by | band, friends, HCMB, marching band | , , , | Leave a comment