Sunday, January 1, 2012


It's a funny thing about gifts. While a thing that we're gifted to do in life can master us, define us, lend us a piece of our identity, enable us to do what no one else can do, steward us to great heights of accomplishment... it can also break us, back us into corners, entrap us, destroy us, burn us like wicks until all the fuel is gone and we're utterly spent.

Probably the best metaphor for this is the simple seed.

Seeds. Contained within one of these impossible capsules is an entire forest, given enough time, good soil, rain. Generations can be supported on one grain of wheat, which again, given enough time, will produce field upon endless field of staple crops for the children of the children of the children of the man who first sowed it. It's incredible, but we can hear in this expression of creation the voice of God asking us why we're so amazed.

I've experienced a weird hate-love with a gift in my own life. It all started when I was eleven years old and in desperate need of something to do. I needed something to define me. Tell me, at least in part, who I was. The first time I ever touched a trumpet it was clear that I had a natural ability for it; a gift. I was able to make it work. One of my band directors in high school, Dan Christian, pulled me aside one day during my senior year and asked me why I wasn't auditioning for the Indiana All-State Band. I just shrugged and implied I was bored with it. That's when he told me that he had never in his life seen a kid take to the trumpet like I had. He told me that I really shouldn't be able to do half the stuff I was able to do, that I had been fortunate that no one had ever told me I couldn't. This is an incredible guy, by the way: he famously told us, "If you're gonna make a mistake, make it loud." I ended up auditioning for the Indiana All-State Band, and I made the All-State Honor band. Not first chair, but first part. I still have the CD of our concert somewhere, I think. That was the year I played Carnival of Venice, too, which is, as any trumpet player worth his salt will tell you, one of the premiere pieces in the repertoire.

Why do I bore you with these inane details? It's not to brag about anything. I'm far past those immature days; I might even hazard the opinion that most of it has been burned out of me. No, I tell this story to set the stage for a radical idea that, like a seed, has germinated within me after years--seventeen of them--lying dormant.

But first, another story. Bear with me. In 2006 I started up a construction company with my dad and my brother. By summer of 2007 it was busted, and for lots of reasons, but I maintain that I was rescued from success because it would have been more damaging than failure, at least given the way we were going about our business. After that, we entered the crucible. I was unable to find work for over a year. I was deeply depressed. It was as if I had lost someone, not something. We started selling off everything we didn't need in order to make ends meet. My drums, our band's PA system, my huge home stereo, the months-old plasma TV... then pretty much all that was left was the trumpet.

I had delivered papers for two years, maybe three years, saving my money for that pro-line trumpet. At the Indiana Trumpet Competition in Anderson Indiana in the summer of 1991, after play-testing several trumpets from the hundreds on display, I selected a Bach Stradivarius model 180S with a 43H heavyweight bell and 25LR reverse leadpipe. Very sexy for the times, let me tell you. And it played like nothing else. Rather than inhibiting my talents, it amplified them, made everything easier, better, richer.

In 2008 I sold it. I prayed about it quite a lot beforehand, too. I knew that I needed to provide for my family, and I wasn't opposed to selling it. "No sacred cows," I say. My in-laws lived in Hawaii at the time, and they told us, "Why don't you guys come here and look for a job?" All we needed to do was get there; they told us they would put us up in their one bedroom condo in Honolulu until we found something that worked. We needed about $1600 for the plane tickets, if I remember right. I appraised my old Strad and guess how much it was worth? It sold on eBay quickly for the appraised value. Some rather fortunate young trumpeter in the London area is now (hopefully) the proud owner. Off it went, certified post, and off we went to Hawaii. I found a job there quickly, working at a marina doing dock maintenance. Of course, I was laid off after about four months and we then came back home, but it was precisely what we needed: refreshment.

When I made the decision to sell my Strad I distinctly heard God tell me if I laid it down completely then, He would repay my decision, my sacrifice, many times over. I was glad to do it. And I don't believe that word repay connotes monetary value, either. God is creative. I shall be wise enough to allow Him to choose how and when; I live and breathe at His mercy daily. So we'll see what happens next.

And speaking of what's next, we're now full circle in the little story I'm telling here. I think also that it's significant that I'm posting this on the first day of a brand new year. That's what I'm talking about: my radical idea. Actually, it's probably not radical at all for anyone but me. Forgive me this indulgence, will you? You see, in the hard years now hopefully behind me, I've learned a great deal about holding to things loosely. How to lay my will down. How to make sacrifices for others. How to stop thinking so damn much about me, me, ME. In fact I learned it so well that when this idea finally occurred to me I was shocked at how out of the blue it was. Truly, it was the furthest thing from my mind.

I was so over the trumpet that I had actually gone to a local music shop and talked with them, casually, about getting a tenor sax on a rent-to-own program. But that was months ago. This new idea came gently, like a steady rustling breeze on a bed of hot coals, enlivening them slowly, roundly, thoroughly. I thought, Hey. I could teach trumpet. And that was it. Then, Why not rent one? The next day I was in the same shop looking, seriously, for a trumpet to rent. They obliged me with a play-test, also directing me next door to  a studio that, strangely enough, was looking for trumpet teachers. Huh, I thought. The lady was busy with students, however, but she took my number and promised to call.

I took another fine instrument on approval for a week, from another local shop. I got back into my fundamental routine, daily gaining more flexibility. The day came to return it, and I walked in and asked for another. A better one. A Bach Strad. There was a guy in line behind me as I went through the checkout process. He seemed a decent fellow, and asked me if I was buying a new trumpet. I told him no, just checking one out on approval, trying to get back into playing. That week, I had also Googled that nice lady with the studio who was looking for trumpet teachers and called her up and left a message. You've gotta chase these things down sometimes.

Later on that day, I got a call from the other shop; the one from which I had borrowed the Strad. This one took me way back. On the phone was a young man I had known since he was small enough to ride piggyback on my shoulders. He saw my name in the transaction record and decided to track me down to see if I was indeed who he thought I was (I was). Today he's an accomplished cellist, educated at Vanderbilt. He's quite well-connected, shall we say, with the local schools, and told me he was very interested in doing whatever he could to help me build up a private studio. He gave me a phone number as well: one of the trumpet players in the Boise Philharmonic. I called that gentleman right away and introduced myself, telling him I had been given his number by a young man who worked at Dunkley's Music. He said, "Hey, were you down at Dunkley's today?" I answered yes. He said, "I was right behind you in line." Turns out I had already met, in person, the guy I was going to meet over the phone. We're going to meet in person again soon to talk about strategies for building up my clientele. And just like that, I'm tapped into the local community of professional musicians.

The only thing is: I need a trumpet if I'm going to teach. It's not something that's learned out of books. It's learned by rote, by doing, by example, by repetition. A trumpet instructor without an axe is absurd. I was wracking my brain to figure out how to acquire a trumpet in the most cost-effective way. I could rent one, but that's a long-term expense that adds to the overhead of my business. While that remains an option, I nevertheless had a brainwave and struck on an idea that could be better, plus allow people that I've known for years to have a hand in helping me out, getting me back into playing trumpet and fulfilling a long dormant and frustrated part of me that wants to positively impact the youth of my community, the musical capabilities, particularly of younger musicians and students.

What is it? Crowdsourcing. If you've heard of Kickstarter, you know at least a little about what it is. And as of this writing, I'm still waiting to hear back from about my submission and whether or not it's been given a go. Whatever the case may be, my goal is simple:

Raise at least $500, buy a trumpet, and start teaching.

I've already looked on Craigslist and found some. I'm hoping to raise more, of course, but at least with that minimum amount I can get started, start my studio, gain students, make a difference, and earn my way back into this thing, eventually buying a pro-line trumpet again. Maybe even a Bach Stradivarius. I plan to weasel my way into local schools and offer to teach a day of sectionals with the trumpets, train them in proper warm ups, range expansion, the finer points of mouthpiece selection, maybe even give 'em some tips on jazz improvisation. It'll be a great way to recruit students. I'm going to have studio recitals with my students. I'll organize competitions. Together we'll raise the bar. We'll get some of these young musicians listening to properly good music, maybe even positively influence the pop culture with something besides sex and bling and gratuitousness. And who knows, maybe Idaho could become a musical oasis. Anything is possible. I know that for a fact because I have experienced it.

Stay tuned to this space for updates. When I hear from Kickstarter, I'll be posting up their yea or nay. If it's nay, I'll just raise the funds through my blog and social media, using Paypal. There' s more than one way to skin a cat, and there's more than one way to buy a trumpet and make a difference. The key is that we do this together. I really do believe that's crucial. Thanks for being a part of this "radical idea." And for now there are some videos that I put together that will tell you more about me and my story and my idea--plus you get to hear me play (yikes). There's a short and sweet version, and a longer one with an additional ten minutes of footage that tells the whole story. Leave comments here if you have questions/ideas about all this. Thanks for popping in here, and I look forward to getting started on this project ASAP.