Welcome to Songlearning.com!
Gary Robert Hammond — born to Alexander Sinclair Hammond and Wynne Davis Hammond, both professional singers in the Hollywood movie and sound studios in the 1930s who then became music teachers in the 1940s — grew up in music. He played piano at an early age, turned to trumpet through high school, college and a 2-year stint in the 49th Army Band in Italy, then went on to graduate from San Diego State University in 1963 where he was active in the Phi Mu Alpha Glee Club, the orchestra and the choirs under his mentor, J. Dayton Smith.
In his high school years he enjoyed leading his Palm Springs High School tennis team to a county championship in his senior year, and graduated in 1955 with the Bank of America Music Award, while the choir director (his father) looked on proudly.
He was fortunate to know, at the tender age of 16, that he wanted to become a music teacher, and that deep conviction sustained him when people would try to tell him, "You'll never make a living as a music teacher!" Ha! He had to exam out of his final year of college early because of a job that was urgently calling him.
After a year and a half of teaching band and choir at a private high school in Idyllwild (above Palm Springs in the mountains), he and his wife, Ann, and their family — of what would eventually be three boys and a girl — moved to Vista in north San Diego County and began his 32-year teaching career in public education in nearby San Marcos. He felt that the next five years of teaching bands and choirs in a small, rural community were definitive as he traveled between four schools building a small band program into a large, prospering one, and creating a vital choral program where there had been none. He felt that he learned how to teach in those five years, and was ready, at that point, to move on to bigger challenges in the Vista Unified School District.
After 10 years of teaching both bands and choirs, he had an opportunity to switch to teaching only choirs while at Lincoln Jr. High (7-8-9) in Vista, and took it. He truly enjoyed his years at Lincoln, where he began experimenting with the idea of rehearsal tapes. He has special memories of teaching and directing the Honor Glee — 40 outstanding 8th & 9th grade girls who gave their hearts and souls to the production of beautiful singing. He also appreciates the mentoring and friendship of his principal, Paul "Red" Brostrom, an excellent leader of teachers.
The last 9 years of his 32-year teaching career were spent at Vista High School, where he enjoyed the challenge of maintaining the quality that his friend and predecessor, Don Bursvold had built up over many years of earning Superior Ratings at festivals. Gary remembers with great fondness the many happy times with the Meistersingers — his small ensemble of 24 hand-picked Juniors and Seniors who sang 40-50 gigs a year for community groups, as well as the Panther Choir — the Jr./Sr. choir which sang Mozart and Brahms so beautifully at festivals.
Along the way he found special enjoyment in singing the baritone roles in the San Diego north county oratorio scene. His favorites were Elijah, Carmina Burana, and Messiah, which he sang with the larger churches in the area (notably the First Presbyterian Church in Oceanside, under the capable baton of William Atkinson and the talented musicianship of his organist and wife, Charlotte Atkinson) as well as the nearby community college music departments (most often with Mira Costa College under the able directorship of Jeff Sell, then later with good friend Jim Shepherd).
He also enjoyed teaching private lessons on brass instruments early on, and then private voice lessons during the many years that he specialized in teaching choirs. In 1990 he switched emphasis from teaching private voice lessons to further developing his growing catalog of major works for Songlearning Systems™.
The education scene was changing in California, with the University of California system annually demanding more and more academics for college bound students, to the extent that the arts suffered losses of its best and brightest students who were forced into taking more languages, math, etc., in place of choir and other essential arts classes. This began taking its toll on the quality of the choirs at Vista H.S. As time wore on, Gary saw the writing on the wall and took the option of early retirement when it presented itself. Fortunately, at the same time his Songlearning Systems™ were in greater demand, so that when the time came to hang up his baton, his next major shift in emphasis was already humming along in high gear.
Although he misses certain aspects of his teaching and choir directing career, he truly loves the new challenges of providing quality rehearsal CDs and MP3 Tracks for the many choirs who use Songlearning Systems™ and looks forward to many more years of helping choirs learn their music in a faster, more accurate way!