Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Attitude Adjustment

In no way should the very tall, balding, bearded, bespectacled gentleman have needed to do what he did.

But he did. And it said a lot about who he was, before I even saw him “in context.”

 

I stood at the registration table for the weekend event and noted that my housing assignment appeared to be screwed up. This was long enough ago that I really don’t remember exactly what the issue was; only that suddenly, attending an event that would last from Thursday morning to Saturday noon was looking a little more dicey, since one does prefer to spend evenings in some form of lodging, rather than, say, not.

The tall gentleman happened to be standing very near the registration table, which made it easier for him to detect the waves of “…uhh…” that were coming off me.

In that moment, in addition to staring down the barrel of two nights without an assigned place to sleep, I was the following things:

[] A newbie at that weekend event.  [] Recognizing exactly zero other people attending that event. (Not recognizing anyone yet, as it happened; but in that moment it was the first day of pre-school all over again.)  [] Not even a resident of the state in which I stood swaying gently.

Upon inquiring about my predicament, the tall gentleman looked me up and down, and said, “Well, come on upstairs.”

I trailed along after him, with all my baggage (interpret that however you like), as he ascended a set of stairs and headed down a couple of hallways to a small office. One short and amiable phone conversation later, he’d set things right, by setting me up with a proper dorm room assignment, and my weekend was off and running.

Half an hour removed from that little episode, I mused that the tall gentleman could easily have passed that duty off to one of his lieutenants. I mean, I was a newbie from a whole different state with an issue that quite honestly was probably very small, considering all the other responsibilities he had … considering he was the fellow in charge of the entire event.

But he saw a moment where he could be helpful to someone, knew what needed to be done, and determined that he was in the best position to do it. Regardless of rank or station. (Likely because of rank and station, in this case; but still.)

 

And so, for the next ten summers after that, I made my way north to Plymouth State University, for the New England Band Directors Institute; secure in the knowledge that the event, dreamed up by the tall gentleman and put together by the New Hampshire Band Directors Association that he led, was an event during which all the attendees were viewed as valuable and important, and were taken care of, and were almost instantly seen as old friends. Even the new ones.

A mentor of mine once suggested that “a band is a reflection of its leadership.” And NEBDI was assuredly a reflection of its leader, PSU’s director of bands, Professor Gary Corcoran.

At an NEBDI edition a few summers after my housing-assignment rescue moment, I took time to thank Gary again for his above-and-beyond effort, and he responded exactly true to form: in so many warm and unassuming words, you’re welcome, and don’t mention it, and anyone would have done it, and glad it worked out, and you’re welcome. It was almost as if all of us faithful NEBDI attendees were his kids, and he made sure to take care of us.

(In many ways. When he was addressing the group of attendees, he very often sounded like a gentle father figure … and then he would get a tiny mischievous glint in his eye, announcing the Friday evening attendees’ party at a tavern down the road – and calling it the “attitude adjustment session”.)

Three summers ago was the most recent NEBDI I’ve gotten to, for various reasons. By that time Gary had retired, but was hanging around the summer workshop event – at least partly because the NHBDA board had determined that they should award Gary their equivalent of the lifetime achievement award. He’d been at PSU for an amount of time that, rounded to the nearest whole number, was approximately forever. In that time, he had (amongst other things) built NEBDI up into an event that was known nationwide as a unique professional-development conference for school band directors.

At the Friday-evening dinner (which preceded the attitude adjustment session), the Association formally honored its longtime leader. When summoned to make a little speech, Gary got through a few appreciative sentences before choking up, just a little. And when he finished his remarks, the resulting standing ovation lasted long enough that he sheepishly tried to get us to siddown … and tried again … and again. We just wouldn’t. He was clearly not comfortable with the idea that he was getting this ridiculous, protracted standing-O … but we figured he had it coming.

 

Gary Corcoran passed away this past Friday at the age of 74.

I’m pleased that on several occasions, I took advantage of the opportunity to make sure he knew how much I appreciated his work – both in the larger, sweeping, lifetime-achievement sense, and also in the rescue-a-rookie-from-his-own-administrative-incompetence sense. And every time I took advantage of that opportunity, I couldn’t help but notice that although he only ever saw me three days a summer … so, a total of 27 times ever … he always knew exactly who I was, no re-introduction necessary. And always seemed a little startled that anybody thought he was a big deal.

He was a big deal.

And I hope the New England Band Directors Institute continues for as many more summers as is humanly possible – if only to stand as testimony to how big a deal he really was.

Godspeed, Gary.

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July 10, 2018 Posted by | band, education, teachers | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s About Time

On teaching: … the job seems to require the sort of skills one would need to pilot a bus full of live chickens backwards, with no brakes, down a rocky road through the Andes while simultaneously providing colorful and informative commentary on the scenery.”

   — author Franklin Habit

 

So, he puts up this (relatively) (for him) massive website to broadcast the idea that he’s planning to ramp up his musical arranging efforts. Those efforts previously were just kind of an extra, something on-the-side that he did for fun and a couple of bucks here and there.

But why? My writing in recent years has been mostly for friends. I haven’t gone in for all that Advertising and Marketing Stuff. I haven’t done research on estimated tax payments. Why shift gears now?

Among the several perfectly good reasons, it occurred to me – and I’m talking mainly to the music teachers out there, the school ensemble directors, and possibly the church musicians as well – that there’s one reason which has gotten especially notable in the last year or so:

You probably don’t have a spare minute to do it yourself.

I’m lucky to know a pack of music teachers – friends and colleagues with whom I have shared tales before – who probably are capable of putting a note or two down on paper (virtual or otherwise) for their bands, jazz bands, orchestras, choruses, small groups, whatever. I can think of one such friend and colleague who just put an item together for her middle-school jazzers, and seemed quite thrilled with it.

But given all the Stuff (with a capital “S”) that teachers have to do as part of their daily jobs – and the extra Stuff that various education departments, federal, state and local, have piled on top of them – well, I can imagine many music teachers thinking, “I’d love to write out this or that tune for my gang; but with what time, exactly?”

New evaluation regimens. New requirements for record-keeping, with respect to those evaluation standards, and to special-education plans, and … well, the list goes on and on. Even if teachers were “merely” teaching, and didn’t have to contend with all the other Stuff that goes with teaching (in many cases, being the parents that their students maybe don’t have, or certainly could sorely use), preparation of materials and strategies for those classes still would put time at a premium. Not to mention, they might be trying to maintain lives outside the workplace. What a thought.

In the last year or two, here in Massachusetts, a new requirement was dropped onto teachers of all stripes (music included): they need to take a specialized course in how to deal with English-as-a-second-language learners, and there’s a deadline before which they have to take it. It’s the equivalent of a semester-long graduate class, with weekly writing assignments; and everyone must complete it, and get a good grade, … and pay for it themselves. No help from the state, or from any individual school districts. Oh joy. Another unfunded mandate.

Don’t get me started. Oops. Too late.

I have it on good authority that the humor in those classes is strictly gallows.

<*shakes himself from his red-tinged haze of “you gotta be kiddin’ me”*>

Having been a high school band (and chorus and jazz band) director, I know all too well the virtual mountain of to-do list items that face music teachers regularly. Sometimes it’s a physical mountain of Stuff.

My new favorite quote about that specific version of teaching comes from a t-shirt meme, of all things:

 

Being a band director is easy.

It’s like riding a bike.

Except the bike is on fire.

You’re on fire.

Everything is on fire.

 

With all that, who has the time to write out the perfect arrangement, not to mention the time it takes to track down copyright permissions information and all the rest of the details that go into all this?

You could say I want to help.

So do feel free to pass the word … if you (or a friend or a colleague) have a project in mind that you will never in a million years get to, but would make your kids very happy (with you!) … drop me a note here, or visit the shiny new website, HammertonMusic.com

and let me know what I can do to make your life easier.

 

[Ed. Note: this blog post was originally posted over on my “News ‘n’ Notes” blog at HammertonMusic.com.  Synergy!  Or something.]

November 18, 2015 Posted by | arranging, band, choir, education, HammertonMusic.com, marching band, music, teachers | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sheveloff

[Ed. Note: this post is adapted from a few lines of text that I posted on Facebook yesterday. I honestly don’t know what the subject of this post would think of that, if he were here to hear about it.]

 

On Monday, I got an eMail from Boston University, and it wasn’t a desperate request for alumni giving. By the time I read the first couple of sentences, I kinda wished it had been.

To the wide community of the School of Music,

A great spirit has left us, Professor Emeritus Joel Sheveloff. He died peacefully last night with his family at his side.”

 

I don’t have nearly as many Joel Sheveloff stories as many of my BU comrades probably have. I was not a musicology major; the majority of my time at BU’s School for the Arts was spent dealing with secondary music education methods – the unsticking of valves, and the managing of adolescents.

But Sheveloff’s “Music of the Baroque Era” was my very first grad-school class (aside, perhaps, from BUMB band camp?). He set the bar kinda high.

Amazingly, many years later, when we chanced to cross paths, he knew exactly who I was. Which, considering the number of graduate and undergrad students he’d dealt with in his career – and the relatively microscopic role I played in his career as a teacher – was entirely extra-credit, as far as I was concerned. I was just very pleased.

I suppose that’s the best story I could tell.

But my experience in his class was – the topic, and the need to earn a decent grade, aside – characterized by a great deal of enjoyment, because he was one of those teachers whom you’d remember for all the right reasons. He cared about his subject. He cared about his students. He had a healthy disregard for kow-towing to the establishment; but he wasn’t nasty about it. And he loved to tell a joke, and remain utterly deadpan doing it … except when he knew the joke he’d dropped had detonated properly, at which moment there was this little bitty tiny upward tick of a smile, and a knowing look out at the shrapnel.

My favorite story would be this one, one which I have delighted in telling and re-telling:

In addressing “The Messiah” during that Baroque Era class, Dr. Sheveloff noted that Handel’s first language was not English. His proof:

[1] the scansion and emphases in what he called the Golf Ball Chorus: “FORE!! unto us a child is born…” …

… and [2] the peculiar rhythmic content of “All We, Like Sheep, Have Gone Astray”. To demonstrate *that*, he sang, “All We Like Sheep! I like sheep … you like sheep … all! God’s! children! like! Sheeeeeeep!!”

I have still not stopped giggling, twenty autumns later.

November 11, 2015 Posted by | arts, current events, education, music, news, teachers | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment