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

Odd Ducks Wearing Feathers On Our Heads, Part 2 -or- This Blog is Burning

Well, it’s happened.

The age-old rivalry betwixt the Jocks and the Band Geeks, once again, has been renewed.

In this instance, a sports commentator has used what scant notoriety he has, to make sure everyone knows what side of that rivalry he’s on.

During yesterday’s Rose Bowl halftime show, Jim Rome posted on his Twitter account … this:

Is there anyone not in a marching band who thinks those dorks running around with their instruments are cool?”

Predictably, many band-affiliated people rose mightily to their own defense. And they had every right to do so. Some recalled that this wasn’t the first time Mr. Rome dipped his toe in this particular pool; the last time, he got a similar barrage of righteously-indignant response … thereby getting the attention he so desperately craved.

Mr. Rome works in the particular antechamber of the televised-sports business in which people can dedicate their whole professional lives to passing judgment on other people. In many cases, commentators’ relatively small group of dittohead followers nod and say, “he’s sayin’ what I’m thinkin’. We must be right.”

And sports is now big business; therefore it is Very Important. By extension, the people associated with it, who report on it, and who hurl opinions about it into the electronic ether, are also Very Important. At least, in their own minds. But it’s okay. Everyone should have a resilient self-image.

On occasion, I’ve heard sports-talk radio and TV hosts’ commentary veer into subjects other than sports (politics, the opposite sex, and such). With few exceptions, these instances have only revealed that these people maybe ought to stick to sports.

Gah. Already I’ve committed WAY too much blog “air time” to this. That means, sadly, that Jim Rome has gotten more attention from me than he usually gets, which is to say, more than none at all.

I admit, today I went from being “ready to righteously bash heads” in defense of one of my favorite art forms and its perpetrators … to being “happier just to let it go and move on with life” … and finally, now, to realizing that all those “dorks” that Jim Rome opined about yesterday are so far ahead of him that it’s as if they’re not on the same race track. And he doesn’t even know.

Our society has determined that athletics is a realm to be admired. In school, the Jocks most often represent the “popular” clique. Not nearly so much, the bandos or the choir kids. “Drumline” and “Glee” aside, the musicians tend to keep their heads down and carry out their art quietly, only popping up during winter and spring concert season and … well, during halftime.

And yeah, we get it. We wear odd-looking uniforms with strange headgear and run around on a football field in strange formations. So much less cool than the odd-looking uniforms and strange headgear that the footballers wear while running around on a football field in strange formations …

As such, we band geeks are so over trying to make like we’re “cool”, whatever the definition of cool is this week.

In the short term, when they push the trombone-case-carrying kids into the lockers and laugh, the football jocks feel like Big Men On Campus.

In the long term, though, when those football players can’t play anymore because they’re too old and too banged-up and not even on a Campus anymore … the music kids are playing in community bands and singing in church choirs until they’re frickin’ ninety-nine years old.

As a great philosopher once said, “After 9/11, they cancelled football games; but they scheduled concerts.”

But again, I’m spending far too much time on this. And I’m poisoning my own well in doing so.

I am reminded of a couple of that same philosopher’s expressions, which nicely reduce this little jock-snark-vs.-marching-arts spat to its essential truth.

One of the wise Thoughts With A Star Next To It: “There are two types of people in the world: contributors, and contaminators” … and then, a similar and even more concise Thought.

Be a builder, not a wrecker.”

I think I know which one of those Jim Rome is.

January 3, 2015 Posted by | band, Famous Persons, football, Internet, marching band, music, social media, sports, Starred Thoughts, Twitter | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sweeping Statements

Since the summer, observers of American current events have been treated to instance after instance of violent confrontations between police officers and members of the public.

There are lots of issues to be debated, and resolved. Race relations, police behavior, the militarization of police departments, “living while black” … plenty of issues to work on, and sadly, plenty of people who are either reacting or bloviating out of fear, or prejudice, or lack of information besides their own upbringing, or (to me, most awful) the genuine need to capitalize on these issues for their own political or personal self-aggrandizement.

Today, I’m not going to try to tackle any of those issues here, … well, except one.

One of the challenges of the recent national strife concerning police behavior, for me, has been this: while I’m not sure it’s just a very tiny few “bad apples” amongst our nation’s legion of law enforcement personnel, I certainly can’t bring myself to whitewash ALL police.

At one time, I could have said something like, “all my interactions with police – the occasional getting-pulled-over for traffic-violations, or my conversations with the resident police officer in the public schools in which I’ve worked, or my interactions with police officers on duty at football games wherein I’ve been the band director, or whatever – have featured officers who have been polite and decent, even if sometimes they’d needed to be tough and enforce the law, etc etc.”

Forgive me, but for my entire life, I’ve been white and suburban. Forgive me, but I’ve never been a person of color during these encounters. I don’t know what that’s like, and therefore it’s never been a factor in my life. I admit this freely.

So I can’t as easily say, “well, my experience tells me that only a tiny fraction of the police community suffers from whatever it is that makes people mistreat other people.” My sample size is too small to constitute a statistically viable survey.

Meantime, I can’t whitewash all police, for the same reason that I’d love to ask certain people (in my life and in the mass media) if they know any gay persons, Muslim persons, etc., personally? Because if they did, they might not make so many blanket statements about them, and might sound more informed and perhaps sound (be?) more empathetic. You’re talking like you know everything you need to know, and I don’t think you do.

So here’s why I can’t whitewash: I can think, right off the top of my head, of four people I knew personally before they were various forms of police officer (campus-, city-, and state-).

One of them, I marched with in college. We were both reed players. Our band director was pretty big on suggesting (and modeling) positive traits. “Band is a place for everyone,” and all that.

Two of them, I got to work with when they each were members of the Drum Major Academy “Impact team”, the group of collegiate band members who assisted DMA staff with instruction and logistical support. A place wherein they, too, were called upon to suggest and model. And they were both drum majors at the University of Delaware, as it happens; so they learned from the DMA’s founder and from one of his very most effective students.

And the fourth one, who just very recently joined a major metropolitan police force, grew up in the church wherein I gig (he’d played drums for us since he was 13) and is the son of one of our choir singers, himself one of the finest people with whom I’ve had the good fortune of making music.

Each of them were “raised” by quality people in quality environments, environments which emphasized “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you”, and Starred Thoughts, and other such concepts that help to turn them, I would posit, into decent people who are now doing a very difficult job.

So I thought of them this week, when two New York City police officers were shot to death in their squad car. And when two Las Vegas police officers were murdered as they ate lunch in an outdoor restaurant, last spring. And whenever I see a State Police officer pull someone over on the interstate, not knowing who he or she might find in the driver’s seat, or what that driver might be carrying, or what state of mind that driver might be in. I sure as hell thought of them when those bombs went off at the Boston Marathon, nearly two years ago. For these people, their job is to run toward trouble – and, all too often, trouble can run toward them.

And I thought of their family members, who absolutely all the time live with the sense that today might be *that awful day*.

And I’ve thought of all of them as I’ve watched news coverage of the incidents in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, and now Berkeley, Missouri – and as I’ve watched news coverage of the protests that have ensued, violent or not.

This is not to say that there isn’t one hell of a problem out there, not merely brewing but in full bloom. Not easy to know just what to do … do we just stand by and let it happen without raising a lot of questions? How, and how loudly, do we raise those questions? Where necessary, do we raise a lot of hell? And how might we do that, while still acknowledging that there are good and decent people “on the force” who don’t deserve the abuse that some protestors are heaping upon them?

But these particular friends of mine in blue have relatively recently entered a profession which is a challenge to begin with. For the most part, police deal with members of the public who are having really bad days. Of all the people who have to be “at their best when things are at their worst” …!

And right now, they may have much more intense opportunities to see whether in fact those Starred Thoughts and scriptural admonitions can be put to good use.

Not an easy job, either.

December 24, 2014 Posted by | civil rights, current events, DMA, news, Starred Thoughts | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment