I used to have quite the pucker. My lips were strong, my lung capacity ample. In my day, I could blast with the best of them. Playing the trumpet was a love, something I did well, and I had a talent. Some said I had music in my veins, a gift I inherited from a mother who truly played music as if she were born to do so. I know that when I turned ten, the band director at my school made sure I signed up to learn an instrument, his hope being that I had just a little bit of the musical talent my mother possessed.

The instrument I chose to play was based on the availability of an instrument to play. My dad had played cornet when he was in school, still had his old cornet. So I decided that would be my instrument. I was already familiar with music, having taken piano lessons from my mother since I was seven years old, so I had a head start on learning the notes. Trumpet/Cornet is a B flat instrument, so the transition from piano to trumpet was fairly simple.

This should be the place where I wax poetically about how I was a natural, a prodigy. Unfortunately, I struggled at first. However, I really wanted to play, and after a few months that started to show. Despite the poor condition of my dad’s old cornet, I had developed a good sound. Mr. Tony Mazzara, the band teacher and director of all the bands at the small school I attended in Rochester, Illinois, called my mother one day and chided her for being a ‘cheap Charlie’. Buy the boy a decent instrument, he demanded, it looks like the kid has some talent.

Even at my young age, I appreciated the significance of my parents’ response to his challenge. Mom and Dad didn’t have much money to throw around, but they took me to the music store in Springfield, shelled out some coin for a very nice nickel plated Conn Connstellation, the instrument I still possess. It’s a great horn, and I immediately started playing much better, so much so that the band director asked me to play in the junior high band as a sixth grade student — playing with the first part trumpet section. My parents were very proud, happy that their investment had been a good one.

Rochester’s music program was an active one, top notch, with concert bands that took top honors at the state level. I was honored to become first chair shortly into my freshman year of high, something the senior whose chair I took was not happy about. One of the fights I had in high school (yes, there were a few of those) was with that former first chair senior. He pushed me up against a locker in anger after the promotion — right in front of a teacher. So, that fight was a short one, although the guy didn’t quit trying to pick the fight until he got his wish. It was a short fight. I don’t honestly remember who ‘won’.

In high school, I did double duty at basketball games, playing on the team and in the pep band before the games. I got a scholarship to band camp one summer, enjoyed playing the flugel horn for an arrangement of Paul McCartney’s ‘Uncle Albert’. I still love that song! My sophomore year, I auditioned for the Illinois state honors band and was first chair trumpet for the state honors concert. Our concert bands continued to receive top honors at the district and state competitions. The jazz band director at the local community college invited me to play with the community college band, so I got a little taste of playing jazz, played with the community college jazz band my first year of college. I enjoyed it, but I have never enjoyed playing jazz solos, and still write out solos instead of playing improv.

One of the stories I like to tell my kids is a band story. Each year, Rochester’s concert band travelled to Northwestern University in Chicago to participate in the university’s band day event. Rochester didn’t have a football team then (which has changed — as Rochester now has a very successful football program). Mr. Mazzara liked to take us to Northwestern’s band day as a way to give us a taste of playing on a football field, since we didn’t have a football team and thusly did not have a marching band. The highlight of Northwestern’s band day was filling the entire football field from end zone to end zone with high school bands from throughout Illinois. John Painter, the university band director, directed the bands from a scaffold in the middle of the football field. My senior year, Rochester’s band was positioned somewhere around the 20 yard line. During rehearsal, Painter stopped rehearsal, pointed at our band and proclaimed that all he could hear was our trumpet section. We were too loud! Despite his command that we tone it down, we instead played louder.

Never tell a trumpet player they are too loud. It only encourages us to turn it up. I have parted the hair of many a floutist who sat in front of me in band — proudly and with a smirk. Floutists hate trumpet players, as they usually are seated in front of the trumpet section.

It has been roughly five years since the last time I have played, except for the occasional few toots. The church I attended for years had a jazz orchestra, with very talented musicians who humbled me. During those years, I learned to enjoy playing the lower parts, although I had plenty of opportunities to shine. My church also liked to use horns as part of the worship band, some of the most fun I have had playing the trumpet. One included backing up a gospel singer, a large woman who loved to vamp, a challenge to the horn section who kept have to play the same riffs over and over as she kept singing.

Right now, I am in the process of getting my chops back in shape. Since I am getting involved with a new church (new to me), I am trying to find a way to get involved in the church. Soon, I hope to get a chance to play in some form at the church, whether it is as a part of the worship band or simply playing as part of brass ensemble during the holidays. I have volunteered, but I may have to be the one who gets the ball rolling. Remember the whole divorce debacle from a few months back? I kind of get the idea that church leadership is a little hesitant to let me get involved. I have prayed about getting involved, feel like God is good with me. Things will be alright. In the meantime, I am getting ready to play!

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