T. W. Pyle Junior High School BandPosted: May 8, 2012
1976-1979, Bethesda, Maryland
When I was in 3rd grade, my parents informed me that I was going to take up a musical instrument. I asked to play drums but was encouraged to try something quieter. I took up the trumpet. I took private lessons at a local music studio from a glum youngish man named Mr. Brimmer. I remember having to fill out a little orange practice log book.
In about 6th grade I switched to instruction from a much more jovial guy whose name I’ve completely forgotten. The jolly fellow came to our house. He actually played the euphonium, not the trumpet, and he’d often accompany my playing with oom-pah bass parts. He indulged my love of Monty Python by getting me music for Sousa’s Liberty Bell March. The only other thing I remember about him was that for some reason he gave me a photocopy of a pidgin English translation of Little Red Riding Hood called “Lik Lik Retpela Hat.”
I slayed the mothers in the audience at the 5th and 6th grade talent shows with solo trumpet renditions of “Speak Softly Love” (Nino Rota’s love theme from The Godfather) and Barry Manilow’s hit “Mandy.” But in truth, I was not a very good trumpet player. I practiced indifferently and would blast as loudly as possible in frustration when a passage gave me trouble.
When I got to junior high in 1976, I was able to join the school band. This is particularly momentous for readers of this blog, because it’s the first band I was ever in.
It’s also worth noting that the T. W. Pyle Junior High School Band is the only band I’ve ever been in that I hated.
Our band director was Mrs. Gutoff, who I am astonished to find is still around. Even more astonishing, if the internet is to be believed, she seems to have started teaching in 1974. Which means she was a young woman in 1976. We all thought she was ancient. She sometimes wore one of those neck braces that people wear when they get whiplash, and my friends and I would imitate her saying “I’m fairly athletic,” which we found hilarious.
I was particularly cranky that there was another kid with my last name in the band, also in the trumpet section. I didn’t know anything about Jeff Lerner except that we weren’t related and he was a year older and was a “first” trumpet (I was a second trumpet). You could challenge someone to get moved up to different chair, but I really didn’t stand a chance. So I just beamed invisible rays of hate at him.
The only time I did manage to move up in the trumpets was when a kid named Toby cut off his finger in shop class and couldn’t play trumpet anymore. Eventually he did return, with a new finger made out of a rib or something, but he was out of practice.
By 8th grade I had begun playing bass and my trumpet days were numbered. On bass I could understand a bit of how music worked, and I could play music I liked. When I left Mrs. Gutoff’s junior high band, we returned my rented trumpet.