Sippican Cottage

Close this search box.
starch factory maine 1280x720
Picture of sippicancottage


A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Revenge of the Plumbing — Part Two

Well, as even casual readers of this humble essayist no doubt remember, I tried to talk my ten-year-old son out of following in his father’s footsteps and taking up the trombone. It’s plumbing, not music, I told him. There’s a trick to it, and the operator really doesn’t swallow the slide like a sword swallower. It’s not that interesting. I even told him jokes about trombones:

What do you do if you find a trombone player on your front porch?

Pay him for the pizza.

Well, day follows night; the orb rises in the east, sets in the west; wrack follows ruin; and last night we went to the big one’s school to hear him, for the first time, play his… ahem… trombone in the school orchestra.

Now keep in mind I have a two year old as well, and I only got to hear the Big One’s snappy numbers between chasing the little Woad Raider up and down the hall and operating the bubbler. (that’s a water fountain for all you heathens that didn’t go to parochial school in Massachusetts as I did)

Every single child in our public school fifth and sixth grade participates in the music program, and our boy is in the orchestra, the jazz band, and the chorus too, so you can imagine how many drinks of water the whole dancecard lasted. But even though I heard a substantial portion of the proceedings over the incessant giggling of the “bubbling” Wee One, while peering through the wire glass of the entry door to the auditorium, I can assure you it was wonderful.

They played the Star Spangled Banner. I’d forgotten how trombone-centric that one is. It’s a touching scene, no many how many times you hear see it; people coming together over common themes to make common cause over a common denominator of musical patriotism.

They played it well, and I could see my boy working the slide, and my mind drifted back thirty years and I could still picture the interesting and stirring counterpoint part he was playing in my head, and my arm almost starting making the motions: First position, then fourth, fifth, sixth…

But it’s not my show any more, it’s for me, not about me now, and all the better. I performed music for a long time, and still occasionally do, and was successful — as far as that went — for one reason: someone, early on, disabused me of the notion that it was about the people on the stage. Everyone pays lip service to that ideal, but in practical terms it’s become nonsense. Popular music is all about personality cult, where the audience affirms its own worth by propping up the self-worth of the idols of their choosing. Many performers have dispensed with the formality of music in their musical entertainments altogether, and simply hurl singsong run-on sentences of complaint into the ether, like they’re exhorting a mob of Mother Goose readers to burn down the Old Lady’s Shoe.

As long as I was performing regularly, I had essentially lost my ability to be entertained. I literally did not know how to behave in an audience. I was “facing the right way.” I was used to “facing the wrong way,” a shorthand term we had for performing.

Well, my boy was facing the wrong way now. And for the first time in a long time, I was entertained.

And a little proud. Shameful, huh?

2 Responses

  1. Wow, you had “bubblers” in Massachusetts, too? I didn’t grow up with the word myself, but my wife assures me it’s a regular thing in Wisconsin. In fact, I’ve never heard its use anywhere else.

    This calls for some pointless but fascinating social research along the lines of soda/coke/pop.

    Oh, and your writing about the concert was humorous and poignant.

    Shameful? You know the answer to that one.

  2. soda/coke/pop? What are these beverages you refer to, sirrah?

    It’s tonic. Everybody knows that. Ask anybody at the bubbler.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Thanks for commenting! Everyone's first comment is held for moderation.