Some kids grow up in a family trade, inheriting the “…& Sons” business. Our generations claimed a wide variety of trades, but the men in our family have a generational band instrument.
My dad played trombone in high school, and to this day, still plays in the New Horizons band, which is essentially school band for older adults. (I say this cautiously, as I’m only a couple of years from the minimum age of 45 required to join the band.) I remember him playing all through my life, practicing for the brass ensemble at church, getting together with high school band members to relive their band days.
My brother played briefly when he was young. So briefly, in fact, that I have no recollection whatsoever of it.
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Who would have guessed I would marry into another trombone family? My husband, his dad and his grandfather all played. His grandfather even played in a big band, semi-professionally, if I understand correctly.
Last fall, my son was given the trombone his dad had played. He proudly tooted out “Jingle Bells,” “Anchors Aweigh” and other songs — recognizable by their rhythms and approximate melodic ups and downs. He practiced in the basement or his room, serenaded his friends and played for family, including taps at a couple of pet funerals. My dad sat down with him for a lesson, helping him learn some basics.
As fifth grade approached, so did the possibility of signing up for band. A friend of mine, a music teacher herself, suggested our kids go to band camp. (If you can’t help but snicker at the mention of band camp, trust me, you’re not alone.) The purpose of the camp was to give kids an overview of the available band instruments so they could pick one.
A bit more about my friend. She’s my daughter’s piano teacher — and a great one at that. It interests me that despite the fact that she teaches piano to dozens of kids a week, none of her kids play piano, and she is completely fine with that. We’ve talked about it before, and I admire her Montessori-style parenting in which she completely dismisses her personal preferences in lieu of encouraging her kids to follow their passions. It was her attitude and philosophy that prompted me to send our son to the camp — where he promptly fell in love with the trumpet.
“Trumpet/trombone, meh, what’s the difference?” I wanted to say. Couldn’t he suck it up then blow the trombone? If he loved band, we could switch him to trumpet later? Couldn’t he just try it? Because we had it. He loved it. He played it. It was in his very blood.
Then I thought back to my own band days playing clarinet. Nobody asked me to lug around a trombone, but I didn’t exactly choose my instrument, either. My grandparents bought one from an acquaintance, and that was that. I remember tooting and squeaking away, no Dixieland glory in our band. I remember playing “Eye of the Tiger.” (Think of the awesomeness of “Eye of the Tiger” — elementary school band-style.) I worked away, but it was never what I had wanted to play. I had wanted to play the flute, the delicate instrument with all the pretty solos.
My son is now the proud owner of a used, dented trumpet. He beams when he carries it and rushes to the basement to practice every day. Listening to him struggle through “Hot Cross Buns,” my daughter remarked, “I think he’s going to be a great trumpet player.” I think so too — because it’s all his.
Maybe my daughter will want to play the trombone.
Overland Park mom and freelancer Emily Parnell writes weekly.