After my over 40 year hiatus, the quest to re-learn how to play the trumpet and join countless trumpet players across America playing Taps before next Memorial Day, is well underway.
After announcing my mission on Facebook May 31st, the first to respond with a comment was the news director my dad worked for in 1972 at the radio station where he hooked me up with my first radio job. When I showed my wife his comment, she responded, “Lyle’s still alive?”
“Thumbs up” and “hearts” for the post began appearing quickly so I clicked to see who responded. The first person to give me a “thumbs up” was my high school English teacher. Holy whatever! I guarantee there was never a “thumbs up” from her in High School, I was a terrible student. To have her read something nearly 50 years later and give me a “thumbs up” was thrilling. Thanks Mrs. Ford, I finally wrote something to justify giving me a passing grade!
Now, to my trumpet commitment.
I don’t know if you’ve ever listened to a beginning trumpet player but there’s some really strange and ugly noises involved. When I was in 5th grade, my bedroom was upstairs and away from my dad’s Archie Bunker chair on the first floor. “Keep it down up there!” was a constant plea. It’s hard to keep a trumpet quiet. My wonderful Cuban wife and my 17 year old daughter have never heard this side of their “esposo” and father, I won’t be exposing them to this undertaking, I will only practice when they are not home.
In preparation for the arrival of the horn I ordered from Amazon, I began to rebuild my embouchure, the mouth muscles needed to play a brass instrument. For some reason, I held onto a 5c trumpet mouthpiece from my college days, who knows why it was still in my house (to build beginner mouth muscles, it should have been a 7c. Beginning trumpet player talk.)
On the days I dropped my daughter off at the barn to see her horse, I practiced on the return trips. Buzzing the mouthpiece like crazy with drivers looking at me strangely in their rearview mirrors and at intersections. Always with the windows up because the sound produced irritates wild dogs. Notably, I’d long forgotten the amount of spit generated when buzzing. A windshield clean up and steering wheel wipe-off ensued after every trip.
The new horn finally arrived on Tuesday, June 8th, nine days after it was ordered. It came like a regular Amazon delivery, I got an email alerting me to a package at my front door. I brought it inside, opened the box and took out a black case. I flashed back to ninth grade and Christmas morning when mom and dad left a brand new trumpet under the tree, it was in a black case too. I couldn’t wait to open it.
Inside was a shiny, black and gold trumpet, nestled in fake felt. I thought excitedly, “It’s on now, I gotta learn to play the trumpet again!” I closed the case, being alone for a first blow was not possible until Thursday afternoon when my wife takes our daughter to the barn. “No problem” I thought, “it gives me a couple days to muscle up the embouchure even more.”
Thursday afternoon arrived. Giddy with anticipation, I hurried them out the door. They thought it was funny. I was anxious to blow a horn for the first time in 40 years.
Setting the case on my desk, I unzipped and ripped the velcro to flip it open. The black and gold trumpet is pretty, never seen one like it. I hesitated touching it because fingerprints are not good for trumpets. Then I laughed, “So what, who cares?”
I carefully took it out of its case. It’s a mini version of the B-flat trumpet, it didn’t fit my hand the way others did in the past but I got comfortable. The valves were sticky and needed oil, the slides needed grease (trumpet talk.) Supplies were in the case so I did basic maintenance, taking me back to my first days with a horn in fifth grade.
Inserting the 7c mouthpiece that came with the new trumpet, I licked my lips, popped them a couple times, took a deep breath and…nothing, just air. Wow, that can’t be, I thought. This thing must be broken. I licked my lips and popped them again, took a big deep breath and…there was a sound but not a trumpet sound. I can’t believe I have to send this thing back!
After fifteen minutes of struggling to rekindle something I’d not attempted in over 40 years, and making sounds that can only be described as a squawking Moose in heat, I finally hit a sustained note that I recognized as middle C. I took that C up to a D and put the trumpet down, happy that I wouldn’t need to send it back. It wasn’t broken. My lips and cheeks were tingling and I felt a little light headed, it’s not easy blowing through a brass instrument, I’m 66 years old. That didn’t happen when I was in fifth grade. Boy, do I have work to do.
While writing this update, I wanted to describe the sounds made by a beginning trumpet player so I awoke the Google machine for ideas. Instead it shared this random notation: “If students can play a relaxed G above the staff by the time they leave eighth grade, this is a great place to be.” I need that G to play Taps.
I am now at a beginners fifth grade level, clearly, I’ve been here before. In eleven months, I’ll need to move from fifth grade and advance to 8th grade level in order to make it to the finish line.
Remember, this whole thing is because there was no end to my radio career with my diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis in 2005, it forced me out. I wanted to finish in LA or New York. So now, I now have a finish fetish. Everything I begin, I want to finish. I intend on making it to the finish line by next Memorial Day to play Taps for our fallen war heroes.
***A few weeks have passed since that first “Moose” wail and I’m blowing the beginning five notes of the B flat scale so there’s hope. My practice must certainly interest neighbors, Grace the dog sings along with the squawking Moose in heat. I’ll update again next month. Until then, FINISH SOMETHING!