It’s been a long, interesting (to me, anyway) journey from being a grade-school violin player to a high school flutist to a college bari-sax player to a trumpeter in a community band. So recline that easy chair, and “listen to a story ’bout a man named Jed….” er.. Charlie um.. Mike.
My story starts with a musician and band director dad. So I grew up around music (primarily jazz or big bands). My early musical influences were the Four Freshmen, Stan Kenton (more on this later), Woody Herman, and Buddy Rich. I also listened to P. D. Q. Bach (Peter Schickele).
When I was in 4th grade, a violin teacher came to my home town to give lessons, with the intent of starting a community orchestra one day. So I started learning musical basics and played for about four years total.
As I neared 6th grade, discussions began as to what I would play in school band. Dad played the alto saxophone and clarinet, so that was an interest of mine. But the dentist stepped in and said that I needed braces, and that playing the sax would harm whatever good the braces would do. The same went for trumpet. Crud. So Dad decided that I would start on flute (same basic fingerings as saxophone) and switch to sax later, after the braces were off. Shortly thereafter I was presented with a brand new Selmer Bundy flute in the plastic green case to use in 6th grade band.
I picked up alto and tenor saxophone in 9th grade, and played them in concert band and pep band for basketball games.
As a sophomore, I was facing continuing to march with the flute (and that really annoying under-the-arm flute music holder!). Then my dad presented an option. Players were needed for the mellophonium section of the marching band. What in the dickens was a mellophonium?
This, children, is a Conn 16E mellophonium. It’s also known as an “elephant horn” by some of its detractors, due to its inability to play coherently in tune, and also for its somewhat explosive projection of sound. This same sound was utilized by the Stan Kenton Orchestra during their “Mellophonium Orchestra” years in the early 60s. I told you Stan Kenton would tie into this, albeit somewhat loosely. I had listened to Kenton’s “Wall of Sound”, including those “elephant horns” as a younger person.
Hmmm… tweedle-tweedle, or “elephant horn”???
About as noticeable as a sparrow fart, or “wall of sound”?
Well, which would YOU pick?
I spent the next two weeks before band camp learning the intricacies of buzzing into a mouthpiece and how to make all those sounds with only 3 valves. I also learned about “Brasso” and how to polish silver to a mirror-like shine. And I learned to love that “elephant horn” sound.
One of my favorite memories of the mellophonium, and my dad, came from one football half-time show. The song was “Here’s That Rainy Day”, and the 1st mellophonium part for the song ended with I remember was a high A above the staff…. I’m not for certain. I just remember it being a high note, and neither myself or my best friend John B. could ever hit it together in practice. However, at the first performance of the half-time show, at the end of “Here’s That Rainy Day”, both John B. and I hit that note with elephant-like precision. Dad came down off of the press box, and commented to us that we just about blew him off the press box with that last note. Good times.
I played mellophonium in marching band for 2 years, then switched to tom-tom for my senior year.
When I finally went away to college for my last 2 years, I played the tenor sax in concert and marching band, and the baritone sax in one of the jazz bands.
Then I didn’t touch a 3-valved musical instrument for about 25 years. And I never did get those braces.
Fast-forward those 25 years. A church friend gave me her son’s Reynolds trumpet, thinking I could do something with it. And so I dabbled with the trumpet for the next 10 years or so. I even bought the first of 2 Getzen F trumpets, aka “frumpets”. Needed money. Sold the frumpet. Had money. Bought another one, plus a Couesnon alto horn (tenor horn) to play in a church orchestra. Ended up with those, a Pan American cornet from 1949, a York National trumpet from the 50s, a Bundy trombone, several clarinets (from Dad), two alto saxes (one was Dad’s), and two acoustic guitars. Can’t play any of them worth much.
Fast forward a little bit to the current day. To the above collection, I’ve added a ’75 Olds Ambassador laquered Bb trumpet, a ’70 Olds Ambassador silver-plated Bb trumpet, and a flute that’s supposed to be Selmer, but has no markings at all, other than numbers on the parts. It DID come in a Selmer case, anyway.
I now play 3rd chair, 3rd trumpet in the Florence (KY) Community Band. And I’ve been on a journey over the last few months, one that I now call “The Trumpet Chronicles”, where I try to figure out the complicated world of brass playing, the different makes and models of trumpets, and the thousands of mouthpiece choices.
I may go ahead and do another preface, about the journey through the ins and outs of buying the first high quality trumpet that I’ve ever had… the silver-plated Ambassador.
But that ‘s it for this preface edition of “The Trumpet Chronicles”… thanks for reading. Hey, you there, WAKE UP!!