Dec 9, 2007

Free Agency and How to Enforce It

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 Anchorage to the lone music store in the area and then back, with me squeaking and squawking beside her all the way home.

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?


  1. Oh my goodness, Liz! I am so tickled by your blog. What a riot! I wish I could hear all of you play. I am inspired to get my kids in a room to play together. We have the violin, viola, french horn, trumpet, trombone, cello, flute and piano...and several vocalists. We had fun in the car last night on the way home from the temple. My three kids that have had or currently have the same H.S. choir director were harmonizing some Christmas carols they know. One's an alto, one's a soprano and one's a bass. they are all trying to convince the youngest son he has to stay a tenor as so far we don't have on in the family. Hmmm, perhaps that will be a requirement for the next son-in-law! Thanks for the idea!

  2. Oh..I nearly forgot. I love your description..."mellow and rich as Christmas can't get any better than that!

  3. I was about to type--"but there are moments when we play 'O Little Town of Bethlehem' that we sound as mellow and rich as Christmas chocolate"--what a beautiful phrase!--when I saw that Kari had beaten me to it. :-)

  4. What I see is the influence of a good woman! Seven baritones - WOW!

  5. It sounds like such fun, I want to push my own family. You make it seem wonderful, appealing, and doable. thanks, Liz.

    I just got home from a Messiah Sing-Along (at our stake building) which turned out to exceed my own high expectations. My daughter Kat, my granddaughter Amy and I sat pretty far back. Some excellent sopranos sounded from behind us, but we could hear no altos. Half the time we searched wildly for that elusive pitch, and occasionally I couldn't even be sure which measure -- or page. But the music still inspired us, and the awesome soloists produced heavenly, operatic strains.

    Then I read of your love affair with baritone horns and wonder what I'm missing. A family band, that's what. If I can stop being too busy, I just might tackle that. Am I too old for a baritone? Maybe a baton, and direct?
    Thanks for the inspiration, Liz -- and all.

  6. Oh Liz---How wonderful your blog is about the family band. I love it. We too have muscial talent but we hardly are all together anymore to hear it. Some day. That was very inspiring and I love the title too!!
    I too, went to a Messiah Sing-Along last night and it was heavenly. In the past-most in the audience are too intimidated to sing but this year almost everyone sang and the Hallelujah Chorus sounded as if we were going to blow the roof off the building.
    Thanks again for the blog.

  7. What a delightful blog, Liz! I think I want to join your family!


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