By the age
of ten I realized I was never going to be a piano virtuoso.
So I quit taking lessons. Maybe it was my poor coordination.
Maybe it was my ADHD. But there was little if any enjoyment
coming from my weekly frustrations at the keyboard. It
was obvious that I didn't have my big brother's piano
skills, so I quit. Less than a year later, however, I
wanted to learn another instrument. Despite the presence
of top and bottom orthodontic appliances, I was encouraged
by my teachers to learn the trumpet which I proceeded
to do with both fervor and blood loss (where the dental
braces cut into my lips). With dedication that I hoped
was worthy of my idol, Satchmo, I applied myself with
two years it began to dawn on my thirteen year old mind
that my skill level at my new and chosen instrument, the
trumpet, was not improving. Rather than fall to the temptations
of quitting again, I actually applied myself. This was
one of the few times in my life that I did this. I went
to all my lessons. I organized impromptu jam sessions.
I tried to join bands. The simple fact was that I sounded
terrible. But I liked it anyway and stayed with it. Bleeding
lips and all. With very little improvement and equally
limited approval from teachers.
played, I heard Satchmo. I imagined myself playing right
alongside Louis Armstrong as Danny Kaye did in The Five
Pennies. I suspect no one else was sharing the dubious
benefit of my duets with the great Louis since I was often
reminded by my peers and teachers alike of my "student"
status. Even after my braces were removed.
In my Junior
year of high school with six years into playing my trumpet
I happened to walk past a used instrument store and saw
a beautiful Vincent Bach Stradivarius in the window. I
had heard of this legendary trumpet but had never seen
one much less played one. I convinced my companions to
come in and further convinced the store owner that I was
indeed a trumpet player. Reluctantly, he handed me the
the valves a few times. This actually does something by
spreading the lubricant around the valves before playing,
but if you're a little afraid of making a fool out of
yourself in front of your friends, this also is a good
way to cover while you look cool.
At last, I
lifted it to my lips. The metal was cool and agreeable
to my touch. The horn was well-balanced. Without hesitation
I launched into an uninspired "C" scale.
good. After all these years for the first time I didn't
sound like a beginner. Encouraged I poured "Birth
of the Blues" through that old horn. One of my friends
uttered words I had never heard from my peers, "Hey,
you're pretty good."
I could really
play the trumpet.
my father of my outing, he surprised me. "Let's see
what we can do," he said simply. In a huge music
store in downtown New York four beautiful, quality trumpets
were laid before me. I was nervous. I definitely did not
want to make a fool out of myself in front of my father.
Had I imagined my performance on that old Strad? I picked
up an Olds Mendez and blew a "C" scale. It was
even better than before. My father seemed impressed, and
I was on top of the world. I played those trumpets for
almost three hours before selecting the Olds.
way home through the New York traffic with my precious
cargo stowed right next to me, my excitement had me chattering
away. "Wow, Pop, this is great! I mean this is really
keen!" (I swear, I spoke like that.) "I can
get gigs and everything now. I'll bet I can start a band
and make some money. You'll see!" I went on in this
vein for several minutes even so far as to compare my
trumpet playing to my brother's prodigious piano skills.
Then my father surprised me again. Characteristically,
if something bothered him, he'd keep it in until some
later event triggered his frustration. It could take months
and countless "lectures" to resolve a single
disagreement. So the immediacy of his response alarmed
me. He pulled our car to the side of the street (no small
feat in Manhattan) and stopped. He turned and looked me
square in the eye.
going to enjoy that trumpet?"
What kind of
question was this? How would I answer? What did he mean?
I stammered, "Uh, yeah, absolutely! It's terrific!"
He pulled the
car back into traffic, smiled and uttered a single word,
"Good." And we drove home.
I still have
that Olds Mendez trumpet my Pop bought for me back in
1963. And I still play it. Although I did spend some years
as a professional musician (using both my trumpet and
my meager piano skills oddly enough), it's been an enduring
symbol for me of what each of us must find in life.
As the Shopping
Hysteria Season wears on, I offer these thoughts.