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On Starred Thoughts & Supporting Each Other

Today I watched an angry group of my fellow UMass alumni gang up on a college student, a young English major and writer for the Massachusetts Daily Collegian named Melissa Mahoney. Melissa recently wrote an article for the Collegian called The Old Chapel: An Empty Symbol. I’m not sure why, but her article sparked a wave of backlash from upset UMass Minuteman Marching Band members and alumni. And I’m embarrassed to count myself among that group tonight.

Before you read any further, here’s a disclaimer.

I know a few angry bandos don’t represent all UMMB alumni. In fact, I heard from more people today who sympathize with Ms. Mahoney than are angry with her. But all it takes is one angry voice to convince the world that the UMMB are loudmouth whiners. So I’m writing this as an indictment of all UMMB alumni in the hope that, since not all of us are loudmouth whiners, maybe none of us will attack people ever again.

If my general indictment of the UMMB alumni offends you, please forgive me. I hope we can still hit them hard, make them fumble, pick up the ball, score a touchdown, win the game, go to Rafters, and drink a beer.

Now, onto the indicting.

The UMMB lives by certain “Starred Thoughts”

Most of the UMMB alumni trained and performed under the late, great George N. Parks. George coined the term “Starred Thought” (at least for our purposes) and preached his philosophies year after year, all across the United States and the world. He held himself to an unfathomably high standard and he held each of his band members there too. We were constantly reminded of George’s rules for carrying ourselves and representing our beloved alma mater. And in the tough times, the moments when composure and compassion matter most, I never saw George fail.

We lost George in 2010 and since then the band has been led by Dr. Timothy Anderson. Dr. Anderson is a vibrant, spirited leader and has immersed himself in the UMMB Way since his appointment in May of 2011. Dr. Tim does a great job living and continuing George’s starred thoughts.

I think the UMMB alumni failed George today. I think we neglected our Starred Thoughts and I think we owe Ms. Mahoney an apology. As noted above, I’m deliberately lumping all alumni into this indictment because, as George taught us, we are always representing the band, the university, and each other. Here are a few Starred Thoughts that bear repeating tonight.

★ Make sure you show support for others before they show support for you.

If we don’t support Ms. Mahoney, who will? As band members, we are ambassadors for the university and for marching bands everywhere. But there’s more to it than that. As people, we are ambassadors for other people. As people, we are part of a community and we must support each other. Withholding your support for others until they support you is cheap and empty. That’s not how we were taught to treat people.

“Make sure you cheer for other bands,” George used to tell us. “If we don’t cheer for the band, who will?” If the UMMB doesn’t support a young Collegian writer, discussing our beloved Old Chapel, then who will?

★ Dedicate yourself to being someone who cares for others.

George Parks dedicated himself to caring for young musicians everywhere. He led thousands and thousands of students during his 33 years as Director of the UMMB. He studied our names and faces so he could hold personal conversations with each of his 400+ members. He inspired countless (probably in the millions) of middle school, high school, and college musicians at his Drum Major Academy and other seminars and camps around the world. He even stayed involved in his alma mater drum and bugle corps, the Reading Buccaneers. I know my window of exposure into George’s life wasn’t very wide or deep, but I never once saw him do anything other than care for others.

The UMMB alumni did not care for Ms. Mahoney today. We did not care for each other. We did not care for our alma mater university. And we hardly even cared for Old Chapel, the supposed victim of the article in question.

★ Do something spectacular so your spirit lights up the room when you leave.

I believe that this is the defining Starred Thought of George Parks’ life. George did something so spectacular that his spirit lights up the marching band world even after he departed from this world. But the point of this Starred Thought, in my interpretation, is that we all have a legacy. Some legacies are longer-lasting and more impactful than others. The legacy we leave is up to us. George left one of inspiration, leadership, positivity, energy, excitement, and enthusiasm.

Today, the UMMB alumni left a legacy of defensiveness and anger. I don’t think the UMMB is lighting up Chapel tonight. And that’s a sad thought.

I’m sorry, UMMB.

I know there will be other UMMB alums out there who disagree with what I’ve said here and may even call me names for sharing my thoughts. And to those people, I truly apologize. I’m not looking for a fight. I’m not trying to win the argument. I believe what I’ve said here and I hope it helps paint the UMMB in a better light than the actions of a few vocal people on Facebook.

I also said on my own Facebook timeline today that “I have never felt a personal connection to Chapel,” and that’s true. I’ve only stepped foot inside the building once. I was lucky enough to scribble my initials on the famed chalkboard, but I have no experiences there to look back on fondly. I recognize and appreciate Chapel as a symbol of the UMMB before my time there and I have a great respect for it for that reason. But for most of you, my Chapel is not the same as your Chapel. I don’t think that matters today, since I’m not writing about Chapel. I’m writing about us. But I suppose you can be the judge of that.

Most importantly, I’m sorry, Melissa Mahoney.

I apologized to Ms. Mahoney in the comments beneath her article, but I think it bears repeating. Here’s what I told her this afternoon:

Hi Melissa, I’m a UMMB alum too. I’m sorry so many people are criticizing you so harshly for this article. I happen to agree with most of the points they made in the comments above mine, but I wish they were nicer to you in how they said it.

Yes, the UMMB loves Chapel very much and we are fiercely protective of its memory and legacy. But this article does not make you our enemy. Thanks for bringing some attention to one of our most beloved spots on campus. I never got to spend much time inside Chapel and I’m glad the university is stepping up to protect its place.

I have spoken directly with Ms. Mahoney since posting my comment and she has been nothing but polite and professional. Thank you for your character and maturity, Melissa. I think you handled today’s deluge with poise and grace. Melissa told me,

I had no intention of insulting the band, ever, at all. A poorly worded sentence has buried me so thoroughly…I only meant that, we don’t know how good we have it until its gone. And I wanted to give the Chapel’s history to the 20,000 students who aren’t in the band, to make them care for a building they are otherwise completely unattached to.

A mutual friend informed me that Ms. Mahoney posted an apology on her Facebook timeline, but I can’t see it due to her privacy settings. I appreciate the sentiment and I feel terribly that some of our alumni base were so harsh to her. So this is my public apology and attempt to make up for what probably turned into a very bad day.

Some further reading

Melissa Mahoney is an author for the Daily Collegian. Here is a list of other articles she’s written. I haven’t read any of her other pieces but if she’s like any of the Collegian writers I knew in college, her other works are probably very good.

Aaron Staluppi, a UMMB alum and former Drum Major, wrote a piece for Halftime Magazine shortly after George Parks’ death in 2010. He wrote about some of the very same Starred Thoughts.

So that’s it.

That’s all I have to say about that. If you’d like to flame me and call me names for expressing my opinion, please feel free to do so in the comments below. I hope that if anyone does comment here, they’ll use their full name and not hide behind a pseudonym. I’ve got a thick skin. Hit me with your best shot.

Update: As expected, I did receive some criticism for posting this. One commenter chose provide a fake name and email address and blast not only me, but also Dr. Anderson and the band in general. I will not approve this comment, as it’s unnecessarily confrontational and incendiary, but I will share one snippet. This is the clearest sentence in the whole (lengthy) comment but I still take issue with it:

As a new band alumni, I have clear memories about hearing the speech about not reacting and staying classy in situations like this. Tragically, times have changed and are nothing like they used to be…

[I’ve skipped a few choice lines here.]

…I wish things were very different, but this is a new era for the UMMB. One where people need to fight and raise their voices.”

Well, mystery commenter, I couldn’t disagree more. Sure, times have changed, but I’m sorry you feel that way. Fighting is not what we need. If you’d like to have a real discussion, please contact me.

13 thoughts on “On Starred Thoughts & Supporting Each Other

  1. Nick Julian

    Great post TJ. I was never part of UMMB, so I had a difficult time understanding why there was such pushback, so your open apology was definitely an item of clarity in a rather “muddy” situation, but then again I’d expect nothing less from a Man of CLASS. Stay well, Brother.

    Reply
    1. TJ Kelly

      Thank you, Nick. I can’t say I totally understand the backlash either. But the UMMB preaches “class” too, so here’s my not-so-subtle reminder. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Nick Weare

    Thank you for reaching out and apologizing on our behalf, i was also saddened by the backlash she got from a few mis-chosen words. There was better ways of going about showing or love for the chapel, but many did not take those ways. I hope people will realize their mistake and learn from it. Thank you

    Reply
  3. Josie Lamb

    Thanks so much for posting this! I’ll admit, I was initially alarmed by the wording of Melissa’s article. However upon closer inspection two seconds after, I did not think she intended to insult the band personally. I’m really hoping the outrage over this fades away quickly.

    a trumpet alum ’08-’11

    Reply
  4. Corey

    I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for speaking up TJ. To all bandos reading this and feel they have to “fight and raise their voices” Remember *you are at your best when things are at their worse* don’t let perceived setbacks ruin what took years to build up.

    Reply
    1. TJ Kelly

      Nick, Josie, and Coey, thank you so much for your comments. It’s refreshing and encouraging to hear words of support from other alumni, especially those I’ve never met. Thank you so much for writing.

  5. Kate Bertelli

    Hi TJ-

    Just wanted to take a moment and share a couple thoughts:

    I couldn’t agree with you more about how one person (or a handful) never represents a group. Each individual has their opinion, and is entitled to it. I also believe that every opinion is stated the way it is because someone cares and feels personal ties to a subject (which is actually a great thing). Some may feel a harsher tone will express deeper care for a subject, while others may disagree. Regardless, that shouldn’t take away from the fact that each person cares about the subject. Though I personally don’t agree with the more direct manner of “sticking it to someone,” in my opinion, the more concerning situation is the interplay among band members past and present.

    I was saddened in reading some comments of UMMB members attacking others, specifically yours, based on how they approached a subject. I thought we were all supposed to be on the same team.

    Like many others, UMMB shaped who I am today, and how I handle life on a daily basis. Everyone feels emotional to their experience with the organization, and that speaks volume of how monumental the program is. How we articulate and show our love for the organization may be different at times, but we are still ONE team, and should never attack our own players.

    I think your entry above (as well as on the collegian) did a great job capturing what you got out of your time in the UMMB, and is commendable. I also think that your articulation of tone to Melissa was spot on. Though others may disagree (and it’s OK to) these are my opinions.

    Without sounding TOO blunt, I’d love to put in two cents and ask for everyone to “take a chill pill” and recognize that our hearts are all in the right place. We all want to express how much love and admiration we have for a program.

    On another note, out of my three years with 350 of my “closest friends” I never really had the opportunity to get to know you individually. I think your diligence to respond respectfully is an example of your character. That being said, I’m sad I missed the opportunity to get to know you a lot better.

    Again, thanks for your thoughts and passion to represent a subject that is so important to us all.

    Reply
    1. TJ Kelly

      Thank you so much, Kate. I see where you’re coming from and I appreciate you saying so. I don’t agree 100% with your comment but, as you pointed out, that’s ok :) Thanks for weighing in.

      Crystal, thank you very much. I’ve heard from several others who said the same thing. I’m happy to share my thoughts when I can. Thank you for your feedback.

  6. Crystal

    TJ, as someone who shares the same sentiment as you, but might not have the ability to speak about it as eloquently, I’d like to say thank you! Melissa doesn’t need this kind of treatment from us. I’m glad you let her know that this isn’t the opinion of the entire group. This isn’t the way we were taught to conduct ourselves in these situations, but maybe some people need to be reminded sometimes.

    I don’t normally comment on these kinds of things but I thought maybe it might be nice to know you have at least one more “thank you” and Melissa has at least one more “I’m sorry”.

    Reply

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