Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

What You Leave Behind -or- Making It Happen

A bit of a prologue for you now:

A few days ago, my good friend and colleague Heidi Sarver wrote this:

48 hours ago I wrote: ‘You made us better.’ You = George Parks. And he did, in fact, make ALL of us better – those who were part of his world, as well as those who ARE part of his world via the next generation. … Maybe some of us took that deep breath and realized that the best way to honor our teacher, mentor, friend and cohort was to take the reins in hand and ‘really make it happen.’ … ultimately the bottom line is this, he made us better…and we will make the next generation better.”

That is what Heidi Sarver wrote.

[You do not need to go cue up Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait”. In fact, please don’t. -Ed.]

She didn’t know that she was actually writing the intro for this post – a post that I had mostly finished shortly before she hit her own blog’s “publish” button. My head snapped back a little bit when I read her words, and realized that. Well … if you associate with people long enough, you may find that you’re able to finish their sandwiches …


Earlier this summer, I did my annual Drum Major Academy tour … ten days full of helping high school folks try to figure out that whole high school band peer leadership thing. Ten days’ worth, also, of hanging out with a staff full of people whose teaching chops I hope one day to emulate.

Shortly thereafter, I took to this space, and noted that for some reason, a considerably greater-than-usual number of DMA students had taken to heart our staff suggestion: stay in touch this fall. Let us know how it’s going. The number of high school drum majors with whom I got to work in July, who have since Facebook-friended me, is in the neighborhood of twenty, which would officially be at least ten times the usual. (Add in some of the collegiate staff assistants, and … I got me lots of new friends.) Maybe it was the extra time we spent in TV rooms during late-afternoon tornado warning, I don’t know …

Social media has turned out to be an easy way to see how everybody’s doing, as the fall marching season kicks into gear. Lots of photos have been posted online, of DMA students (and collegiates) in full drum major regalia for their first performance, or in an Ellen DeGeneres-style selfie on a band bus … and, this particular summer, there were lots of video clips of whole bands accepting the Ice Bucket Challenge.

As it turns out, a lot of these folks aren’t just good conductors and teachers … they’re pretty expressive writers, too. Anywhere from very funny remarks about how nervous they are about Show #1, to very sweet thoughts about how much they love their bands following pre-season camp … some are Tweet-length, and others involve paragraph indents. It’s been instructive.

This week, though, a lot of the folks who experienced the George N. Parks Drum Major Academy took a moment to post thoughts about its founder, on the fourth anniversary of his passing. Mostly, they were appreciating things they’d learned and how they were already able to utilize them in their jobs as drum majors.

A testament, no doubt, to the people who have now taken up the DMA instruction responsibilities that Mr. Parks had assumed, for all those years – the lead clinicians who show the students our version of the about-face, who dole out the Starred Thoughts, who wonder who’s going to win the marchoff (“or will it be a rookiiiiiiieeee?…”), who command the kids, “detail: wash the dishes!” in front of their parents on the final DMA day … the folks who “really make it happen”.


In the spirit of “show, don’t tell” … below are some snippets that I’ve scooped up from my Facebook news feed. (I haven’t asked any of their authors for permission to print them here – so they’re listed anonymously. If you’re curious to know who said what … you’re quite welcome to ask.)

Some of the authors address the online reading audience:

“George N. Parks was, is, and always will be absolutely spectacular.”

“So this upcoming Friday, I want us all to march a little bit taller, salute a little bit stronger, kick out our heels a little bit further, and make sure to show, for once, just a little extra bit of enthusiasm in honor of him. We won’t let his legacy die.”

More often, they’re addressing Mr. Parks himself:

“Even if all I can do for you is play music and try to teach and inspire just a few others, it’s a task that I will take up.”

“I feel your energy every time I get excited for band practice. I feel you when it’s a tough day at practice and I’m really struggling, when suddenly I am flooded with a wave of enthusiasm. I would not be who I am today without you and your teachings.”

“I hope you know how much you changed my life…”

“It has been four years since you have left this earth, and we all dearly miss you. But the legacy you left for all of us will continue to last for the rest of time.”

“I will go and reread your words, your starred thoughts when I’m having a bad day or need inspiration and it brings me right back to Mahar and the Student Union.”

“Thank you Mr. Parks, for letting me be part of your legacy. I wouldn’t be who I am today without it.”

“… the impression you left on me, as well as the thousands of other leaders, will last a lifetime.”

“You’ve touched all of our lives and pushed us to be better. You still inspire me so much to this day, and will forever.”

Here’s what strikes me about all these thoughts: the people who wrote them had never met the guy.

Video clips, yes. The particular cadence of a marching command or a GNP turn of phrase that DMA staff members use, themselves, without even thinking about it? Yes. … But in person? No. Never met him.


With that tiny little detail in mind, have a look at some other snippets of sentiment that have caught my eye this month:

“He was truly an inspiration to us all, even though few of us if any, ever met him.”

“I hope you know how much you changed my life—even 4 years after you passed away.”

“I know we never had a chance to meet, but in a way, I feel like we did.”

“I never knew you personally but you still left a huge impact on me.”

“So here’s to a man I never had the honor to meet, and changed my life more than anyone I know. Always with pride, just like you taught us.”


Okay, that’s a legacy. If the man had ever harbored any doubts about that … well, he shouldn’t have.


One last thought from one of my new friends. He or she (doesn’t matter which) might not have any idea how much it is The Kicker. Are you sittin’ down? …

“Thank you, Mr. Parks, for everything you did for all of us. Thanks to you, marching band is a magical place for everyone. …

I can’t wait to meet you some day.”

“Do you remember the first time you saw your high school band? You saw that drum major up there on the podium, bigger than life … and you said, ‘I want to be there someday!”, didn’t you?…” [Image courtesy A. Lane]






September 19, 2014 Posted by | band, DMA, drum major, Facebook, GNP, marching band, social media, Starred Thoughts, teachers, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Takeaway

Twelve years ago today was a very tough day.

On a couple of previous anniversaries of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC, I have taken a moment (here in this blog space) to note the date, usually utilizing what I remember of where I was – what I was doing (hmph). I made a connection, without great difficulty, to the music I was making at the time with my students – and the role that music played in getting through the day, or making sense of the day later, or offering comfort to people who needed it for a long time after.

I was teaching today, as well. Since I’m relatively new to my school, I was teaching several classes’ worth of students with whom I had never shared this particular observance. The change of scenery, I think, caused me to think in perhaps wider-angle terms than I would have otherwise. Things are different … somewhat.

My seventh-grade students were weeks or months old in 2001. I was twelve years younger, too; and much closer to the beginning of my teaching career than I am now. I wasn’t as schooled in the ways of geopolitical affairs and foreign policy as I have become, since. Then, I was much more likely to worry greatly about driving under highway overpasses than I am now – or, let’s just say that now I worry more about whether the bridges are going to come down on their own, never mind with help from terrorist people.

One night about a week ago, I noticed my local television listings beginning to fill up with 9/11 documentaries and tribute-laden programs – the Discovery Channel was showing nothing but, all afternoon and all night – and I was frankly shocked for a moment after I found myself thinking, “oh… Here we go. It’s that time of year.”

For those who lost people that they dearly loved, that day, September will always be “that time of year”. I was instantly embarrassed at my thought (which I had unhelpfully delivered to myself in the voice of the “Stewie” character from “Family Guy”). The sister of a good friend of mine from high school was on the second plane that hit the World Trade Center, for heaven’s sake. If the tables were turned, I’d be more than a little put out that somebody was thinking of this particular anniversary with the same kind of jaded outlook that a lot of us carry into, say, the holiday shopping season in December. For many many people, this is and always will be – well, deadly serious.

Not long after 9/11, many people wondered if it would be this generation’s Pearl Harbor – not so much as an impetus for war specifically, but more as an event that was both unforgettable and a turning point in a lot of people’s understanding of the state of the planet Earth, for better or for worse. I doubt people were thinking, “oh… Here we go again,” on December 7, 1953.

So I did several hundred mental pushups, as a sort of penance for my offhand thought. And I thought, okay, then: is there anything that we can take away from that awful day? Anything positive? Anything that we’ve actually learned?

There is the temptation to respond to that question by commenting on political- and military-science permutations of this question. We went to war in two places in the wake of 9/11 and we’re still hanging around in one of those theaters, a dozen years later, and to what end I’m not sure (except that this must be how the Soviet Union felt in 1980 or so). More lives lost; less ground gained, I think.

I am tempted to express deep concern about our temptation – then and now – to knee-jerkily retreat into patriotic fervor, as a means of reassuring ourselves that not only was this an awful, evil act (well, it was that; and no civilian population anywhere “had it coming”), but that becoming victims of that heinous crime automatically made us, or perhaps more properly our government, blameless in all things and justified in any and all responses. Invasions of whole countries followed. Euphemisms like “extraordinary renditions” and “enhanced interrogation” followed. Unnerving titles such as “Homeland Security” were created. Chants of “USA, USA” only make me smile at the Olympics, I think.

As is almost always the case … it’s not nearly as simple as politicians and pundits make it their business to make us believe.

So, while government activities and international politics grind on, actual people still suffer, both directly because of the attacks and indirectly, for a staggering and unnerving variety of reasons. There are vast, sweeping plains of wrong that haven’t yet been made right. There were wrongs before 9/11 that haven’t yet been addressed. There are debates that haven’t even been properly begun.

So what can we possibly take away from 9/11 that can make the human race seem like a noble thing?

Finally, I came around to this:

If thinking about 9/11 causes us to wonder what would possess someone to do such a thing, and we look further afield than just the instinctive, jingoistic “they hate us for our freedoms” answers … then regardless of what we find, we’ve at least tried to imagine the world from someone else’s point of view … and that’s something.

If observing 9/11 will cause us to remember and thank and support first-responders – not just the ones that ran toward the burning Twin Towers, but the ones that run toward trouble and danger in our own communities all the time, right now – then that’s something.

If recalling 9/11 will cause us to remember or be introduced to tales of ordinary people helping other ordinary people in far-from-ordinary circumstances … then that’s something.

If remembering 9/11 will cause us to reach out to people we know who lost friends or family on that day, to offer them some help or support or comfort or connection … then that’s something.

If I can start out sitting in a classroom with students who were mere toddlers in 2001, having conversations with them about those terrible events and these difficult issues … and somehow end up with a teachable moment that boils down to “go out of your way to treat people decently, so that your individual world stands a chance of being a better place”, or “let’s work together because it sure beats working against people” … as happened this morning …

then I guess that’s something.

September 11, 2013 Posted by | blogging, current events, news, politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sick Days

Sick days aren’t like snow days. You don’t have to shovel snow, but you wish you could.

Sick days aren’t like mental health days. There’s no need to feel guilty. (Even though I usually achieve this anyway. Read on…)

Sick days are included as benefits in my professional contract. I often suspect I have more of them available than do members of some other professions. Can firefighters take sick days? Can troops stationed in faraway places take them?

Sick days can be spent wondering what’s going on in the location where you would have been. And hoping all the furniture is in the same place when you return.

Sick days can feature a lot of looking out the window and wishing you felt right enough to go out and play. Unless you live in the part of the US where I do, at the time which is now, in which case, you’re not so disappointed. Brrr.


Sick days, for me, are often a challenge for one other reason. One of my high school teachers, it was rumored, had taken only as many sick days in his multiple-decade career as most people have fingers. He was just that kind of person – neither snow nor sleet nor rain, nor pain, nor sprain, nor migraine, nor anythang (it almost rhymed), would keep him from his appointed rounds. Classical Studies Must Be Taught! More importantly, he felt he owed it to his students – his kids! – to be there for them.

Professore, we used to say … that’s very sweet of you, and we’re that much more inspired to do our homework assiduously! … but you look … like you feel … like poop.

That was part of an actual conversation in an actual class, one day during my junior year of high school. (Not the word “poop”.) The man walked into class, and a pack of high school kids – whose spheres of awareness had only recently grown to a size bigger than their own heads – took one look at him and said, “Professore, what’s wrong??”

Oh, I’ve just got a little temperature,” he said, and looked at us lovingly with a pair of the glassiest eyes we’d ever seen. “I’ll be fine! Let’s start.” And at least a quarter of the room replied, “Professore. Go. Home. To. Bed.”

Later, one of my classmates said, “he always looks at us at the beginning of class, and says, ‘Morning, scholars! Are you doing all right? You look so tired, gang!’ But today, he earned all that sympathy back from us in one shot. He looked like he was going to die.”

He did have the flu, as it turned out. (Several years ago, I had the flu for a week, and came in to school one day during that stretch because, well, the rock/blues band had a gig at a music fundraiser that night, and because obviously. I remember the gig … just not a lot of what happened during. And that was rock ‘n’ roll, not the works of Cicero.)

Sounds like an extreme case; and it was. Sounds like a tall tale … and it wasn’t. Somehow he taught that day. His classes probably listened extra hard, just out of feeling his pain! … but during that whole class, we all had a little voice in the back of our heads saying, “that poor man … that poor man … that poor man …”

So when I take a sick day, and it’s a genuinely sick boy taking it … I still feel just a little twinge of “we are not worthy”. (This particular school year, I’ve taken more sick days than I’m used to taking. November, as has been chronicled hereabouts, sotto voce!, was particularly awful.) I’ve been working on that. I may be working on it until I retire, or expire. Sometimes, yes, you’ve got to take a mental health day. But on balance, my job actually contributes to my mental health. I have taken those kinds of days, but happily not often.

Anyway, beyond Medieval Lit, and translating Latin, and all … one of the other things I learned from Il Professore was, dig in and do the work. He didn’t tell us … in a more effective and lasting lesson than that, he showed us. So I’ve got a standard to shoot for. An absurdly high standard, but … as the Argus poster saying goes, if you shoot for the moon and miss, you’ll still end up among the stars.

Every day, in every way, getting better and better …

March 23, 2013 Posted by | education, teachers | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment