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.