By Liz Adair
My love affair with a baritone horn began about four years ago, a short while after my husband, Derrill, ordered a trombone from Ebay. He was a great trombonist as a young man, and after a hiatus of about forty years, he got the itch to play again.
My daughter and son-in-law were living in our basement at the time while finishing college, and when SIL said he used to play the baritone horn, I ordered one for him on Ebay and found an alto horn for myself.
I had played an alto horn for a week when I was in seventh grade, as that was the only instrument left as a loaner from the school. However, I wanted to play the clarinet, and I begged my mother to rent one so I could get away from that alto horn. She did, driving the winding, two-laned, thirty-two miles to
As I listened to Derrill play the trombone, I thought about my music teacher, Leo Plumbley. I can still picture his broad backside as he leaned over in the instrument closet, rifling through brass instruments and coming up with that alto horn, which I spurned. Maybe it was repentance that made me click on the ‘Bid Now’ icon on Ebay. However it was, I became an alto hornist. But what a struggle! My range was severely limited by my novice embouchure. I scored several hymns for the trio of trombone, baritone and alto horn, but I never got to play melody because I couldn’t play the high notes.
And then one day I played my SIL’s baritone and said, “I think I’m in love.” It was so easy, after my travail with the alto horn. The very same day, I was on Ebay, looking for another cheap baritone.
That was the beginning. I think to date I have purchased eight baritones. I loved the instrument so much, I figured everybody had to love it, too. I leaned on another son-in-law, who played saxophone in our mostly-brass family band, and made him take up the baritone. My viola-playing daughter, married to the SIL who got my first Ebay baritone, is now playing baritone. My son, who used to play string bass in orchestra and who avoided being sucked into family band until I got him a baritone, now plays with us. His wife has a baritone, too, but is pleading pregnancy (she’s due in 2 weeks) before beginning. Some of the horns look as if they were run over by a truck. Most have lost quantities of lacquer. But all the valves and slides work, and they sound pretty good. Well, they sound adequate. Our aspiration is to be mediocre, and manage to do that once in a while.
So, now our family band consists of a trombone, a French horn, and seven baritones. Most of us are beginners, but there are moments when we play “O Little Town of Bethlehem” that we sound as mellow and rich as Christmas chocolate, and “Hark, the Herald” has full and majestic parts—at least when we play in a small room.
What has this to do with agency? It doesn’t. It was the absence of agency that made each child and in-law salute, take the proffered baritone, pucker, and blow.
Which reminds me: my youngest is bringing a young woman by to meet the family for Christmas. Time to hit Ebay again. This will be the acid test—probably more for her than for us. Do you think it’s over the top to require playing the baritone as a prerequisite to joining the family?