I was a seventh grader when the trombone first entered my life.
I suppose my mother thought I had the trombone gene since her father played one in the orchestra.
I remember coming home from school when my adoring mother proudly introduced me to the instrument that almost destroyed my life.
“What’s this?” I stood looking at a big black case.
“Open it up,” my mom could hardly hold back her excitement. She was grinning from ear to ear and pushed me toward the eerie looking black case.
I walked over, opened the case, and there glittered a heavenly golden trombone.
“We’ve signed you up for the school band; the teacher told us they could use another trombone player.”
“Go ahead, give it a toot,” mom said.
I picked up the trombone, slid in the mouthpiece, took a deep breath and blew into it with all the might of a seventh grader. I produced no sound.
“It’s broken,” I said.
“It takes a lot of practice to produce beautiful sounds,” mom proclaimed.
I spent the evening blowing into the trombone until I produced something that sounded like a bullfrog with the flu.
Other than proudly carrying the big black case around school to show off I was a band member my music career took a quick nosedive. Turns out I was the only beginner in the band.
I had the uncanny ability to imitate the boy sitting next to me. Wherever he moved his trombone slide I moved mine. I found this technique worked easier than memorizing notes.
It worked great until the teacher gave me a lesson about the different chair positions to the laughter of the band students.
“You must learn to read your musical notes!” The band teacher scolded.
Let’s see, the notes were written on a musical staff. There were flat’s, natural’s, and sharp’s. Then there were whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, eighth notes, sixteenth notes and don’t forget your timing and tempo.
The band instructor pounded his music stand to get our attention, started a metronome, (for my benefit) and lifted his baton. The wand came down and like magic the band began to play.
I kept the trombone pressed against my lips and looked around. Some kids played, others rested, they seemed to take turns playing while the band teacher franticly pointed and waved his baton around.
I decided to take a break with the string instruments and began to empty my spit valve. I was almost finished when I looked up to see a red faced conductor pounding his music stand in earnest. The band stopped playing and the teacher walked slowly towards me. He reached out and stopped my metronome.
“What are you doing?” he quipped.
“Just emptying my drool trap,” I said.
I don’t know why the room erupted in laughter or why the teacher thought I had crossed some unidentified boundary.
That would be my last day in band. My mom sadly returned my rented trombone to the music store that evening. It took a month for her to get over the shock that I would never play a trombone this side of heaven.
Tragically, I will never forget the humility of my trombone days.
I recently read that the Roman writer and statesman Boethius invented the musical staff in 500 AD. The article stated that he was executed in the latter part of his life.
I wonder if his execution had anything to do with the musical staff.
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