The intellectual equivalent of a ham sandwich.

A Boy and His French Horn

In sixth grade I had the pleasure (pfff ha ha) of playing in the East Middle School brass section. How did I get awarded this honor? Hard work? Stick-to-itiveness?
In gym class one day we were told we could sign up for band. If you were in the band you got to miss gym two days a week.
Thus began my music career.

At the first ‘lesson’ we were told we could pick whatever instrument we wanted but we’d have to supply it. Or we could pick one of the instruments the school had.
I had already gone through a period of my life known as ‘Tears of Sadness, Tears of Pain’ aka when my parents bought my sister a violin and she was learning (was she, though?) how to play. I remember going to my sisters ‘concert.’ When they warmed up it sounded like someone had taken the emotions associated with being an abandoned orphan and put them to music.
Thankfully, my sister’s violin sat useless in its case. My parents decided, having learned their lesson, they would buy me an instrument if I demonstrated a real passion for it. The school had the following options for instruments to borrow from them: French horn.
Thus began my rather inauspicious French horn career.

I was none too pleased with the pick. I had asked my mom to buy me a saxophone. They have tons of keys and they’re not that big. Instead I had the French horn.
Had Lisa Simpson played the French horn, maybe I would’ve been more excited.
Another thing that was unfortunate was that there were a grand total of three keys. Three keys and I am supposed to move my lips into different positions to generate different notes with the same key combinations.
Le what? Le did you just tell me I’m supposed to move my lips to make different notes? I’m not French and I’m not a miracle worker, so let’s get real, French Horn.

On days where I would not have gym, but instead music class, I had to bring in the beast. The beast had a carrying case which was huge. This did not make me happy. As though I was not dorky enough already, I now had to ride the bus home with a huge black case sitting next to me.
“Is this seat taken?”
“Oh yes … this is where my French horn sits …”
“You’re lame.”
“Yeah … like I said, French horn.”

One day I realized the following. I hate the French horn.
1, I’m not good at it.
2, I’m only going to become better with practice.
3, I suck so bad I get angry when I hear myself play.
How do you solve such a tough dilemma? Ah, but I am a creative problem solver!
French horn? Check. Music? Check. Dorky stand thing? Yes fine, whatever. CD player? Check! Headphones? CHECK! Let’s do this!
Beautiful music came flooding into my poor little ears – you really have to turn the music up really loud if you want to be able to drown an instrument you are, simultaneously, playing. At the end of practicing a song for the French horn I’d happily yell out, “hey mom! That any good?”
This style of practice did not last very long at all.

At some point the school invited parents to come out for a show. A large part of the show would be musical – with groups separated by grade. Over there are the eighth graders. Over there are the seventh graders. And here us lowly sixth graders sit.
We filed into the gym and took our seats.
My friend sat down beside me. After a bit of time he politely asked, “hey Brad do you mind if we switch chairs?” I of course obliged. I could care less about this music show. I wanted to not be there.

At the shows end parents came up and smiled and probably pretended to scratch their ears – while secretly pulling out ear plugs. My friends dad came up and congratulated him on being ‘first chair.’
Huh? First chair? What does that mean?
Later I learned what this meant and I was, frankly, impressed and stunned. Impressed because – well done, you little sneak. Stunned because, really? You do know we’re in sixth grade. And we play the French horn. Maybe he got ice cream for being first chair or something, in which case that move was understandable.

The bright spot of moving at the end of that year was that my new school had no such program, and no French horns. They were out of my life forever. Such raw, animal talent lays in me still – sometimes at night I purse my lips and hear someone saying, “no … no … no that’s still not right … try to make the note … no … no … try emptying the spit out … ew … that was a lot of spit … ok … no … no …”

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