It was cloudy but sunshine still penetrated through and dominated the day. I was in the seventh grade and was experiencing the third or fourth day of music class. The classroom had one giant window near the back with music posters layering all three other walls. I was assigned the trombone because all the bass guitars were taken. The trombone was gold (not real gold as I later found out to much disappointment) and perfectly polished. It reminded me of a snake the way the slide moved back and forth without much sound or touble. It was uncomfortable the way it sat on my shoulders but it was my turn to play the first note we’d supposedly learned.
Gingerly placing my mouth onto the metal, silver (found out later again to much disappointment that the mouthpiece is not actually silver, even though it was extremely polished) and circular mouth piece, I blew with all my might for as long as I could. Nothing. No musical sound except the sound of spit swashing from my mouth could be heard. The class was looking at me with smiles and giggles. Mr. H was standing in the front of the class looking impressively patient as he always did. I can’t exactly remember his full name but he looked like a tower compared to us, and the sun would shine off his hairless head but we just called him Mr. H. He said, “Brandon, try curving your bottom lip more inward and blow faster but not necessarily harder.” How do you blow faster but not harder? It was no time to wonder now such impossible inquiries now.
The class and the teacher were waiting for me to try it again and redeem myself. I placed my lips to the circular pipe-like mouthpiece while I tried curving my bottom lip and blowing faster. This time a sound did come out but it was not the sound of a masterful F sharp. Instead came this big sequence of rough and obnoxious farting noises coming from this supposed musical device. The class burst into chatter and more giggles. All the whispers and laughs swirled all together in the air around me. The row of girls playing clarinets in front of me turned around and all stared at me with unblinking eyes and mocking smiles. I started to feel very warm and my heart started working double time, skipping a few beats here and there. The sun was shining onto my back through the window. I was contemplating using that window for an escape should this continue. Luckily it didn’t, and Mr. H moved on to the other trombone player beside me named Marcel. He blew into his trombone and out came this wonderful, deep, sound that was supposed to come out. I kept wondering how he did it. I inspected my instrument but couldn’t find a crack, dent, or scratch. There was no visible evidence of its flaw.
The lunch bell rang and all the other students packed up and ran out the classroom. All the students left except for me who was asked to stay behind by Mr. H to practice. He pulled a chair across from me, sat down, and started showing me how my mouth should look when I blow into the trombone. I would copy what he did with his mouth which would involve me puckering up my lips and then blowing out air through a small concealment in my lips. More harsh, lightning farting sounds emerged. The teacher’s blank expression didn’t change as he then stood up, walked to the other side of the room, and walked back with a full body size mirror. He then instructed me to use it to look at my lips as I try to blow into the trombone. I practiced my mouth imitations in the mirror and applied it once again to the mouthpiece. When I blew into it there was once again no sound coming out. I had a pen on my lap, which I picked up and threw across the room to help make me feel a little better. Mr. H responded, “Okay Brandon, that’s enough practice for today. Thank you for trying so hard, keep practicing at home. Here is a lollipop for your effort.” He passed me the candy and I said my thank you as I put the trombone in its case and left the room. I don’t remember much about that lollipop, probably because I never consumed it. I just threw it into my pocket.
After dinner the next night, I put the “Essentials for Trombone Players” compact disk that came with the trombone into my stereo. It played all the directions on how to play notes and breathe properly. I practiced following the directions and exercises for a couple of hours in the basement. Near the end of the night, I made my way to the kitchen and heard my dad say “Good thing we have him practicing downstairs. He sounds like an injured dog.” Well, at least a whelping canine imitation was an improvement from the previous one.
After another week had gone by; I made a lot less farting noises and way more painful moaning sounds. According to my friends, if you had asked me to use the trombone to make the sound of a dying cow, goat, mouse, and eventually elephant, I could make them no problem. I don’t know how they would know what those sounds would sound like, but that is what they told me. Whoever questions their friend’s fine judgement? Unfortunately, none of those sounds go far when it comes to report cards and I knew the teacher was being merciful with my mark. The music test would consist of me blowing and mastering the awkward sounds that came out. Mr. H wouldn’t look, smile, nor acknowledge what I had just attempted. He would pick up his pen; make some notes into his book that was prompted on a music stand and move on to the next person. I would come in at lunch to practice with him every day for a half hour. Every day I would discover more moaning noises that sounded like they could have been coming from a deathly cat coughing up a painful hairball (again, this is what my friends had told me). I would sit in the same folding chair right beside the body size mirror and practiced making my lips into a beak. I would make my lips blow into that silver (not really) mouthpiece that would just suck up my spit. I would release the spit valve at the end of the half hour and spit would drip from the trombone into the carpet. I always was amused from making dark wet spots on the carpet from all the spit as I would pack up all the gear into the black trombone case and head towards the door where the teacher would have another lollipop waiting for me. This would be the routine that would continue for an eternity of weeks. My pocket would always seem full from all those lollipops.
There was a day when everything changed. I could tell on that day when I entered the class and noticed the teacher setting up two kettledrums in the same spot where I usually sit. I left my trombone unattended at the door and went to inquire why these new musical pieces replaced me. After a minute with Mr. H, It was clear that these new drums would replace my musical serpent. They were twice the size of me and seemed like normal drums; just bigger. They were all mine now! I picked up the peculiar drum sticks that seemed almost like normal drum sticks except they had white fur at the tip, and struck it with the large white drum top with a response of a loud vibration. With one light but slightly forceful swing of my arm I had managed to make a music-related sound. It was an accomplishment that was never done with my trombone.
I picked up the drum stick again, and gave another blow. Another drum sound evaporated into the air but more softly then the first. My second attempt and another musical note was played. I didn’t have to worry about my lips, breathing, or horrible farting sounds coming from it. The kettledrums just needed one blow in order to deliver their big boom. The power to make music with this instrument only required my hands. I was honoured to use my hands to play these drums. I had the power now. At the end of class, Mr. H gave me another lollipop and said “think we found a better fit for you.” From the little height in his voice, I assumed this lollipop was given as a little victory celebration this time. This one didn’t go into my pocket...because I lost it. I know this would have been the perfect ending if I finally had consumed a well-earned lollipop. However, the truth is that I put it down somewhere and couldn’t find it. Maybe it was that Marcel I mentioned earlier...he must have taken it!
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