Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

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

I’m Right, I Presume, Part 2: Addendum

[Ed. note: I got to rather uncharacteristically foaming at the mouth about one tiny little detail of Tuesday’s blog post, the one about the father writing the letter to the principal about school attendance policies.

[I almost, almost posted the following text to my Facebook page after having seen a number of my friends, whom I love dearly, linking to the original article about the letter, seeming to agree with the article’s assessment: that the father had written the Best Letter Ever.

[Characteristically, I sat on my post for awhile, as usual not wanting to fly off the handle. I thought further about it.

[And I’m still as cranky as I was. So. You be the judge…]


All right … I would like to offer an open letter …

To the 15-seconds-of-fame father, the author of that now-viral letter to the school principal which is now being lauded in some quarters as a righteous stick-it-to-the-schoolmarm smackdown, etc etc etc, blah blah blah, Buzzfeed headline uber alles (with apologies to those of my fine FB friends who are linking to it):


Sir, my particular beef with you, in this moment, is separate from the attendance policy issue. In your letter, you wrote,

I can promise you [our children] learned as much in the five days we were in Boston as they would in an entire year in school” …

and then, shortly thereafter, you wrote,

We appreciate the efforts of the wonderful teachers and staff and cherish the education they are receiving at [our children’s] Elementary School.”

On behalf of teachers everywhere who are frankly getting it done in spite of challenges that both have and have never been seen before, I say this: you can either say the first sentence, or you can say the second, but damn it, you can not say them both in the same letter without being revealed as a hypocrite.

If you can’t keep yourself from hurling snark at the professionals who are educating your children, then pull your kids out of school, set up a GoFundMe account and open the Montgomery County Academy for the Blessed.

I’m sick and tired of hearing abuse come out of the mouths and keyboards of people and thinktanks who know everything they need to know about educational practice because they went to school when they were kids.

May 1, 2015 Posted by | education, teachers | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A News Item That Makes My Eye Twitch, Part #1

[Being a new semi-regular feature of the blog, wherein your humble correspondent deals briefly with a current event which would otherwise cause him to go out in the street and throw stuff, if he didn’t have said blog.]


This week, South Carolina state senator Tom Davis posted a link on his Facebook page to an article entitled “Liberal Union Attacking School Choice in SC”. The article’s summary said this:

“SC School Board Association fighting school-choice program for ‘exceptional needs’ students. Both R’s and D’s acknowledge this program — available to kids with Downs Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Asperger’s, Autism, etc. — delivers better results at a lower cost, but ‘professional educators’ don’t like losing control, so they oppose it. They should be ashamed.”

And one of the comments posted below the link said this:

“I educate my children all day every day. A piece of paper doesn’t make them [teachers, referred to sarcastically in the original post as “’professional educators’”] any more knowledgeable about my own children than I am. *I* know what’s best for my children.”

Hm. I’m about to take that quote slightly out of its original special education context (I think it’s fair game, since the commenter didn’t specifically indicate that she was dealing with special-ed students either) and apply it to the larger world. Because as much as the actual article dealt with specific special-ed programs and such … the comment strikes me as emblematic of a larger issue.

I might be addressing lots of folks here, from home-school advocates to teacher-bashers to budget-setters and beyond. Not to get petty, but do you know what that “piece of paper” connotes? Competence.

And an investment in learning the skills and strategies and philosophies of education. Teaching, when it’s done well – which is a hell of a lot more than these education reform jockeys would like you to believe, and often under more daunting conditions than these for-profit charter school pushers will ever, ever see in their whole teaching (or, more likely, administrative) lives – is more than a gig. It can be a vocation … a calling.

The middle sentence of that last paragraph was a ferocious run-on sentence. I can hear my English teachers gettin’ after me for that one. Hard to follow. Takes extra work to dissect. Readers will bail out. Know how I know? Because my teachers taught me that.

That “piece of paper” also connotes the ability to educate more than one student at a time. Because there are more students out there in the world than just yours, and they all have the right to a complete education. And there may actually be things in the world that are worth knowing that they may never learn about, either through presenters’ ignorance or willful omission. Please note the recent dogged interest, in some parts, in cleansing the AP US History curriculum of any mention of when this great nation of ours screwed up. Must emphasize blind patriotism over, say, taking lessons from our imperfect history.

And do you know what “[teachers] don’t like losing control” really means? It means teachers don’t appreciate their competence and investment and effort and passion increasingly becoming the snark target of certain highly moneyed people and groups, who also (more importantly) gleefully influence education policy, even though they may not have been in a classroom since they themselves were in school. “I think I know all about education because I went to school once.”

Irony alert: if you can put out a press release about those evil teachers that contains proper spelling and grammar and sentence structure … thank a teacher.

Twitch. Twitch twitch twitch.

March 14, 2015 Posted by | education, teachers | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment