Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Would-Be Musician Finds the Right Fit

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Would-Be Musician Finds the Right Fit

Article excerpt

Nobody's dreams are immune to change. When I entered high school in 1952, my father wanted me to play football. My mother wanted me to become valedictorian. I wanted to play trombone in the marching band. I saw myself parading on the sunny field in blue and gold, knees pumping, trombone flashing, and girls - particularly Ellen from English class - watching me with adoration.

I didn't own a trombone and didn't know how to play one, but our music department taught students any of the school's instruments. When I applied, Mr. Franks, the music teacher and bandmaster, said, "Great, we can always use another trombone. How long have you played?"

"Well, never."

"No trombone?"

"No."

"Any instrument?"

"No."

"Can you read music?"

"No."

"We've got work to do."

"Yes, sir."

"First," he said, "you'll have to go to a music store and buy your own mouthpiece." This took some persuading of my parents, who didn't see a trombone fitting their dreams of football and scholarship. That done, Mr. Franks admitted me to the band room. It was filled with drums, trumpets, clarinets, trombones, and a few instruments I couldn't identify.

"Pick a trombone, " he said.

There were eight, all in cases. I opened one, lifted the instrument to approximately playing position, waggled the slide a few times, then returned it to its case. I did the same with the other seven.

"What's the problem?" he asked.

"They smell funny."

"What do you mean, 'funny'?"

"They smell ... brassy ... metallic. It's pretty awful. I don't think I want to play them."

Mr. Franks had obviously spent his musical career concerned with how instruments sounded, not how they smelled, but he picked up a trombone and tentatively sniffed around the outside of the bell. Then he tried two more.

"You're right. Metallic. Maybe it's the polish we use. Or don't."

He pondered a moment, then brightened. "Well, you've already bought the mouthpiece and you can't return it - but it also fits the euphonium, and we need one in the band."

"What's a euphonium?"

"It's like a small tuba. It has almost the same range as a trombone, but it's all coiled up and has valves you press instead of a slide. …

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