At Least I Didn't Pick a Tuba

At Least I Didn't Pick a Tuba

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2009

Erik is out of the office this week, so we are reprinting an article from 2002. That'll teach him.

Every kid should learn to play a musical instrument.

I realize that's difficult, with all the education funding being viciously slashed by nearly every state in an effort to improve their students' abilities to take standardized tests. However, if we're not careful, this next generation of students will become musical illiterates.

Presidential Aide: "Bad news, Mr. President. We've just received the World Culture Report from the United Nations. It seems our country's orchestra is currently ranked below the Tarawa Symphony Orchestra of the island nation of Kiribati.

President: Who'd we beat?

Presidential Aide: It's a tie, sir. We are currently ranked higher than an Australian jug band and some crazy guy with two sticks and a toy xylophone.

President: Wow, that's a shame. Let's go play some tee-ball.

Luckily, my parents believed that a musical education was important, so I was expected to play an instrument. I started playing cello in the school orchestra in the fourth grade.

Since I had to walk to and from school every day, and had to lug my cello home twice a week that year, one would think I would learn a valuable lesson in instrument choice. But like any nine year old, I wouldn't learn my lesson if it were spelled out with baseball cards and candy.

So when I entered the fifth grade, I made a similarly stupid choice in choosing a new band instrument.

Ever since I was eight, I had developed a keen interest in one particular instrument. I had planned that once I reached the fifth grade, I could join the band, and learn to play the instrument that haunted my soul.

Finally, the big day came. Potential musical proteges marched down to the band room, were handed a card, and told to write down the instrument we wanted to play.

I clutched my pencil and carefully wrote each letter. I had one shot at this, and neatness counted if I wanted to achieve my dreams.


"Alpine Horn?!" Mr. McDaniel, the band director, nearly shouted. "Do you even know what an Alpine Horn is?"

"Sure I do. It's that 15 foot horn they play in the Alps." I had done my homework, and knew that Swiss and German shepherds used them. I also knew that Mozart had even written a composition for Alpine Horn. Turns out it was Leopold Mozart, but that didn't matter back then.

"I don't think there's an Alpine Horn anywhere in Indiana, let alone in Muncie. Just pick another instrument," he suggested. "Something a little more. . . sane."

Somewhere in the deep, dark recesses of my mind, I remembered something one of my parents' friends told me. This was very odd, because at ten years old, I never listened to my parents, let alone well-meaning strangers.

"Learn to play the French Horn," said the friend, "and you will be able to play anything."

"How about the French Horn?" I asked Mr. McDaniel.

"We've got one of those," he said, sealing my fate. I went on to become one of only four grade school French Horn players in the entire city that year. That number grew to five horn players in my high school, through a series of trumpet defections and strong-arm tactics from our high school band director.

As a result, my growth in fifth and sixth grade was severely limited, but my arms grew at an alarming rate. The rest of my body didn't catch up until I was 19. You see, the French Horn is not so much a brass instrument as it is a 120 pound concrete block with a mouthpiece on one end, and a big shiny bell on the other.

Three times a week, I would lug my instrument home, wondering if I could talk my parents into buying me a motorized cart, or even moving closer to the school. As I would stagger home, some mouth-breathing grown-up with delusions of cleverness would call out helpful things like "You should have picked the piccolo," or "Bet you wish that came with wheels."

I would usually fake a smile, wave, and silently wish I had gotten that Alpine Horn I asked for. Shepherds could nail a hungry wolf from 75 feet with one, and suburban dorks weren't much harder to hit.

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