Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Why I Can’t Abide the Stanford Band

Yes, friends, after having repeatedly preached the gospel of “if all us band types can’t support each other, who in the world is going to?” in this space … I’m ripping on somebody else’s band.

Irony alert.

 

So, yesterday afternoon, I was alerted by the social media elves that there had been yet another example of college marching bands behaving badly.

In this case, it was the Rose Bowl halftime. As it was, the University of Iowa football team had been taking it on the chin, at the hands of the Stanford University athletic establishment. The score was somewhere near 35 to nothing at the break.

And then, reportedly (as I am without glitzy cable TV these days, I didn’t see any of it, but the reports were quite insistent), the Stanford band took the field, and took a few liberties.

Some background details to note here.

First, the Stanford band is a member of that subset of college bands who tend not to take themselves, their opponents, their activity, or indeed the concept of dignity, too seriously. And honestly, a band that can’t create a little fun in their show – somehow, and there are many ways to do this – isn’t much of a college band. Right?

Second, the Stanford band could not have predicted that Iowa football was going to tank as badly as it did, in that first half. Their intent wasn’t to pile on, at least in that context.

But pile on they did. And even if the score had been the reverse, apparently their halftime-show mockery of Iowa and its farmers and its Midwestern-ness crossed a few lines of good taste and good sense.

This is a thing that the occasional college band will do. They take shots at opposing teams, or schools, as an integral part of their halftime shows. Usually it involves public-address narration, so there can be absolutely no doubt that they meant that.

(You may recall earlier this fall, when there was debate about whether it was okay for the Kansas State band to take a crack at its in-state rival, Kansas University – when it wasn’t even the K-State/Kansas game! Never mind the issue of whether that drill formation was the Starship Enterprise or something, um, more personal.)

And third: this sort of thing is not new for the Stanford group.

Earlier yesterday morning, as they passed in review for the national-TV cameras at the Rose Parade, I watched how they conducted themselves – just the overall dominant impression they offered the average viewer who perhaps was new to the activity – and I posted this on the Facebook machine:

My apologies to everyone in the world… but the Stanford band is everything about band that I wish would just. please. stop. (Unearned swagger, for openers.)

But it goes back further than that. A lot further. And a lot less “oh, they’re just college kids”. There’s a history here.

There’s even a history on my social media timeline. When the Facebook algorithms told me that I had a few memories from past New Year’s Days to review and remember, yesterday … turns out those memories were of me making very similar commentary about that same Stanford band organization, exactly two years ago, after it covered itself in something other than glory during that Rose Parade.

So… Stanford… … … where to begin?”

And then, during that year’s Rose Bowl halftime clunker:

Here’s the only reason UMass should stay in Div. I-A: so that one bright shining day, they can play Stanford in a bowl game and put on the definitive halftime clinic.”

And then, I scrolled down further and noted my reactions to their Rose Bowl halftime show on New Year’s Day 2013, just a year earlier than that:

The TV camera angle of the day, for me: in the foreground, the Stanford band playing its halftime show … and in the background, the Wisconsin drumline kneeling on the sideline, their faces clearly reading: ‘…whatever.’”

Final score: Wisconsin wins music and dignity captions; Stanford wins ‘you’ll remember our band tomorrow morning at work’ caption.”

 

Sorry. That’s a whole lot of high-and-mighty dumping on one particular band organization – a band whom I have never actually met; whose rehearsals I have not watched; whom I have not actually experienced in real life. All I’m basing my reactions on … is what I’ve seen on TV and on Internet replays.

But that’s the point: you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

This is what a few bands (Stanford being only the most obvious, yesterday) do: they live inside the bubble that is their own heads, or their own organizations, and remain convinced that it would be best if they played the part of arrogant jackwagons, on the field or on the parade route, because, well, WE think it’s funny, anyway. If you’re offended, or think we could try to bring a better musical product, well, that’s your hangup, dude.

On that subject, Australian philosophy professor Patrick Stokes wrote:

The problem with ‘I’m entitled to my opinion’ is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for ‘I can say or think whatever I like’ – and by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful.”

In fact, however, when you’re a band playing a halftime show, it’s not all about you – even if, yes, you’re the only people on the field and in theory you’re the show. You’re playing for somebody (in this case, an audience), and you’re representing someone other than (larger than) yourself. One hopes that, at the time, you realize it.

Or at least that your leadership does.

The training I’ve received via my college band, and then as part of the Drum Major Academy staff, has had at least as much to do with remembering where you are and what effect you have on other people, as it’s had to do with guiding the lines and playing the notes and hitting the drill dots and wearing the uniform frontwards.

Also, once, I read a high school band’s governing handbook, and it said this:

Let me give you some other things that band does for you. … #3. Citizenship: to develop better citizens for the world of tomorrow by devoloping the traits of responsible citizens today. This may be realized through the mental and physical discipline incurred from the enactment of the program experience. … #4. Service: to lend dignity, color, and atmosphere to certain school and civic events.” [Italics mine.]

Also, I read an interview with Richard Goodstein of Clemson University, and he suggested this to future band directors:

…As the administration you have to make sure that your students are good ambassadors of the university, whether they’re at home or on a road trip. … There are so many different stakeholders that you have to take a wide view and it makes you politically astute about what kind of things will make you successfull beyond the narrower view of just the marching band program.” [Italics, again, mine.]

Finally, of course, the purveyor of my aforementioned training in how best to do band (and, by extension, the rest of life) memorably said this, in an interview:

There are standards — standards of behavior, standards of how to project the image of the band, which is the image of the university, which is of course the image of themselves.”

 

So I guess it just bugs the hell out of me that ninety-nine and a half percent of the college band world is just trying to do things right, to put on a decent show, to not get mocked mercilessly for wearing feathers on our heads, and just generally to get even remotely understood by the general public … And then yahoos like the Stanford band leadership have to go and plan stuff – on-field, pre-meditated stuff – that by extension casts all those darn bands full of dumb college kids, in a really poor light.

And in preparation for yesterday’s Rose Bowl, somebody at Stanford University green-lit that project. Okayed it for viewing by tens of thousands of live witnesses, and by millions of viewers … whose opinions of that school, and that band, and unfortunately band in general, would be shaped by what they were seeing in that moment. And who wouldn’t take the time to go to YouTube or wherever, to find out what the “average” college band performance was. Y’know, just so they could figure out where on that continuum a Stanford-esque show actually sat.

The final nail in the coffin: one of the Drum Major Academy students with whom I had the honor of working, this past summer, leapt onto Facebook and posted a thought that referenced one of our head clinician’s Starred Thoughts which happens to be my favorite:

All hype and no substance makes you a fluffhead.”

There ya go.

So thanks a bundle, Band Whose Mascot Appears To Be A Tree: through your efforts, the concept of band is in the news again, and for the worst reason and in the poorest light. Happy New Year to you, too; but only if that happiness comes in the form of dispensing with the attitude and gaining a little perspective.

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January 2, 2016 Posted by | band, current events, DMA, entertainment, football, GNP, marching band, music, news, social media, Starred Thoughts | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The High Road

Early in my ninth year, I found myself out on my school’s playground, in the grasp of a large galoot whom I had previously thought of as a friendly.

This member of my third-grade class had me by the arm, and was playfully whacking me with his free arm. He was smiling. I was relinquishing my own smile, in exchange for a muttered, “um, hey.”

My classmate’s free arm – the one executing the whacking – was partly encased in a cast. Being as this was during the early days of the Gerald Ford administration, it wasn’t one of those lightweight flexible air-cast things that are used nowadays.

His wrist and forearm were encased, basically, in shaped rock.

It kinda hurt.

I let this go on for a few days, turning the other cheek, taking the high road … and then one night I told my parents about it all, over supper.

My non-violence-espousing, turn-the-other-cheek, do-unto-others, decent parents did something that totally, utterly shocked me.

They signed me up for karate lessons.

Several wintry months later, I had completed a series of Saturday mornings in which I got used to the idea of making violent contact with other human beings – in a controlled and disciplined environment. That was entirely outside my experience (except, perhaps, for the disagreements I had with my younger sister, and even those wrestling matches I usually lost).

But aside from some sparring matches during which I was out of my league – somehow, the instructor thought I was good enough to compete with a couple of otherwise genuinely friendly boys who were a solid belt-color-level above me, which ought to tell you more about the instructor than it tells you about me or my competition – I actually was really good at making contact. And performing those pantomimical forms – downward block, punch, kick, upward block, discount double-check… And I even made those hi-yat-su! grunts pretty well (also not a super-large part of my personality).

Recess. Spring day. Playground. Alleged friend. Smile. Grasp. Cast.

Raised eyebrow. Punch in the stomach.

Kid never came near me again.

Last night was the State of the Union speech.

I know. Your head just whiplashed. Stay with me now.

The annual tradition in Washington, on a Tuesday evening each January since Woodrow Wilson was president, is for the president to ascend the speaker’s platform in the House chamber of the US Capitol and address a joint session of Congress, to give a brief overview of how the last year went, and what plans he (or, someday, she) might have for the coming year.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the Capitol building. Two summers ago, I was there as a tourist. Along with my tourist compatriots, I felt an undeniable need to maintain an air of dignity and decorum in the midst of the truly impressive surroundings of our nation’s loftiest legislative location. Beyond my thoughts about all the truly momentous people who had strode through those corridors, all the important decisions that had been made in that building, all the important quotes from American history (“a day which will live in infamy”) that had been launched from that podium … the place has décor that kinda demands that people behave very well indeed.

You’d think so, anyway.

During President Obama’s first State of the Union address, a Republican member of the House of Representatives shouted “you lie!” in response to one of the President’s assertions. It drew an audible gasp from a large portion of the assembled legislators and spectators. (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shot a stare out in the direction of the outburst that reminded me very strongly of one of my elementary school teachers after a back-row yahoo belched loudly in the middle of silent reading time.) You just don’t do that! … Or, you didn’t. Until now, I guess.

During one of Mr. Obama’s later State of the Union speeches, Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito vigorously shook his head “no”, in response to another of the President’s assertions. Traditionally, Supreme Court justices who attend the speech do not react in any way to the speech, yea or nay – they stare stoically straight ahead. … Or, they did. Until now, I guess.

I don’t recall any such reactions to the assertions of any past President, Republican or Democratic. Members of Congress never treated any President, from Wilson to Bush 43, with anything but applause (from polite to passionate), the occasional standing ovations, and the otherwise ubiquitous quiet deference and focused attention. Even Bill Clinton, whose foibles got him into various versions of hot water with the press, the public, and his Congressional colleagues, wasn’t treated like this. It has always been understood that, well, we’ll present the opposition-party response to the speech, and we’ll go on “Meet the Press”, and we’ll write op-eds, and we’ll get back at him that way.

Until this Administration, I guess.

Last night, on the way to a larger assertion, Mr. Obama began a paragraph with the preparatory clause, “I have no more campaigns to run, …”

A significant number of legislators applauded sarcastically. As if this were a middle-school assembly and a kid running for student council president was making his campaign speech and screwing it up.

At this moment, the President had a choice.

He could have proceeded with the rest of the paragraph, trying to make his hecklers (hecklers!?) look bad by just ignoring the interruption and trusting the American public to write its elected representatives and chastise them themselves.

Yeah, not likely.

He could have stopped, looked out at the clapping Congresspeople, and (as he has done at some other public events) gently murmured, “now, come on, we don’t have to do that.” Whatever has been his way of dealing with people in private, which we really cannot know, this “let’s all be civil here” reasonableness has been his public personality, over the course of his time in office. Once, he offered a couple of demonstrators the opportunity to talk with him after his speech was over, and then made good on that offer, directing the Secret Service to bring the men backstage so they could present their case to him in person.

He could have taken the low road. Gotten actively angry in the middle of that speech. Or, today, in his first speech after last night’s address, he might have lashed out at the Republican-controlled House or Senate. After six years of having bitten his tongue hard, of taking the high road, one might have forgiven him for having a brief moment of “…are ya kidding me?”

For six years, Mr. Obama has taken it on the chin from his political opponents, consistently and relentlessly. Sometimes they’ve been needlessly personal. Often the name-calling has been hilariously contradictory (you can’t be a feckless, weak President and a dictator at the same time, friends).

And often the policy arguments have been contradictory, too. In the first day after the capture of the mastermind behind the Libyan embassy attacks last year, the President’s opponents criticized him both for not achieving the capture soon enough and for rushing to capture the man so Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could trumpet the success during her appearance on Fox News the following night.

I have the feeling that if the President were to suggest that the sky was blue, someone would pout, “well, it’s cloudy where I’m standing.”

The President has endured attacks on his wife. For transgressions such as, she’s showing too much of her (frankly ripped) upper arms … she looks like she’s rolling her eyes at the Speaker of the House during a state dinner …too this, too that, pick, pick, pick …

But at least Mrs. Obama is an adult and by way of being First Lady, she’s a public figure and therefore, in terms of criticism, will be an eligible receiver. It happens. Same goes for being the actual President. You’re thin-skinned and hopelessly naive if you make it to the White House and still don’t get that.

The President has endured attacks on his kids. (Ostensibly as a way of attacking him. This is what some of his critics think of as clever.) This has traditionally been kinda frowned upon. Leave the kids out of it, as has been suggested in this space previously. Even so, the President has refrained from explaining to the critics of his children at just which bus stop they need to step off.

I admire this. If it were me, and my niece and nephew were treated like Malia and Sasha have been treated on occasion, I would be sorely tempted to recall my third-grade karate lessons.

So, in some small way, I was disappointed last night, when the President didn’t pause, look out at the Congress, and say something like, “…–Really?” Or…

Are you fking kidding me?” Or…

At some point in your miserable, politics-of-personal-destruction, inexplicably-elected lives, are you actually going to attempt to portray grownups?” Or…

Do you not see where you are, what responsibilities you’ve been elected to carry out, how many people across the world are watching how you behave and who you are?” Or…

Do I have to pull this Congress over?”

He didn’t, though.

This morning, he’s being lauded in many quarters for distributing what Slate.com called an “instantly legendary ad-libbed burn”:

He looked out, raised an eyebrow, clearly looked as if his thought bubble was reading, “oh, I get it. We’re still playing that game. It’s still gon’ be like that”, and went off-script. Question: how do I know I have no more campaigns to run? Answer:

I know, ’cause I won both of them.”

He will take truckloads of, forgive me, crap for that, in certain other fair ‘n’ balanced quarters, by the end of today. (“Disgracing the office of the President!”, no doubt.)

And it wasn’t probably as satisfying to the President as “going off on them” would’ve been.

But a little satisfying.

I don’t know; maybe this morning he’s regretting not taking the high road and just ignoring it all.

I didn’t regret that punch in the stomach. But I’m not the President, and I haven’t spent the last six years being called a Fascist Nazi Kenyan Socialist Muslim usurper.

This essay has nothing to do with politics. I promise. And it has nothing to do with whether I’m a big fan of the President, or a big detractor.

This has to do with standards of behavior.

It reminded me of a quote which has been one of my favorites for a long time, and speaks to this moment rather eloquently, if unintentionally.

It wasn’t one of his Starred Thoughts™; instead it was a quote from a magazine interview with the director of my alma mater’s band. In it, he was describing the culture that had been built, over the course of many years, that allowed him to not worry about what first impression his band was going to give people when it went on the road for an away football game, or a parade, or an exhibition, or a rest-area stop for food, or whatever.

There are standards — standards of behavior, standards of how to project the image of the band, which is the image of the university, which is of course the image of themselves.”

One could say that a lot of our elected officials “could stand to improve” on that front … except that their unlikeliness to improve is given away by their pesky ol’ body of work.

January 21, 2015 Posted by | current events, government, news, Starred Thoughts | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Manipulation

I’m a man.

(Given that this is not a blog written anonymously, this may not come as a surprise. Only a tiny level of detective skill will be required of you to keep from falling over in shock. You know you were thinking that. Admit it.)

And, given my particular orientation, given the direction that I do face, … well, there are some sights that make me go all wobbly a bit more than other sights. Maggie Gyllenhaal, far more than her brother Jake, por ejamplo.

I’ve been known to watch movies, watch television programming, look at newspapers and magazines, and hmph! in admiration of what used to be known, at least in those thrilling days of yesteryear, as the fairer sex. (Nowadays, they might smack you for saying that. Try to be complimentary…!)

More and more, it cannot be assumed that those objects of my admiration are looking back at me with an equivalently high opinion … whether via genetics or just, well, I ain’t exactly Clark Gable most days.

Clark who?… never mind. Move on.

Anyway, this morning, when I clicked upon a proferred video link, I got a chance to mentally pat myself on the back. Good show!

The link took me to a website whose purpose seems to be the offering up of videos designed to astound, amaze, infuriate, or all of the above … and thereby amplify a particular point its creators wish to make. Today’s video featured the headline: “See Why We Have An Absolutely Ridiculous Standard Of Beauty In Just 37 Seconds”.

Click! and away we go: time-lapse photography of a woman climbing onto a bench in a photographer’s studio, wearing a certain (tiny) amount of strategic clothing, for the obvious purpose of being a model. I thought I knew what was to come: when fashion models are being photographed, a great deal of effort goes into simulating reality. These are absolutely natural things that these absolutely natural people are doing absolutely naturally! It’s as if there’s not even a photographer here! … Or at least we hope that the people passing by the fashion magazine racks on the way to the supermarket cashier aren’t thinking about how fabricated that simulated reality actually was, at the time.

(Hey, I’ve seen the Austin Powers movies. “You’re an animal! … aaaaaaand … we’re done. I’m spent.”)

I will admit: while I’ve always had a sense that this was not how these people looked when they got up in the morning! … I’ve never really given much thought to the possibility that that might really, really, really be true, in ways I hadn’t thought of.

We now have the computer technology to make art not just imitate life, but improve upon it in a pixilated way. Or, to be more precise, we now have ways of making art “improve” upon real life, according to someone’s idea of what beautiful and perfect are.

Recently I posted some thoughts about society’s concept of beauty and attractiveness, and probably spent about two thousand more words on it than I really needed to. And here was proof of that: just thirty-seven seconds of video.

So where were we? Oh yes … Click! and away we go: time-lapse photography of a woman lying chest-down on a photography studio bench, head and upper body held upright by her elbows and forearms, feet crossed directly above her flexed knees, looking sharply to her left into the camera lens … having her photograph taken … and then having her image adjusted via the magic of Photoshop or whatever higher-end computer-generated imaging technology was being used, so as to make her more attractive (again: to someone who decides these things for us).

Here’s a list of physical preparations and adjustments, made in the first fifteen seconds of accelerated video:

[] facial makeup is applied (you may be pleased to know that I really have no idea what all that consists of) (I thought “foundation” was what held my house up)

[] blonde, shoulder-length hair is curled and otherwise teased to appear windblown and considerably more reflective of light

[] further makeup is applied to all other exposed skin (and there is a TON of it) to reduce the incidence of the studio lights’ glare reflecting off the model, presumably to keep her from appearing to be unattractively sweaty

[] hair extensions are attached, such that its full length, draped over her far (right) shoulder, now nearly reaches the inside of her elbow

Then the photograph is actually taken.

Now here’s the list of further computer-assisted adjustments, shown in the remaining 22 blinding seconds of video:

[] marks and blotches are computer-tagged and “removed” from the model’s face

[] a triangular area around the nose is tagged and reduced, making the nose appear slightly smaller (can’t have large noses)

[] lips are “painted” to seem slightly fuller and darker in color

[] a circular area around each eye is tagged and adjusted to make her eyes appear (unnervingly) larger (although admittedly not as large as this Star Trek character’s), and to angle the very end of her right eyebrow slightly upward

[] just to the left of each iris is placed a computer-enhanced light-reflection

[] the shoulder nearer the camera is Photoshopped to appear slightly raised from its original position, making the upper arm’s angle closer to vertical

[] further blotches and areas of skin-color difference along the ribcage and lower back are tagged and removed

[] the lower outline of the upper arm just below the armpit is trimmed slightly

[] the outline of the midriff is trimmed subtly (in such a way that gravity appears to have slightly less impact, and also such that her abdomen could not possibly contain all the internal organs that a human reasonably requires)

[] similar trimming is done to the upturned backs of the thighs

[] the area extending from hips to knees is highlighted and the upper legs lengthened (unnerving to slow that down and see someone’s upper legs being stre-e-etched, even if it’s a computer imaging operation and not the Spanish Inquisition or one of the lesser Star Trek movies)

[] similar trimming is done to the back of the calf furthest from the camera, and also the soles of both feet

[] selected toes are shortened to make them proportionate to big-toes and pinky-toes on each foot

[] more trimming is done to the calf closer to the camera (making it so narrow that it would have a hard time supporting the model’s weight if she wished to chuck the whole idea and walk out at this point)

[] the area extending from knees to elevated feet is highlighted and similarly lengthened

[] the neck is highlighted and similarly lengthened, raising the head a bit higher than heads normally can be raised

[] more trimming is done to the right side of the neck (the side that, as the model looks left, is further from the rest of her body)

[] extra computerized glossiness is added to the hair

[] an extra layer of luster is added to the cheekbones, and the forearms … and the upper arms … and the torso … and the upper legs … and the lower legs … (because clearly all the work done by the studio lighting people was insufficient)

And pow. Natural-born beauty.

Something that only struck me as I ran little bits of this video at a time, trying to account for every little adjustment that was made “in post-production”, was this horrible thought: those 22 seconds of accelerated, nearly Keystone-Kops-frantic activity probably represent hours of work by a computer imaging artist who was looking at the original image and thinking, “nope … too short, too thick, too dull, too blotchy, too this, too that, not enough this, not enough that …”

Passing judgment on somebody, because, according to somebody’s stringent rules of beauty (a/k/a what sells), what God gave ya – which might arguably have been in the upper percentiles to begin with! – just ain’t good enough.

Dimly, I wonder what those computer airbrusher people look like. Ah! sweet irony: statistically, it’s likely that they look more like Kent Tekulve than Kent McCord. (Look them up. Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher vs. co-star of “Adam-12”. Go on.)

 

You will recall that I was busy patting myself on the back. I should get back to that, because it’s why I decided to go on about this in the first place.

After seeing the video for the first time this morning, I naturally loaded it again, so that (no! That’s not why! Stop it!) … so that I could see where the process had all started; what did that model look like at the beginning, again?

And I got my answer. And no, it wasn’t quite as “Baywatch” as the end result of all that techno-artistic jiggery-pokery. But I also remembered what my thought had been when I first saw that model, before the studio lights went on, before the pose happened, before the photo was shot, and before any of the adjustments were inflicted.

I clearly remembered an American man (still half-asleep, so somewhat less likely to have a filter in place) looking at that initial image and thinking:

Oo. She’s purdy.”

A Neanderthal reaction? Well, faintly, perhaps. But on first and second glance, and on third and fourth glance too, and then again this evening as I’ve been writing this … she reminded me of a lot of my friends (which, I know, has the potential to sound really mean, and they know I don’t mean to be mean. At all).

No, but really: outwardly, that model reminded me happily of my friends: perfectly fine-looking humans. With flaws, because that’s what humans have. With imperfections, because that’s what humans have. (Looking frankly tired … because maybe the photoshoot was early in the morning, or because maybe she was just arriving from one of her other part-time jobs that paid not quite enough to make ends meet, and certainly didn’t include medical benefits.) And, still, attractive, damn it.

And we haven’t even talked about what these people are (and what that model could well be) like.

On balance, I think I was just a little happier with myself than I’d have been, had I not actively thought that, first, before seeing the borderline-anime final product of the computer airbrushing. Before seeing the manipulation.

People can be beautiful without all that stuff. Or even in spite of it, I bet.

November 1, 2013 Posted by | media, technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments