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My Commitment to the Horn

There are times in life when we are going along, doing our thing, and going about our business and life is good. Things might be hectic, they might even get crazy, sometimes you might even want to scream and give up, but there’s a rhythm. There’s a flow and you’re moving along track with some kind of expected trajectory.

Then there are times in life that are pivotal. Things come together, endings and beginnings meet and choices need to be made. It’s still good—at least we have the hope that it will be—but when that time, sometimes even that moment comes, we know that things will be different. We will move on to a new path or a new stage, and we are going to change as a result of that shift. We won’t be able to stop it even if we wanted to and we will be different once we get to the other side. That difference may be big or it may be small, but we are assured of its inevitable fulfillment. 

I have come to one of those times. I’ve felt it building up for months now, but it culminated at commencement last Saturday. The funny thing is, it wasn’t even my commencement. However, it was the transition point for so many endings and beginnings in my life that it might as well have been mine. I won’t share all of those with you right now, although this blog is one of them and some of the others are going to come up as topics from time to time. For today, I will share just one small ending with you.

Playing for commencement was likely the last time that I will play a gig that was organized and dictated to me by Washington State University. Even though I am a masters candidate in music, as a full-time professional in another, often demanding field I don’t have as much time to focus on the performance aspect of my instrument as many of the other students. That’s fine, my goals aren’t necessarily performance related and through the WSU ensembles I have had a lot of opportunity to play.

But now… I’ll have to do it on my own.

I’ve spent the last five years playing lead in the big band and have been involved with the trumpet ensemble for longer than that, not to mention the hours of trumpet studio lessons I’ve enjoyed. With those groups I’ve been able to travel and play with some amazing musicians. But now… Now I’ve completed all of my coursework and just have to finish up my thesis project. While I’ll technically be enrolled for one more semester, I won’t be participating in any of these ensembles and I hope to wrap everything up by the end of October. Most of my pursuits in music will likely be along those other “non-performance-related” lines I mentioned earlier.

But, oh how I love playing that horn…

So, now I have to find my own gigs, and you might say, “Big deal! All of us musicians do that, just get out and play!” And maybe it is that simple, but I didn’t make it the first time.

After I finished my undergraduate degree the demands of job, family, church, and other obligations began to chip away at my time, sometimes with a pick and sometimes with a jackhammer. It was easy to say, “Oh, I’ll practice later,” or “I don’t have to play that gig, I can do it next year.” Before long the times playing grew farther and farther apart, until when I finally decided to go back to school I hadn’t picked up my trumpet in seven years.

Seven years. That’s a long time. I have a friend, who graduated in computer science that had been playing regularly and even put out a small demo album. It wasn’t his job, it was just for fun. He’d played more music than I had and I’m the one with the music degree. I don’t regret the choices I made about my priorities during that time: my family, my profession, they were more important and rightfully so. But I do regret just letting it slip. Seven years. It’s a long time.

So this ending is also about a new beginning. It’s about a commitment. To the horn. To not let my performance skills fade, but to continue to be involved in something I love. There are a lot of other things I am going to be doing as I shift to this next phase of my life, but this time I’m not going to let this passion go. I commit to continue my practicing. I commit to finding groups to play with and gigs to perform. I commit myself to the horn and finding a way to make it work for me within all of the rest of life’s demands.

With that commitment I also issue an invitation to those of you who are like me. To those of you who have enjoyed the passion of playing music, but decide not to make it the focus of your career, whether you still work “in” music as a teacher or promoter or some other path, or whether you are an engineer or marketing professional, I invite you to not put your instrument in the case and let it collect dust. Pick it up, keep playing, even if it is just with friends in your garage. Keep it a part of your life and I know you will be happier for it.

Eye of the Beholder