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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Authority Figures: Teacher, Mr. B

     “Mr. B, I am really tired of the music we have to play in the trombone section. We don’t get any of the good stuff there. Can’t you find something that let’s the trombones play the melody, not just the oomp-pah-pah, oomp-pah-pah?” I had stayed after band practice, earnestly seeking some encouragement from the band director. Okay, he was a tall, handsome guy so maybe there was more than music involved.

     “Well, Sojourner, at the level your class plays, the trombones do not really have a lot of choices. The harmony and accompanying parts are very important to every piece. It would be pretty flat if the whole band played the melody, wouldn’t it?” Mr. B had a point there, of course, but it just seemed so unfair to my 11-year-old way of thinking.

     “Well, how about the clarinets play our part and we play theirs? Then there would still be harmony but we could play the melody?” My face smiled up with hope brightening my eyes.

     “You are forgetting one thing here, Sojourner. The musical score for the clarinets uses the treble clef and your score the bass clef. The two are not interchangeable.” Ugh! What a bummer. I’d have to do something else then if I wanted to stop playing the oomp-pah-pah’s.

     “When will my class be good enough to play something with more interesting music for the trombones?” Mr. B’s contemplative visage, again, gave me hope as I waited for his answer. When he smiled at me, I held my breath; this should be something good, right?

     “Well, there is one thing you could do,” Mr. B was rubbing his chin and looking right at me, “You could learn to play the clarinet.” Oh, no, not that. My sister had tried so tenderly to teach me to play her clarinet already and I just could not get it. The whole reed-thing escaped me. Okay, I was only 9 years old at the time and she was more interested in teaching me what she had learned than I was in learning but still… memories of failure. No, not the clarinet. I would just have to come up with something else.

     “Tommy, what clef does your music have in your book?” Walking home from school the following day, I noticed the boy who lived across the street from me carrying his instrument case. He was a year older so we were not in the same class or band. I wasn’t even sure what instrument he was learning to play.

     “Treble clef.” Yes! Just what I wanted to hear.

     “So, do you get to play the melody of the songs, then?” My voice had risen in pitch to match my growing excitement.

     “Kinda, I guess. I mean, I’m not really that good yet so I still have to play the lower notes not the real melody. Pretty much it’s the first chair guys that really get to play the melody of the songs.” So, I’d not only need to learn another instrument but be good at it, too, if I wanted to play the real melody. Well, I did!

     “Tommy, could I borrow your fingering chart?” We had arrived at our corner, where my neighbor squatted down and removed Book One from the carrying case. As he did so, I glimpsed the shiny trumpet. Handing over the book, with the page turned to the fingering chart, Tommy wished me luck.

     I quickly crossed the street and began learning the fingering for the various notes. The trombone had only seven possibilities, the rest of the notes depended on how the lips were placed on the mouthpiece. The trumpet had only three valves to push down but eight possible combinations. I noticed that the mouthpiece was a lot smaller, too, so I would need to re-learn how to position my lips to bring out the right notes.

     Remembering my earlier failure, I determined not to tell anyone I was teaching myself to play the trumpet… just in case it proved too much for me. If I succeeded, I would let Mr. B know I was ready to challenge the row of trumpet players to get to that coveted first chair… and the melody!

****Authority Figures: Teacher, Mr. B, Scene 2… Coming Tomorrow


  1. Oh this just brings tears to my eyes. I can feel the determination of that spunky little girl. No wonder you have done so much with your life. I don't believe you know the meaning of give up. You are such an inspiration to me. I allow my chronic pain to cripple me and often hide in the deep recesses of my mind and my bedroom. Oh to have the courage and faith of that little girl! This is beautiful.

    1. Thank you very much for your kind encouragement. My mother would want you to know what that "spunk" looked like the first year: I refused to take a nap of any kind by the time I was 7 months old. I was not hyperactive; the world just had too much for me to experience to sleep through it!