Life Builders: Michael Hamm

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Michael Hamm – More Than a Band Director

For my junior high years, my father was stationed at Schofield Barracks on the island of Oahu, in Hawaii. Since the base didn’t have a junior high school, we were bussed into the inland town of Wahiawa, Hawaii. Michael Hamm was my band director at Wahiawa Intermediate for two years and I learned a lot more from him than just typical band stuff.

Wahiawa Intermediate Band 1977

Trumpet Lessons at Lunch

Although I didn’t have formal lessons with Mr. Hamm, I always spent my lunch time in the band room and much of that time was spent practicing my trumpet. Mr. Hamm often gave me pointers during lunch. I remember that my uncle had just bought me my first copy of the Arban book and Mr. Hamm used to help me with that sometimes.

Of course, that was a very long time ago (1976 – 1978) so I don’t remember the specifics of what he taught me specifically for the trumpet. I do remember him pointing me in the right direction for what to practice from the Arban. I know that by the time I left Hawaii, my practice habits were firmly established and I know he had a lot to do with that.

That’s what these Life Builders posts are about. The purpose of this series is to acknowledge those people who have contributed to my success in life. Thirty-five years is a long time to remember details, but I can remember general differenes between the way I was before I went to Wahiawa Intermediate and the way I was afterwards. I often tell my students that their practice habits are far more important than the mechanics of how to play the instrument, and my practice habits first began to mature as a result of Michael Hamm’s influence.

Introduction to Commercial Music

Although we didn’t have a jazz ensemble at Wahiawa, Mr. Hamm was very conscientious about exposing the students to different styles of music. I remember playing music from Star Wars and the Pink Panther. We covered a lot of stylistic basses during that two years. Mr. Hamm didn’t have a purist attitude about the music and I think this helped to shape who I am as a musician today.

I make my living as a freelance trumpet player. Not only am I equally skilled at a wide variety of styles, it’s more than just that. I actually appreciate and enjoy those different styles and the cultural nuances that go with them. I enjoy it when the Hispanic men at the flea market think I am Mexican. I enjoy it when the people at the Klezmer gigs think I’m Jewish. Part of my ability to fit in like that comes from having lived in so many places as a kid growing up as a Army brat. But on the musical side of that, I can trace my freelance roots all the way back to my time with Mr. Hamm in the Wahiawa Intermediate band. Because of him, I don’t turn my nose up at any kind of music.

Intonation and Resonance

I have a very specific memory of one of our last rehearsals before we moved to El Paso. We were rehearsing Komm, Süsser Tod (Come, Sweet Death) by J.S. Bach. When we got to the last chord, Mr. Hamm took the opportunity to tell us about playing in tune and releasing together. He spent a short while tuning the last chord and practicing the release, but when we got it, the chord resonated in the room after the release. It was the first time I had ever experienced that kind of resonance in a band context and to see how excited Mr. Hamm was in his response, it just gave me goose-bumps!

That was the first real band I ever played in. I had taken music classes in elementary school, but the classes were too small to have a band. I count myself blessed that my first band experiences were under the baton of Michael Hamm. I believe he set me on the right course and many wonderful things have happened in my life as a result.

Thank you Mike (ha! it’s still difficult for me to call you that). Thank you for being the one to put me on the right path so early in my career.

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