It's summer band season again, which means weekly sweat baths in a rehearsal room and six or seven concerts at parks and festivals. In the past seven or eight years, this band has grown from 50 members to over 70, and we have practically outgrown the band shell at the park. I wasn't at the first rehearsal last Thursday because I was attending Daughter No. 2's own concert (her very last one, by the way), but I understand 85 people showed up for practice, and another 30 are expected to squeeze themselves into that band room this coming Thursday. We'll all have to hold our breath and scramble for a chair to sit in. When I was in high school, our band director used to tell us to grab a freshman, sit the kid down in the grass, and then stand around him and inhale on the count of three. He promised we'd steal the oxygen from the kid and make him pass out, but it never worked. I suspect this summer band season will be similar—I'm not sure there is enough air in the room for all those sets of gasping lungs.
To kick off this season, I played with the Coshocton Community Band last night. Coshocton is a town about 40 minutes from here, and they have a band about half the size of the monster I normally play with. They typically only have one horn player and needed more, so I was invited to play. I went to one rehearsal last week not knowing what to expect or who I would meet, but from the minute I walked into the band room, I felt right at home. I was directed to the "horn section" directly in front of the trombones—all three of them. The third trombone player, an older gentleman in a plaid flannel shirt and a buzz hair cut walked up to me and said, "I don't know you. Who are you." "Scout from Small Town," I said. "Well, Scout from Small Town, welcome." The second trombone player was an older woman with a sty in her eye or something because it looked as if she were bleeding from the retinas. She was the music secretary and very kindly fetched my music.
As we began rehearsal, one of the euphoniums suggested we meet before Sunday's concert for a quick rehearsal, and the first clarinet nearly blew up in his seat. This skinny old man with a full head of flowing white hair scowled and barked, "I cannot play through a rehearsal and then be expected to play a concert right after. I'll have no lip left." There was a general chuckle throughout the room, so he responded, "I'M NOT KIDDING. I AM AN OLD MAN." So, there would be no Sunday rehearsal, and it was settled.
Sunday afternoon, in the peak of the dogwood festival, several of us met at the high school to load percussion equipment onto the truck. Because I was just a guest, I stood to the side and stayed out of the way. That's when I met Leroy who drove the truck. Leroy is a large man, 300 pounds if he's a day. Not surprisingly, he leans on a cane, and he plays the tuba. He played in the army band while he was in the service and gave it up when he was discharged in 1962 and after the army Leroy went back home to West Virginia and for awhile Leroy was the regional president of Parents without Partners and he attended meetings in all kinds of places but never in his life did he see land as flat as what he saw in Indiana where you could see for miles around which is very different from West Virginia where you have a mountain on one side and a mountain on the other and a river running in between and one single road that follows the river and he didn't pick the tuba up again until 1994 and I'll tell you it's not easy to start up again after all those years. Phew. Deep breath. Leroy was sure glad to have me join their humble group. I loved Leroy.
The concert was held at a park pavilion in Coshocton beside a pond with a fountain and dogwood trees in bloom. The pavilion is a restored 1920s dance hall where bands like Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, and Stan Kenton played. We performed fairly well although not as well as we played at rehearsal. That happens sometimes, but the crowd of 200 or so stood for us at the end anyway. There was a brief presentation half-way through where the director presented each of the four guest musicians a lapel pin of our respective instruments, so now I have a small, gold French horn.
When it was all over and the truck was being loaded, the buzz-cut trombone player said at least five times, "Well, Scout from Small Town, I hope you come back and play with us." "You ought to come back and play with us." "We sure would like it if you'd come back and play with us."
If only they were closer to home.