Looking over the years of posts, I see that we don’t usually mention much to do with Remembrance Day right on the day. So I thought I’d write something I was thinking about.
I’ll never forget what happened the year I was picked to play Last Post and Reveille at our school assembly and then at the local cenotaph. I was pretty flattered that they chose me, and then I practiced like mad. I didn’t have any braille music, I was never really good at that anyway, so I just had to listen to it and memorize it. I didn’t realize how easy it was to get wrong. So many of the little parts were kind of similar, and the whole thing was a bit repetitive. Plus there were all the little pauses. You don’t really think about them when you just listen, but when you have to make them, you don’t want to get ’em wrong.
At least I didn’t. I figured all the veterans in attendance would know those songs so well that any little error would be almost painful. I had convinced myself that if I didn’t do it just so, I would insult them all en mass, and I didn’t want to do that. Oh hell no. So I practiced obsessively. I didn’t get much of a warning that I was going to do this, so I’m pretty sure my practicing consisted of oodles of repetitions over a weekend. I’m sure my family grew to hate those two songs.
So the day came. I did it at the assembly. It went ok. I was satisfied with that performance. But that wasn’t the one that worried me. It was the one at the cenotaph that scared the hell out of me.
We all went out there. I think we walked, which when I look back on it, was weird because it was damn cold out. But maybe we got drives, but my memory is foggy on that part. I was bundled up like mad, but it was still really really really cold. Now, think of what that cold was doing to my trumpet. All the metal was contracting.
I was part of the band and we played a couple of songs. I remember thinking I was having a harder time hitting notes, and this scared me. Then it came time for me to get up and do my thing. I remember walking up there, standing there, and then starting.
Those first notes sounded like I had a mute stuffed in the end of my trumpet. I knew this was bad. There was trouble ahead, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I did my best to play Last Post, but there were a few squeaks and squawks in there…and with every squeak, my heart sank. All I could think was “You’re insulting a lot of people! I don’t know how many people are here, but you’re spitting on them!” I got to the end, and had to wait for the 21 gun salute. God I hated that thing. I never knew when they were going to fire. I played Reveille, and it was full of more squeaks and squawks too. Oh I wanted to die.
As we started walking back, I hung my head. The faster I could get out of sight, I thought, the better. I knew someone had videotaped my playing, so not only did I dishonour all these people, but it was immortalized on tape.
Then, the weirdest thing happened! A man walked up to me and said “I want to shake the hand of the buglist! That was great!” “Great?” I managed to sputter out. “What? Uh, um, thanks.” Then a few more shook my hand. I was completely confused. How could that attrocity with squeaks, squawks and cracks be considered anything close to great?
I went home, perplexed. I watched the video. No, that wasn’t great…at least I sure didn’t think so. In fact, it hurt me.
Then an article came out in the paper talking about the service at the cenotaph, and someone referred to me as “the fine little bugler” or something. I think it had my picture. Eek. It was only then that I convinced myself that it couldn’t have been that bad, and maybe that’s what it sounded like on some of those cold mornings and nights. Maybe all the errors made it more authentic. Or maybe they knew I was doing the best I could.
But the most amazing part of that whole thing was for a few weeks, I received cards from veterans thanking me for playing there. That surprised me, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget that. And it made me think. If they could thank me for what felt like massacring songs that meant a lot to them, then I could sure be thankful for what they had done.
Now every year, when I see those news clips with somebody playing Last Post, I think of that day, and I wonder about the person playing. Were they nervous, or was this something they had done for years? Did they have to play outside? Was it cold out? Before I played them, they were just songs that you always heard that day.
I really don’t know how to end this. Looking back, it looks kind of selfish. People fought and died and lost their friends and I’m worried about my crackly trumpet? I hope that people stopped and thought about what today meant in their own way somehow. Have a peaceful Remembrance Day everybody.