Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Playing the Hand You’re Dealt

This is a follow-up, non-chronological, postscript of sorts to an article posted earlier today on a friend’s blog.

In that article, my friend remarked on the stress she feels at this time of year: when she’s auditioning, interviewing, and accepting some of her university marching band students into student-leadership positions. And not accepting others. And empathizing with their disappointment … at the same time as she’s reminding herself that it’s not a bad thing for college students to learn to deal with disappointments before they leave college and go out into the big scary unfeeling world.

And reminding the world that: you can make a difference in a band, or any group, even if you don’t have a title. Even if you’re not a Rank Leader, or a Uniform Manager, or a Drum Major.

She wrote, specifically:

The students wait with baited breath for the Facebook post to hit. They get worked up, filled with anxiety, desperate for the results of auditions and interviews. I, however, sit and stare at the list for days on end. No matter what I do I am going to disappoint some of my students. Some will take a deep breath when they don’t see their name on the list and are ok. Some will become so angry they will throw a chair through a glass door (yes, this happened once). Some will be furious with me – they think I hate them, or at the very least, don’t like them. Some will quit band altogether.”

When I read her words, it kicked loose a memory from my senior year in college, during which I got to be one of the Drum Majors of my college band.

Regular readers of the Blogge may recall a stretch of time several years ago wherein I was inspired to inflict many memories of that memorable autumn in the late 1980s upon them. Well … so here’s a memory that didn’t make that cut (in part because it didn’t have a whole lot to do with the topic of that moment, namely, how great our late great band director was).

When I auditioned for one of the three drum major positions, during the prior spring semester, so did nearly a dozen other band members: soon-to-be seniors, juniors and sophomores were in the mix … the brass, woodwinds and color guard were represented … there were people with drum-major experience and people without … there were people who thought it was important to be able to chuck a mace, and people who didn’t. Within those dozen people, a lot of different skill sets and personalities.

And our director could only take three of them as drum majors. Traditionally, he would then draw two or three or four names from the list of those whom he had not chosen as drum majors, and install them on the student field instructional staff as Drill Instructors. The DIs were a bit higher in the field staff hierarchy than Rank Leaders, who each were in charge of one group of eight marchers; but a bit lower than the Drum Majors. DI responsibilities tended to differ a bit from year to year, depending either upon the Drum Majors’ skill sets or upon a new idea our director had had since the end of the previous season. Mostly, when field drill was being taught, DIs jumped out of the form and assisted with teaching a subset of the band near them, when asked.

During that spring’s audition process, I got into a conversation with one of my fellow auditioners, a newer but pretty good friend of mine (we’ll call her Robin), that went along the lines of: “If we BOTH make Drum Major, great! Fun! If one of us gets to be a Drum Major, the other will still stay in band. If we NEITHER of us are accepted, we still have to be in band. Because at the end of the day, being in the band is more important.” The best thing you can ever do, etc. Robin and I felt like we saw eye-to-eye on that, and we also wanted to be adults about this. Dealing with disappointment is hard; but we would do it.

One of the other auditioners had in fact been one of the Drum Majors during the previous season – the only one of the three DMs who wasn’t graduating. That particular year, our director had decided not to “grandfather” Drum Majors from one season to the next; instead everyone would re-audition. So okay; this former Drum Major … we’ll call her Dana … re-auditioned. Cheerfully, which not everyone in the world might have managed. So, give Dana points for that.

Audition and interview days came and went … the student field staff was not announced … the semester ended, finals were taken, the mid-May commencement happened, everyone cleared out of the dorms … and finally the student field staff was announced, albeit in the second week of June.

I was one of the three applicants who made Drum Major.

Robin and Dana each were not.

If you were someone who had been a high school drum major, and were a very competent marcher and musician, and had performed very well as a Rank Leader the season before, but weren’t selected for Drum Major, you might well be very disappointed.

Now, if you had been a Drum Major of that college band before … and then suddenly were no longer Drum Major … how would you take the news?

I would like to think that I would play the part of good person and loyal bando, and be in the band again, regardless.

I would like to think this.

I don’t know for sure, though.

Here, meanwhile, is the part that taught me a lot:

All season long, Dana, our former Drum Major, was nothing but enthusiastic and professional and fun and friendly and helpful as a DI, and had (within my hearing, at least) nary a down-in-the-mouth thing to say about the whole experience. (There was a time or two wherein she genuinely helped this Drum Major look better than he really was, as it happened.)

We never saw Robin again.

And I was genuinely surprised.

Now, I don’t say all this in order to dump on Robin; or to suggest that she was a horrible disloyal immature person. At all.

Again, in her shoes, I would like to hope that I would have played the hand I was dealt, cheerfully, enthusiastically … but I genuinely don’t know. I didn’t have to find out … but it would have been instructive to have to find out.

I don’t know how much time Dana spent, in private, throwing things at the wall, after the student field staff was announced. And I wouldn’t blame her for doing so. (Smile in public, and grouse in private, goes the Starred Thought, approximately; something many public figures could stand to get better at.)

But Dana made a difference, without the title of Drum Major. (Most remarkably, again, she did so after having previously held the title of Drum Major.)

So it can be done.

Easy to say that, either from the safe perspective of thirty elapsed years, or from the comfortable position of having made Drum Major and therefore having weaseled out of experiencing all this. Or, um, both. I admit this freely.

But there is proof that it can be done.

May 19, 2017 Posted by | band, drum major, marching band, UMMB | , , , , | Leave a comment

We’re Done Here

I try to think of myself as a pretty good listener.

Partly because my early college years were so full of me bending friends’ ears so often, as I tried to navigate this or that social or academic minefield, that I’ve since wanted to try and make it up to them, by paying it forward.

But also, it’s not a bad quality to aspire to, just to deal with people well.

My goal – maybe not overtly, or always in the forefront of my mind, but still, my goal – is to try to see things from the other fellow’s perspective. It can be hard to reach common ground if you only stare at your own feet.

It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth the effort. Even if you didn’t reach that common ground, well, Yoda was wrong: there is “try”.

I could say that the last month, or three, or eighteen, have been challenging from this perspective, upon my social media feed. But it’s actually not completely true, at least in this one regard: as it works out, the great majority of folks with whom I have Facebook Friendships happen to share a lot of my political views. Thanks to one thing and another, we seem to share the same attitudes about how you treat other people, even beyond the battle lines of modern politics. Politically, it is without question an echo chamber. But (and not every online outlet can lay claim to this) it’s also a place that I can visit which features a whole lot of sympathy and empathy, a whole lot of people showing support for each other. The concrete, actual world surely could use more of this.

I’m actually pleased to say that I have several friends (Facebook- as well as brick-and-mortar) who identify as Republicans – Eisenhower Republicans, to be sure, but it technically counts – with whom I regularly have constructive conversations and, just as importantly, I have a pretty good time hanging out with. Online or in person.

This is not about that.

This isn’t about party lines, and although you may have trouble believing it, it isn’t about the current occupant of the Oval Office either.

It took all of the most recent month, or three months, or really eighteen months. I was right on the verge, but several times I fought the urge. And tonight, I finally did it.

I unfriended somebody.

For a long time, I’d made a quite conscious effort – after reading one of this gentleman’s posts or observing whatever link was being proffered – to keep his contributions around. To not push him away, virtually speaking. After all, never a bad idea to see how the opposition is thinking, what their approach is – whether it’s politics or football or what. A new thought may occur to you … or at least you can use that “opposition research” to hone your argument.

And this gentleman’s posts and links had consisted of thoughts that I definitely didn’t agree with, but they were always fitting into one of two categories: earnest opinion about policy, or snarky remarks about folks on my side of the political aisle. The swings that he took were always metaphorical.

This little meme was different, though.

Not to fall into the “both sides are just as bad” trap – because I happen to believe that on a great many counts, in a great many ways, one side is in fact substantively worse than the other. But I do acknowledge that in the world of pointed snarky memes, one political side doesn’t have a total monopoly on the sort of meme humor that cuts pretty close to the bone.

I can appreciate clever a lot more than I can appreciate ham-handed. Although sometimes ham-handed has its place.

Again, the meme that finally caused me to pare down my list of Friends by one … was substantively different than the usual.

It was effectively a two-panel cartoon.  Panel #1 had a caption that read, “HOW PROTESTERS SEE THEMSELVES”, and the captioned image was a photograph of half a dozen people who clearly were part of some protest march or demonstration or other, protesting and demonstrating passionately.

Panel #2’s caption read, “HOW I SEE THEM”.

The image was of a series of speed bumps.

Whether or not you remember the recent terrorist attack in Nice, France, during which a man drove a truck straight through throngs of strolling tourists and killed many of them, doesn’t matter.

If you post that meme – if you attach your name to it, and thereby declare that you are standing behind the sentiment – then you are, very simply, advocating violence. Possibly lethal violence. You are saying that you think it’s okay to mow down other human beings with a motor vehicle. You are, further, making a joke out of it.

Aaaaaaand we’re done here.

I’m done with you.

Doesn’t matter whether you support Trump or Trudeau or a trumpet or a truffle. Doesn’t matter whether you’re a conservative or a conservationist or a concierge or a contra dancer.

I am done with you.

There are many more mature ways to express an opinion. There are many more humane ways to deal with other people. There are other people out there who are mature, or humane, or in many cases both, that I would prefer to deal with — whether I agree with them politically or not.

I won’t go to my unFriend’s house and throw things at it in order to let him know. In this case, he’ll only know that I’m done with him when it occurs to him that he hasn’t seen my posts in a while. (Given the capricious way that Facebook’s algorithms cycle people in and out of other people’s feeds, it may not strike him at all.) Social media allows me to excise his view of the world from my immediate daily awareness with a simple mouse click. No muss, no fuss.

I know; it’s a passive-aggressive way of dealing with this.

There are enough aggressive-aggressive behaviors in the world to contend with, which increasingly we need to address, though; and it’s not always crucial to fight fire with fire.

But I just don’t have it in me to try to engage with somebody who thinks people are speed bumps.

February 22, 2017 Posted by | current events, Facebook, friends, humor, Internet, news, social media | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This Much Is Not Uncertain

So. It’s been a week…

(And what a week it’s been.)

since the White House actually, literally changed hands.

For a lot of people, it’s been a very hard week – partly because of the flurry of executive orders out of the Oval Office that threaten to uproot a lot of lives. And it’s been a hard week partly because, for many of us, we had no idea that it would get this bad, this fast.

But it’s been a hard week also because of the uncertainty.

Right after the election, I immediately identified the source of my stress: the uncertainty was towering. What would the new Current Occupant of the Oval Office be like as an actual President, not merely as a candidate? And in the time between then and Inauguration Day, the uncertainty did not diminish.

And now that we know what it’s like to have a Vulgar Talking Yam in the White House and acting as President, if not in a terribly presidential way (as we have come to define such a term in the last couple of hundred years) … amazingly, the uncertainty has not in any way diminished.

How will Mexico respond to his behavior? How about China? NATO countries? Will our theoretical allies still want to be friends with us when all this is over?

How will he respond to an actual crisis? Say, a natural disaster within the US, or a terrorist attack upon its citizens? Will he make things better or worse?

Still hard to say; although there’s more and more evidence to suggest that whatever the exact details of whatever crisis may befall, the response will be somewhere between semantically inappropriate and literally catastrophic.

And this is the world in which we live, now.

And people are already getting hurt.


I don’t, in this case, mean the people who wonder if they’ll soon be deported, or how soon their right to marry will be taken away, for example. I don’t mean, in this case, the people who already do and surely will continue to face discrimination and taunts and threats and actual bodily harm because of present or future policies (or just because of the awful behavior of nitwits who like to hurt people) that have to do with what they look like, or what deity they worship, or which gender their loving instincts gravitate toward.

Although I do think about those people, specifically people I know who fit into those categories, Every. Single. Day.

Here, I mean that people are getting hurt when they just try to keep up with this stuff; when they try to make sense of the nonsensical; when they try to metaphorically swim upstream and make headway in the face of this toxic torrent of awful.  When they try to come to terms with the fact that what has been unthinkable for 240 years has become a feature, not a bug.

I include myself in this particular category of people getting hurt, although I’m a straight white guy, so I’m not right in the crosshairs this very moment. Weirdly enough, I haven’t lost sleep. (I know this because I’m no more of an early-morning person than I was three months ago.)

But I do spend a great deal of time marinating in politics and current affairs – because I did before the election, and before the campaigns, and in fact for the last about thirteen years I’ve been especially politically aware and vocal. So it’s kinda my thing.

Which means, in the last week especially, I’ve been positively seething a lot of the time.

It can’t be healthy. It can’t be good for me; I know this.

But I don’t feel like I can unplug; because I’ll miss something … and there’s hardly a thing out there that is unimportant.

Don’t feel as if you have to keep track of everything,” folks say, “because there are tons of people out there, and not everybody has to watch everything. Division of labor, and all that.”

Easy for you to say. I care – I want to care – about everything that’s going on, and going wrong.

Ignore the Tweets,” folks say, “because they’re just smokescreens for the truly terrible things that are happening. Don’t get distracted.”

Okay,” I reply, “but those Tweets communicate things about our current chief executive, or his views, or about basic truths even, that should not be swept under the rug, that should not be let go, because if you let them go, they’ll just get repeated and repeated and he won’t learn anything and the lies he tells will start to become accepted as truths because that’s how it works…!”

(Remember the flap about the VP-elect’s reception at that performance of “Hamilton”? Cheeto Mussolini’s tweet brought up an important issue, even as it distracted us from … from something … something much more pressing, something to do with … damn it, that’s my point – we can’t even remember what the hell it was, even though at the time it was frickin’ DefCon 1. So much has happened since then that it’s practically lost to antiquity.)


This morning, I figured something out, though.

It wasn’t that I should unplug for a day, or two, or a week, for my own state of mind.

If anything, I should focus harder.

Just on different things, from time to time.

The day after the election, I came to the horrifying realization that a lot of people had voted for Orange Muppet Hitler. Certainly enough, by our arcane electoral rules, to elect someone whose behavior I would not have tolerated for more than thirty seconds in my middle-school music classroom.

If you voted for Trump,” said one of my favorite political commentators, “you’re either a racist and a misogynist, or you’re OK with racism and misogyny.” My response (to my iPod, from which her podcast was coming), was, “yeah, and you just had your basest instincts toward treating people badly – either for a purpose or for your own self-satisfaction! – validated.

And there were tons more of those people out there than I had thought, more than I had realized before … than I had wanted to know were really out there.

Now, I didn’t immediately look at the world, the morning of November 9, and suddenly observe that the drivers were more impolite (I live in Massachusetts; it’s hard to tell) … that people in cash register lines were more impatient … that people greeted each other less warmly, now that the President-Elect was someone with all the manners of a bull after the china shop. I didn’t suddenly, immediately feel like the sun was a little dimmer in the sky, or that food tasted not quite as good, now.

But I had conversations with people (who weren’t even in the groups that will soon feel oppressed and frankly mistreated by their own government) who did feel that way. And the world did seem different, somehow off-kilter, even though it looked exactly the same as it had the day before.

It’s one thing to be disappointed that your guy (or in this case, your woman) didn’t win an election, and that the fellow who did win is just not your cup of tea.

This is another thing, though. A whole huge substantive hell of a different thing.

A lot of people took this one especially hard – including me – because it wasn’t just a question of whose policies or politics made more sense, or would help more people, or would get more things done that made sense to get done. For those of us who didn’t vote for the Short-Fingered Vulgarian, it was because … well, it was because we felt strongly enough that he was an awful person and a miserable role model; it was at a much more “core” level than “his personality doesn’t lend itself to sober, considered governance” and “Russia may have a blackmail-oriented hold on the guy”.

I violated my usual rule of “don’t call people names”. I made up unflattering nicknames for him (irony, I know … since all we heard for a year and a half was “Crooked Hillary” and “Lying Ted” and “Little Marco”), but felt like those nicknames were much less playground mockery and much more, uh, journalism.

I endeavored not to be pulled down to his level; and sometimes failed. So I maybe didn’t feel too good about that. And then, I found out that the noble philosophy – “when they go low, we go high” – or, as a certain famous carpenter once suggested, “turn the other cheek” – didn’t work anyway.

It felt like the very concept of civility, of being decent to one another, had taken a hit. And that treating your fellow man like crap was now the de facto, unspoken policy of the United States government.

And in the first week of the new Administration, it has felt increasingly like treating your fellow man like crap has become the actual policy of the government, thanks largely to the pack of leaders and potential leaders whose sole concern in life appears to be profiting off the suffering of others. Whose moral compass always points squarely in their own direction.


I’m not sure where we go from here … since in theory there will be 207 more weeks until the next inauguration … but the possibilities are staggering, and not in a good way.

What, exactly, to do?

Plenty!!, as hundreds of thousands of demonstrators showed the very day after the Inauguration. Like a boxer getting up and regrouping after being knocked to the canvas during the first minute of a heavyweight fight … people and organizations are standing back up and shaking the cobwebs out of their heads and deciding on strategies to use, to win this fight – now that it’s clear that this fight is going to go all twelve rounds.

But this is not about that, at least not in this blog post.

This is, instead, about one small thing that I (we) can do, which may help to preserve one fundamental thing that can not, or certainly should not, be legislated out of existence with the mere passing of a bill or the signing of an executive order:

Being decent to each other. Not treating people like crap. Showing support for people before they’ve shown support for us.

So I’m actively, purposefully, paying attention to a few little things, when they happen. And all these have happened in the last week:

I’ve actively paid attention when I’ve had a chance to let a driver merge into my lane, and when I’ve been the beneficiary. And made sure to smile and wave, in either case.

I’ve actively paid attention to the moments when I’ve had a chance to smile at a cashier, to hold a door for somebody, to spare a cheerful “good morning!” for a custodian who’s already been at work long before my day began.

I’ve actively paid attention to – and reveled in – the church choir rehearsal moments that have featured good spirits and belly laughs and oh by the way music preparation. Particularly those moments wherein choir members have cheerfully made jokes back and forth, not at each other, but with each other – with affection and camaraderie and a sense of pulling on the oars in the same direction, and to the same cadence.

Because there are plenty of tough times ahead, thanks to the policies of people (one in particular, but there are many characters in this insidious drama) who think only of themselves and their own personal and political gain, who have no idea about true human decency because they don’t traffick in it nearly enough to be good at it.

So while we’re trying desperately to hold their feet to the fire, to hold them back from doing the things they would dearly love to do to people and not so much for them … and while we’re trying gamely to swim upstream in the toxic tide … we cannot lose sight of opportunities (responsibilities) to make individual lives around us better, even with the smallest gestures, even with the least earth-shaking appreciations.

The good people of this earth have to stay that way – together. If we get sucked into feeling that the “do unto others, then split” adage of 1970s t-shirts is the new normal, then we’re really up the creek.

Resist. Reject.

(But as Abraham Lincoln said to Bill and Ted … be excellent to each other.)

January 27, 2017 Posted by | current events, government, news | , , , , , , | Leave a comment