All I could do was ‘toot, toot, toooot’

Published 11:00 pm Friday, March 22, 2013

When you’re 12 years old and there’s music inside you, it’s got to come out.

Daddy was all right with me playing in the band but Mama kept bringing up about me and Mrs. French, my piano teacher.

She didn’t recognize my musical talent. She would wind up that metronome and say, “Keep time, now,” and it would tic-tic and tic. I didn’t know how to keep time with that. She would rap my knuckles with her pencil when I missed a note. That hurt.

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I don’t know why Mama got so mad at me. All I told Mrs. French was that I couldn’t take piano lessons anymore because we were short on money.

Daddy finally told me I could take band but I had to promise to practice.

The only instrument for rent was a baritone horn in a big, heavy case lined with dark green velveteen that smelled like valve oil. That case banged against my ankle when I walked it home. That hurt.

Daddy said I was blowing my brains out practicing so loud and so much, Mr. Jacobs put me on the clarinet.

I was a good spitter but I didn’t like to have to lick the reed to get it “pliable” like Mr. Jacobs said. No matter how pliable I got the reed it squeaked. Daddy said all the squeaking and squawking made the hair on his head stand straight up. I thought that was funny because Daddy had a bald head.

One day, Daddy came home with a surprise, a used, used to be gold trumpet with a mute to stick in the end. I was proud.

My friend Betty Kay’s daddy bought her a brand new, silver cornet that was just a short, fat trumpet.

We took band together and Betty Kay set about making herself Mr. Jacobs’ pet. She picked up the sheet music that fell on the floor, folded up the music stands and washed his coffee cup out in the water fountain. She got to play all the melody parts. I had to play the bottom notes – “toot, toot, toot” – all on the same note. “Toooot, toooot, toooot. Toot!” Ugh!

I practiced a lot. Too much, Daddy said. I could play better than Betty Kay but Mr. Jacobs never let me play the melody part because Betty Kay was his pet.

But, one day Betty Kay left school early and Mr. Jacobs let me play the melody. It was beautiful. I shined.

Mr. Jacobs said so himself. So, when Betty Kay came back, he said that we were going to play the duet, “Jimmy Crack Corn,” that we had been practicing, in the school assembly program on Friday. But I was going to play the melody and Betty Kay was going to have to “toot, toot, tooooot.”

Betty Kay didn’t like that. She whined about it but the pet didn’t get her way.

I practiced my duet part until I was blue in the face, that’s what Daddy said. I could hardly wait to get up on that stage and “shine” like Mr. Jacobs said I would.

The morning of the assembly program, Betty Kay didn’t meet me to walk to school. Her mama was probably putting Shirley Temple ringlets in her hair.

When it got time for the assemble program, Mr. Jacobs said Betty Kay was sick so we wouldn’t get to play our duet.

The band played on but all I could do was “toot, toot, toooot.”