Now, if any of you know how a trombone works (I had to be reminded of this once by sacbut specialist Ron Westray, but that’s another story) you will be cognizant of the fact that at age six there is no way to reach the bottom positions - sixth and seventh - without either being a contortionist, or letting go of the slide. This restriction made it difficult, but not impossible to play a few melodies, and with this knowledge my father prepared me for my first concert. This took place on Christmas Eve. The repertoire: the perennial classic “Jingle Bells.”
My dad had me practicing for several days leading up to the concert. When the big night finally arrived, the extended Nash family, the Persoffs, and several other close friends were spread around the living room on our eclectic collection of chairs and floor pillows. An announcement was made and I entered from the dining room. There was no opening act, no fanfare. (True art needs no ornamentation). The applause became more enthusiastic as the group caught sight of the skinny little blond kid trying to carry this awkward assemblage of pipes. Even though I was nervous, I am sure I had the intuitive understanding that no matter what I played they would like it. But this didn’t stop me from taking this concert very seriously, from grabbing it full on, from giving it my all.
I got right to it. I remembered the first seven notes were the same, an A, and I had to put the slide down a little from the top - “second position” in my newly acquired vernacular. After that I faltered: the next note was supposed to a C, but sounded more like a B. Then I lost confidence and clammed a note. From there it was down hill. I think what I eventually played sounded more like “Dradle, Dradle, Dradle” than “Jingle Bells.”
When the song was over and the last note finally petered out, my performance was greeted by a thunderous ovation. My intuitive understanding also told me they were probably all faking it, and I ran back to the dining room crying. My father caught up with me seconds before the trombone was to have found a new home on the grass, on the other side of the window (in a pool of broken glass). “That was great! Perfect!” he assured me.
Once my whimpers had subsided, and my shoulders had made their last up and down spasm, I braved the family and friends again and did my best to receive their accolades (whether authentic or not) and had some egg nog.