Almost Playing the Trumpet

By Jeffery Cohen

Almost Playing the Trumpet

From the time I can remember, I was in love with the trumpet. I had seen Louis Armstrong on TV, listened to my mother play Harry James records on the Hi-Fi and had decided I, too, could play the trumpet…if I had one. How hard could it be? It only had three valves! It sure sounded simple enough. You press the first valve down…the music goes round and round…oh oh oh oh oh oh…and it comes out here. Unfortunately, the best my kindergarten teacher could offer me in the class graduation band was a triangle. Not a trumpet, but it was better than the alternatives – the blocks or the sticks.

By the time I reached third grade, I was certain the trumpet was for me. Unfortunately, the only instruments available to my third grade class were flute-a-phones. This white, plastic, second or third cousin to the ocarina was a poor substitute for a trumpet, but I patiently waited, biding my time.

When I reached eighth grade, word got around that a school band was being formed under the direction of Mr. Warren, instrumental music teacher extraordinaire. Rumor had it that Mr. Warren had actually played with John Phillip Sousa. No one ever made it clear whether that meant they played in the same band or just shared a see-saw when they were kids, but that didn’t matter to me. All I knew was that Mr. Warren was loaning instruments out to prospective band members, so I got right into the line filtering into the music room. At last, my chance to play the trumpet, I thought, as I watched my friends exit, a grin on their faces, an instrument in hand. After nearly an hour wait, I made my way to the front of the line.

“So, you want to play an instrument?” Mr. Warren asked, raising an eyebrow and twitching his brush of a mustache.

“Yessir.” I beamed. “A trumpet. A nice, shiny gold trumpet.” I grinned.

Mr. Warren shook his head. “I’m sorry, but all the trumpets have already been given out.”

“You don’t understand,” I pleaded. “I love the trumpet. Miles Davis is my idol. Dizzy Gillespie is my hero. I’m even thinking of changing my name to Satchmo!”

Mr. Warren shrugged. “Sorry. The trumpets are gone. How about a nice trombone?”

“Okay,” I shrugged. It was better than a flute-a-phone.

As it turned out, I wasn’t a very good trombone player. To begin with, I had a really tough time learning to read music. I wound up leaning over and listening to the guy on my right, and then I’d try to play what he was playing. Mr. Warren would wave his arms wildly, stamp his feet, and the band would come to a blurting halt. Then he’d stare down at me over his glasses.

“You there. Not only are you playing the trumpet part of the piece instead of the trombone part…but you are playing it badly.”

After six months of trying to read music and dragging that trombone back and forth to school, my father asked me to play a little something for him. I set my sheet music up against a milk bottle on the kitchen table, raised my horn to my lips, took a deep breath and began: Bom, bom… one, two, three, four, I counted, measuring the pauses in the music with the tapping of my foot until it was the trombone’s …bom bom… turn to come in again. One, two, three…bom, bom…slide, two, three, four. That went on for three agonizing minutes before my father stopped me.

“What the heck is that?” he asked.

“Silent Night?” I answered.

“It sure should be,” he said and walked away shaking his head. I had to admit, it didn’t sound much like “Silent Night” to me either.

Two weeks later I sat at a band practice, desperately straining my ear to the girl next to me who was playing the clarinet, just trying to find out where we were. As I stared over her shoulder, my trombone held slack in my hands, the slide slid…down the arm, right off of the horn and hit the cement floor with a crash that sounded like a gong. The ringing finally settled, only to be replaced by a dead silence. Mr. Warren escorted me into the hallway.

“Young man, I already have a cymbal player, and I don’t need another one.” So, I was finished. It was the end of my somewhat musical career.

When I got into high school, I decided it might be safer for me to play football than the trombone, so I tried out for the team. I was only 5’2” tall, weighed 111 pounds and couldn’t read football plays much better than I could read music. It didn’t take long before the coach was escorting me off the field, suggesting I might be better suited to play in the band. Shows what he knew.

I don’t hear much marching band music these days. Once in a while I do catch a few notes from a passing troupe in a parade. Maybe I recognize a song or two during half time at a football game. And when I do, I must admit, there is a certain feeling that awakens in me. With the pounding of the drums and the blaring of the horns, I feel more than patriotic. I feel more than nostalgic. I feel more than ever…that I could still play the trumpet…if I had one!

About this writer

  • Jeffery Cohen Freelance writer and newspaper humor columnist, Jeffery Cohen, has written for Sasee, Lifetime and Read, Learn, Write. He’s won awards in Women-On-Writing Contest, Vocabula’s Well Written Contest, National League of American Pen Womens’ Competition, Southern California Genealogy Competition, and Writer’s Weekly writing contest.

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2 Responses to “Almost Playing the Trumpet”

  1. Erika Hoffman says:

    Very funny! It brought back memories of when my son wanted to play football. Unlike me, he was tall and athletic and a natural. But I, his mother, forbade it! “You have a brain and I don’t want it scrambled,” I told him so I made him join the band. He didn’t much want to and had no idea what to play, but the band teacher looked at him and said, ” You’re a big boy. You’ll play the trombone.” So, he wore a uniform that had a big feather in the hat like the tail of Big Bird and he marched on the field while all his pals sat on the bench waiting to get on that field. I don’t think he has ever forgiven me! HA!

    Thanks for your piece. It made me nostalgic!

  2. Jeffery, I got a kick out of your story. I always wanted to play piano, finally signed up in college, and they cancelled the class for lack of interest.

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