I couldn’t believe my ears; Mr. B. was looking right at me. ”Please stay to join the Senior Band for practice today.” Oh such sweet music those words carried to my eager, 11-year-old heart.
The Senior Band boasted mostly high school students, plus a scant sprinkling of talented middle schoolers. With one more year of elementary school, my inclusion was no small matter. I, on the other hand, was a small matter, and certainly looked like it sitting in the trombone section next to the high school boys with those long arms. Harmonies blasted forth from a trombone by pushing a well-oiled slide in any of seven positions, while adjusting the embouchure on one’s mouthpiece. I managed six of the seven, but the seventh position was a struggle. To reach a C-sharp I had to, literally, throw the slide out past my reach, leaning around to catch the crossbar before it flew off.
My life with the trombone began in the fourth grade, when Mr. B decided it was time for kids to learn to play instruments. He assured me that my arms would grow into the trombone but I was still waiting when he gave me this opportunity to play some “real” music. We had rehearsed for several weeks when the new challenge came.
“Okay, folks, we need to hit the streets for the next two weeks. The Frontier Days Parade in Sheridan is just around the corner. You know the music; let’s see how you can play while marching.” To my horror, Mr. B. positioned us with the trombones leading the parade, their pint-sized member dead center. Parade practice went okay that day and we did improve as time marched on with us. We tried various John Phillip Sousa songs; the final decision would be made in Sheridan.
Dressed in cowboy hats, white western-cut shirts tucked into blue jeans that flashed faux-silver belt buckles, we tied the red bandana around the neck while listening to final parade instructions. The bats had fled my belfry and were chasing the butterflies out of my belly; my mind was at war with my stomach. The announced piece was the only one with a C-sharp. Street rehearsals had gone okay but this was the real deal.
Knees lifted high, horns swinging in unison with the rhythm, the march music filled the hot July afternoon as the streets lined with clapping spectators cheered us on. So far, so good, I told myself, as we rounded the last corner of the parade and started down the home stretch. Was I suddenly focused on my aching feet, truly grateful that we wore rubber-soled tennis shoes instead of leather-soled boots? Did I have some momentary daydreaming about the tasty barbeque awaiting us at parade’s end? Was I overly confident because I hadn’t made any mistakes? Whatever the reason, the thing I feared most happened.
The C-sharp was upon me before I realized and I let go of the slide. I gripped only air when I reached around to grab the crossbar of the slide, now free of the instrument and flying forward unencumbered. I froze in place right in the street while the band played on. Like a boulder in the path of a rushing stream, the musicians stepped around me, without missing a beat. I simply could not move, my arms still holding the large body of the trombone in place against my lips. In spite of the blaring music, I heard the tender whisper of a familiar voice.
“Get out of the street.” How merciful of Father God to see that my own sister marched in the center of the clarinets. passing by, Donna let go of her reed just long enough to un-freeze her petrified younger sister. Shaking off my stupor, I ran up to retrieve the slide and zigzagged my way through the rest of the band and on to the sidewalk. My little heart was thumping out a double time inside my throbbing chest while crashing cymbals and pounding drums penetrated my head. I was swinging my flexed arms and pumping my legs as hard as I could. With each contact of foot to concrete, my mind sent out the cruel two-syllable assessment: Dum-my, Dum-my.
Slumping down on the hotel steps, head in hand, restored trombone at my side, I waited. I endured only a bit of gentle ribbing, followed by a marvelous western barbeque.
I did march in the next Frontier Days Parade, playing a trumpet.
Author’s Note: This true story happened in July 1960, in case any of you were in Wyoming and saw my flying trombone slide.
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