After a four-decade absence, I was tooting my trumpet once again at an Eastern Washington University football game.
Well, whaddya know. Guess you can go back.
Pity my lip didn’t join me Friday night.
No surprises there, of course. Nixon was still corrupting the White House the last time I logged any serious practice time.
But I wasn’t about to let a little thing like a case of the flubber chops stop me.
With most of the student musicians gone for winter break, my alma mater was in a desperate fix to fill the band for its nationally televised playoff game against Villanova.
By now, of course, we all know the glorious outcome of that struggle.
The Eagles will play for a national championship in Texas early next month thanks to thumping the Wildcats 41-31.
It’s a great time to be an Easterner.
(Sorry. You’re not going catch me using that awful-sounding “Eag” nickname.)
The radical new turf is sure to get some of the credit for the Villanova vanquish, but of course, that’s absurd.
Everybody knows that, aside from the players, it’s the band that really wins the game.
Yessir. Nothing keeps a team’s momentum going like hearing a few bars of “Thriller,” the theme from “Mission: Impossible” or “Smoke on the Water” from its band in the stands.
Well, I wasn’t about to let down the school that saved me from being drafted into the Vietnam War.
So I dug out my horn and headed to Cheney, just like old times. Many others did the same.
In fact, putting out a communitywide call for musicians was a genius move by the university’s music department. Some 140 musicians responded, which is amazing considering that the school’s regular band is about 90 to 100 strong.
“I’m shocked,” said a delighted Patrick Winters, the Eastern director of bands and music department chair.
“I was hoping for 50.”
Stepping back into the Eastern band room gave me a case of déjà voodoo. The place looks so unchanged.
Same harsh lighting. Same seating arrangement. Same bad linoleum. …
I think I spotted some of the same spit stains I created by downloading my trumpet in 1970.
It was also strange being around people who can, well, actually play.
Andy Plamondon, the EWU trumpet instructor, for example.
Putting me in the same section with Andy is like letting Paris Hilton co-lecture with Stephen Hawking at a cosmology summit.
(For the record, I was playing my antique cornet. I sold the Bach trumpet I played in college to buy a camera when I started committing acts of journalism.)
But nobody seemed to mind my shortcomings. After running through the Eastern fight song and a few other inspirational gems, we were issued matching red EWU parkas and told to head out to Roos Field.
This was my first experience eyeballing the shocking new turf.
Calling it red doesn’t really do it justice. It’s more like the giant hemorrhage the survivors would see on a Civil War battlefield.
But I won’t complain. Eastern, after all, was a college when I attended. And our mascot was a racially insensitive caricature of a Native American.
Considering that legacy, they could paint the field purple with yellow polka dots and it would be progress.
What a magic night it was to be back playing in the band!
Those responsible – Winters, Don Goodwin, Melody Fisher, Luke Brockman, Brian Phillips and Heidi Hanes – did a stellar job of making this musical experience as great as the game.
The temperature was pretty special, too.
I played my horn at a lot of cold high school and college football games. But performing at a game this deep into December? This was something entirely new.
The trick for trumpeters is to always hold the metal mouthpiece in a gloved hand between tunes.
Forgetting to do so can create upper lip hypothermia, which explains all the sour notes that were coming out of my horn.
At least that’s the excuse I’m sticking with.
And weather is just one of the hazards of performing in a band. I had totally forgotten the dangers of playing in front of the trombone section.
That is, until Brian Mueller drained the slobber out of his slide, baptizing trumpeter Shawn Stout and me.
“I tried to keep it in the middle,” said Mueller cheerfully.
No problem. I’m just glad those EWU-issued parkas are waterproof.