Doug Clark: Mother Nature gave my EWU gig a chilly reception
ICE STATION CHENEY – How cold was it Saturday at Eastern Washington University’s triumphant football playoff game?
So cold the band couldn’t perform outside with instruments.
Did that stop us?
We hummed and hollered the school’s fight song whenever a Screaming Eagle scored on the scarlet ice cube of Roos Field.
The Eagles went on to finish the day with a 41-17 victory over the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State.
All together now:
“Ba-ba-ba bah ba-ba, bahhh …”
“Never seen anything like it in 35 years,” said the aptly named Patrick Winters, Eastern Washington University’s director of bands.
In weather this cold, the oil trumpets and other instruments use for lubrication turns thicker than Congress. And not being able to push those valves up and down can really lower the quality of a musical ensemble.
On the plus side, I make a whole lot fewer mistakes when I just hum the notes rather than attempt to actually play them on my ancient cornet.
But don’t think I got off easy. The band performed twice inside the cavernous Reese Court basketball complex where I couldn’t use climate change or Al Gore as an excuse.
“A little rusty?” asked percussion instructor Chris Grant, who had been watching me struggle.
Rusty? When it comes to trumpeting, I’m rustier than the Tin Man after an extended soak in the sea.
But thanks for asking, Chris.
As you can see, I got my wish to rejoin the EWU band, where eons ago I pursued a degree in music.
Three years ago, I tagged along with the band all the way to Texas, where Eastern won its first national football championship.
I had the time of my life. So with the Eagles making another run into December, I asked and Winters told me he’d love to have me back.
“One of my long-range goals,” he said, “is to make you our official mascot.”
Ah, but that was a week or so ago. Little did I know that a deep freeze was about to descend.
Talk about misery.
My eyes watered. My nose ran. I couldn’t feel my lips …
And that was just walking from the music building to Reese Court.
The young students took it in stride, of course. That’s what happens when you’re young; you get to take things in stride.
“You’re the only columnist I know,” said Brandon Rankin, a tenor sax player.
Why, that’s really flattering, Brandon.
“Yeah, I used to read your column back when I was in the eighth grade.”
Ah, youth. They have no idea what’s coming.
The Eastern athletic band, led by Don Goodwin, sounds better than ever. The trumpet section, I can personally attest, is especially outstanding.
Perhaps as a cruel prank, Winters didn’t bother to give me any music.
He instead made me stand next to lead trumpeters Josh Wisswell, Spencer Blake and Taylor Smith and told me to try to play along.
I was more lost in the woods than Carrie Underwood in “Sound of Music Live!”
“Don’t worry,” I told the guys. “I’m here to play as little as possible so as not to bring you shame.”
One of the songs I faked my way through ended with Wisswell screaming this stratospheric double-high B, which almost burst my appendix.
These guys are good.
Goodwin called out another song, titled the “Pretender.”
“Right here,” I yelled back, thinking he was referring to me.
I saw quite a few familiar faces from my Texas trip.
Josh Lindberg, for example, is now 22 and a senior.
“Are you going to stay in music or try to make some money?” I asked, drawing a laugh from the sax/piano man.
At least I didn’t have to embarrass myself by trying to find a band uniform big enough to fit me. Winters let me hide under a red band parka that could have housed the entire cast of “Glee.”
The win over the Jackrabbits means that the Eagles will be hosting another sucker on Roos Field next week.
Winters told me that I’m welcome, but I’m not sure I can make it.
I may not be unthawed.
Doug Clarkcan be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.