As with yesterday's post: A very slight story I wrote a year or two ago, but I thought it would be appropriate for Thanksgiving. Tomorrow, look for another installment in The Gallery.
In 1952, the South was officially segregated, baby boomers were being born, and Elvis was a junior in high school. No one had heard of the British Invasion, touch-tone phones, VCRs, CD players, or space shuttles. In 1952, the Canton Summer Band was performing in parks during the summer, and a group of young men, men who were school children during World War II, joined to play their clarinets and trumpets.
Fifty years later, when the current Canton Summer Band was assembled on a basketball court in Price Park, the concert announcer said between numbers, “I’d like to know how many of you have been in this band for more than ten years. Please stand up.” A large number of people stood, and the audience applauded. “Remain standing if you’ve been in longer than twenty years. . .Thirty years. . .Forty years?” With each decade, the announcer’s voice grew louder and more animated. “Fifty years?!” Most of the back row remained standing, the clarinet and trumpet players who joined when there was no interstate running from Cleveland to Miami, when there was no Internet, and when Eisenhower was president. The audience applauded fully, and the gentlemen just shrugged. They’d been playing together since high school and were at home in their metal chairs.
I got to sit in front of them, sometimes playing second horn and sometimes playing third, whichever chair was empty. I had decided from the first rehearsal to keep my ears open and listen to their banter and their playing, full of confidence that comes from years of experience. They had been playing in that band for at least ten years before I was even born, and they would keep playing for as long as their lungs could support the music.
After we played through a standard Sousa march and an Irish air, the conductor signaled the trumpets to bring their music and stands up to the front to perform “Bugler’s Holiday” as the announcer teased the audience and thanked the sponsors. The guys joked with each other as they made a spectacle, and the clarinets shouted out jabs. “Hey Al. You blow through the big end.” Yuck. Yuck.
I had first heard “Bugler’s Holiday” in the spring when my daughter played it with her high school band, and I had heard it at least a dozen times since then, with the Greco band and now by a troop of trumpet players who had probably played it a dozen times in just one year. As we all joined in, following the conductor through the perky arrangement, the guys never missed a beat. There was no lack of enthusiasm as if they were empty and ready to retire. There was no boredom to suggest that they would rather be tying flies or playing golf. They were doing exactly what they wanted to be doing, what they had worked for and retired for, and they did it as competently and cleanly as the younger members of their section.
How long would I be playing with groups like the Greco band and the Canton band and the philharmonic? How long would I be strong enough to play forte and piano and alert enough to play presto and legato? There were no answers to my questions, but if the experience would bring on the joy and fullness that these men absorbed and expressed when they played, I hoped I would remain standing when the announcer called out, “Ten years? Twenty years? Thirty years?”