Updated: Oct 15, 2019
Yeller: Ms. Pettigrew
Place: East Bradford Elementary School
Time: December 2005
In 4th grade was when everyone in our school was able to choose an instrument to play. I chose the trombone for two reasons:
Reason #1: This cute girl named Jessica told me that she was thinking of playing the saxophone, and I had also heard that trombone players took lessons with the saxophone players. And the reason I didn’t just also play the saxophone, is because the buttons, scared me.
Reason #2: My Dad was a phenomenal trombone player. He’d played trombone for the Marine Corps band for many years when he was in his 20’s living in New Orleans. He’s played all over the country from small jazz clubs, to playing at the super-bowl half-time show! Needless to say having him around to give me some pointers would be a nice bonus.
I began playing trombone and right away I realized how hard this instrument is! Trombone is a super hard instrument to play for a 4th grader, because you only have these little 4th grade arms that can’t even reach a C note on the slide, and the mouthpiece is larger than your actual 4th grade mouth! I was a horrible trombone player for a very long time, but I had one solace in all of this: Gina. Gina was a 5th grade trombone player, and she was also terrible. Which made me feel great, because at least if I was terrible, I would only take half the blame for blowing it completely (pun intended).
That is until 3 weeks before our first winter concert, when Gina decides to QUIT!
What the H, Gina!? She just up and left me as the only trombone player in the whole school! And I’m god awful at it!
2 weeks before the concert, our school has a parent teacher night and my Dad meets our band teacher Ms. Pettigrew for the first time. But as soon as he mentions to her that he played trombone in the Marines, she gets an idea!
“Oh my gosh! Mr. Roe, would you like to play in the 4th grade concert with us?!”
My Dad was obviously reluctant about this. He goes, “I’m not so sure, this is really their thing. I don’t want to overshadow what they’re doing.” And she goes, “Please...will you play in our concert with us?”
Finally he agrees. I was less than thrilled about this. Like sure, it’s nice to have another trombonist around to share the blame with when this inevitably tanks, but not when they’re a world-class trombonist! And what would Jessica think?! Her on my right and an adult man on my left?! No way!
The night of the concert I’m incredibly nervous, I couldn’t wait to get this over with. We start playing our first song and my Dad and I seem to be playing a game to see who can play their trombone the quietest. I’m playing quietly because I don’t want anyone to hear the noises coming out of my trombone. He’s playing quietly because he doesn’t want to upstage a bunch of 9 year-olds. We were both playing so quietly that Ms. Pettigrew, while conducting with her left hand, waved us down with her right hand and aggressively whispered to us to “Get louder now!”
The second and third song went a little better, I could feel myself getting a little more comfortable, a little more relaxed, and maybe even enjoying it. But the last song we played was “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong. If you know the song, it’s very slow and soft and sweet. It’s an absolutely beautiful song, and we played it beautifully. But the best part was halfway through the song I began to pay attention to my Dad as I was playing, hearing every note hit perfectly, so smoothly and beautifully. And in that moment, I was truly happy and grateful that I got to perform with him sitting by my side. I mean how many kids get an opportunity to share something like this with their Dad? It was one of those incredibly blissful moments that I’ll never forget.
My Dad ended up playing with our school band for the next 5 years! We had a grand total of 0 new trombone players throughout elementary and middle school, leaving me as the only trombone player, along with my Dad! And I loved it every time, I was never embarrassed by it, I was only ever excited to perform with him again and again. It was such a special thing for us.
But when I got to high school, there were some upperclassman that played trombone, no longer making me the only trombone player in the school. And unfortunately that meant they no longer needed my Dad to play with us. And I only ended up playing for one more semester before I decided to quit trombone. It just felt like something was missing, like it wasn’t fun anymore. So I put my instrument back in it’s case, locked it, and left it all together.
Fast forward to this past summer, I spent a few weeks on the road performing comedy all over the south and I decided to plan one full day to see the beautiful city of New Orleans. I was so excited about this because I had heard so many things about the city from my Dad, and I was finally going to experience it for myself and see the world that my Dad lived in when he was my age!
New Orleans is an incredible city with more culture than I’ve ever seen, but the best part of my day was visiting the famous jazz club, Preservation Hall. It’s an old hole-in-the-wall jazz club in the French Quarter where these old musicians play authentic dixieland jazz music. The whole time I was enthralled by the talent of these guys, especially the trombone player! And right before they ended, a guy walks up from the back of the room, handed the leading man a 5 dollar bill, and asked him to play “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong.
They played the song, and it was one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever experienced in my life. Every note hit perfectly with a smoothness that fills you with warmth and joy. All of a sudden I’m just overcome with emotions, crying and getting stares from everyone around me. Because in that moment, listening to that song, I was transported back into being 4th grade Ryan, sitting next to my Dad on stage and being perfectly happy.
When I got back from my tour I immediately ran up to my parent’s attic, shuffled through boxes and shelves, and found my old trombone! They’d kept it for the last 10 years! I was so excited, I opened the case and I can smell the sweetness of the brass, and I hear the jingle of the slide being screwed into the bell. And as I begin playing it again for the first time in a decade, I’m instantly reminded, of how terrible I was.
But this time, I don’t care. Because I’m not listening to myself. I’m listening to the memory of playing with my Dad.
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