Friday, November 16, 2012

Musical dream takes a slightly different path

From today's Briefing:

When Cooper was 4, he declared his intention to play trumpet, just like his daddy.

His daddy had played trumpet for years — middle school, high school, college and, long past classroom years, sometimes even at church.

Steve stopped playing when he was diagnosed with cancer. Cooper, whose resolve was perhaps strengthened by his dad’s illness, continued to insist that he would play trumpet when he got older.

When Steve died, Cooper was even more determined to carry on his father’s musical legacy.

What Cooper didn’t consider was the innate ability related to instruments. You know how the wand chooses the wizard in Harry Potter? Apparently in music, the instrument sort of chooses the player.

On instrument tryout day back in February, Cooper showed great promise with the trombone, euphonium, clarinet, oboe and bassoon.

The percussion test tripped him up. (Me, too. I seriously lack rhythm. And musical ability in general.) The flute wouldn’t yield to his will.

And the trumpet? Well, he could barely coax out a single sound.

After intense discussion (“no one will be disappointed if you choose a different instrument”), debate (“you could work extra hard and make the trumpet work”) and a few tears (a six-year dream doesn’t dissolve easily), Cooper decided to sign up for clarinet.

It’s been relatively smooth sailing ever since.

Cooper has taken ownership of being the family’s clarinetist. Every afternoon, he sets up shop in the family room. He places his music stand in front of his practice chair, then he arranges his sheet music and metronome just so.

He reverently pieces together the instrument, taking care to precisely follow his teacher’s instructions. He will not be rushed. He will not take shortcuts.

And finally, after a good five minutes of preparation, he begins to tap his foot and make music.

Practice usually includes a little high-pitched squeaking that causes involuntary twitching on my part. But Cooper plays through the squeaks and ekes out recognizable songs.

Sometimes the music is so catchy that little sister Katie breaks out into interpretive dance.

On Tuesday night, Cooper and about 90 other beginning band students assembled on the cafeteria stage to share their skills with a gaggle of parents, grandparents, siblings and friends. It was their first concert and only the second time they were all together in the same room.

The whole band performed “Ode to Joy.” The gathered crowd politely applauded.

The band director gently scolded our efforts.

These kids didn’t know how to hold their instruments three months ago, she reminded us, and now they’re performing real songs, recognizable songs, together as a group. Applaud bigger!

And so we did.

We clapped enthusiastically for each group — the saxophonists playing “Frere Jacques,” the flautists playing “Aura Lee,” three brave bassoonists playing “Camptown Races.”

The clarinetists played “Jingle Bells” — once through at normal speed, a second time super fast. The music was lovely, with not a single discernible squeak.

The crowd applauded generously. I clapped wildly — enough for me and enough for Steve.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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