email me your comments
“If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.”
—Barry Lopez
(as Badger, in Crow and Weasel)


To be nobody but yourself -- in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you like everybody else -- means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.
- e. e. cummings


The Mountaintop Wedding
----- It was obviously going to be one of those days. I was closing in on the end of a very difficult rehearsal. The students and I were very agitated. They weren’t working at all and I was entirely frustrated with them. I don’t recall how I closed the rehearsal, but I’m sure the words I chose were not words that would lift their spirits but rather advance my selfish need to punish them for their lack of cooperation.
----- The moment I released the students, a very shy and reserved freshman girl made a path straight toward me. She looked me right in the eye and said, “I hate you!” I was taken aback and frightened by the passion and sincerity in her voice. Though entirely shocked, I was somehow able to collect myself and found calm. I looked her right in the eye and said, “Well that’s a shame, because I really LIKE you.” She didn’t react, but rather stormed away, her anger unchanged.
----- Months later, we had the occasion to speak in private. She asked if I remembered the time she told me that she hated me. How could I forget? She went on to admit quite openly and honestly that it was herself, not me, that she hated. The moment got heavy and she began to tell me of her fears, insecurities, pressures….
----- I became aware that she had been opening up to a colleague of mine with more specifics. This was a very confused and frightened young lady. I hurt for her, but I was thankful that my friend was there and that she had him to lean on. Their relationship might well have saved her life.
----- Throughout the next few years I saw her open up a bit more. She would occasionally share how she felt, usually along the lines of being afraid of rejection. She joked about it often, but the laughter was never sufficient to mask the insecurity that ate at her soul. Often I’d admonish her for not speaking with her parents about it. She’d answer, “I can’t tell them anything.” “I can’t even talk to them about the weather.” “They won’t listen.” This hurt me. I knew her parents well and this reluctance to relate with them further demonstrated her insecurity. I knew that her inability to talk to them had nothing to do with their love for her. Again I saw very clearly that this was a confused soul.
----- Each time a competitive event came around she’d work very hard to prepare the music. The day of performance would come, and the fear of rejection would whittle her away into a non-functioning pile of splinters. Each experience seemed to become more painful than the last. So my dilemma was clear, how should I approach this situation? The usually noble “don’t give up” attitude seemed anything but noble. But to tell her to walk away was to ask her to admit defeat. So we stormed ahead into unsuccessful performance after unsuccessful performance, each becoming increasingly more painful. Still I tried my best to encourage her and show her where she had improved and how she had found some success through the experience. Mere words never seemed to help. They never seemed to make a difference at all. But I was always amazed by her tenacity and resilience. I didn’t see how she could keep coming back for more punishment. I kept waiting for her to quit, vowing not to pressure her otherwise. One of the most perplexing moments occurred when she sold her horse and bought a shiny new trumpet. Why had she chosen to trade her passion for her pain?
----- In the spring of her junior year, she prepared once again for solo competition. The day before the contest I listened to her play with her accompanist. I was excited to hear the apparent transformation. She played with beauty and clarity, indeed with confidence. She was well prepared, as always; but this time something seemed different. I thought she had broken through. But then one small mistake brought all the past pain crashing down around her. She threw down the trumpet she had paid her passion for and stormed out of the room.
----- She came back into the room later, eyes red with tears and told me she was not going to perform the solo she had worked so hard to prepare. In all sincerity, I must admit that in that moment I gave up on her. I decided that her insecurity was too severe for my untrained counsel. I vowed not to allow her another failure and gave in easily to her request not to compete.
----- The next morning she arrived in time to catch the bus. Her smile was obvious and her step was full of life as she approached my office. “I’m going to play my solo!”
----- I didn’t know how to respond exactly. Looking back, I am surprised at my response. After expressing my joy in her decision I asked, “What happened to change your mind.” I was even more surprised at her answer.
----- “I got home and decided to play it for my parents and it went real well.”
I was beaming inside. I thought she couldn’t even talk to her parents, never mind make herself vulnerable with her worst fears.
“Then I decided to go down the street and play it for some friends. And it went well there also. They really liked it.” Apparently she made several trips in her neighborhood, her own little recital tour.
----- We arrived at the contest and she performed a nearly flawless rendition of the solo, receiving the highest rating and an invitation to the state contest. She was on cloud nine and I secretly let out a huge sigh of relief. By the time we got to the state meet a few months later, her nerves seemed as if they were a thing of the past. This was easily the most profound instance of conquering “stage fright” I had ever seen.
----- The following school year, her senior year, I selected a marching band “closer” that featured a rousing trumpet solo. In all honesty, I did so with the understanding that we had a couple of “soloists” who could pull off the task admirably in front of hundreds if not thousands of football and/or marching contest fans. I never really considered the possibility that she would “win” the solo. Playing a classical solo for a few friends or a judge in a private room was one thing. This was Texas! Filling up a crowded football stadium with sound on a breezy Friday night was quite another. But each round of auditions for the solo had her advance to the next level, and each time she performed the solo, it was noticeably better than her rivals. The job was hers.
----- The band went on to compete at contests with success, and it appeared to me that my timid and insecure trumpet player had somehow taken on the role of “spark plug” for the band. They seemed to feed off her energy through each performance and rehearsal. Following the final triumphant contest we decided to perform the show one final time at the football game, our “encore performance.” The opening three numbers went well and were well received by the crowd, larger than normal as the team was playing a bitter rival in a game with playoff implications. For years I had witnessed this same crowd, in love with its football, indifferent to its band. But tonight was different. As we approached the closer and my trumpet soloist made her way to the front I must admit that I was terrified. This would be her greatest test. Could it all be undone right here?
----- She came to the front, not in the usual manner, but with a swagger. She took her hat off and placed it on the ground beside her. As she made a motion to the drum major that seemed to say, “Fire it up big guy!” I was in disbelief. The solo started and she was on fire, moving around, gyrating, and taunting the crowd to get involved. At one point she even took one had off the trumpet and pointed at them. And the solo was glorious; far and away the best I’d ever heard her. As it reached its conclusion, our formerly indifferent audience leapt to its feet and cheered as if we’d scored the winning touchdown. I couldn’t hear any of the full band shout chorus that echoed the solo. I burst into tears. She had quite literally captivated an entire town. She picked up her hat and swept it across her body in one of the biggest bows I have ever witnessed. She repeated this gesture several times as the crowd roared with joy.
----- The story could end here and be a triumph, but for my indulgence I must continue. She went on to college after high school, playing in bands everywhere she attended. I believe she enjoyed herself most when she played her instrument. We often played alongside each other at the church we attended as well. At one point, during the summer, she and I were invited to play at one of her classmate’s weddings. We hadn’t seen each other in several years. It was a fun reunion.
---- Several years later I was playing at another wedding. Following the service, her mother came toward me all excited and told me she was getting married in exactly one year. “She wants you to play at her wedding. Trouble is, it’s in Colorado.”
----- In my excitement I didn’t really think before speaking. “Wow! That would be great. Maybe I can make a family vacation out of it.” Her mother’s face lit up, and in that moment I knew I had messed up. I didn’t really think at the time I could make it happen, why did I get her hopes up?
----- A few months before the wedding I had not heard anything at all. Part of me was disappointed, the other elated that I would not have to find a way out of the situation. I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to let them down. Then I received the call from her mother. I told her that I would maybe be able to come to the wedding myself if they helped me get there, but the family thing was probably out of the question. We had planned a trip to Arkansas and just couldn’t afford another. As we began making plans for them to fly me there for the wedding it just didn’t feel right to me. I guess that feeling was contagious, because my family willingly and joyfully, in fact with great anticipation, volunteered to forego the long planned trip to Arkansas and accompany me to the wedding.
----- What followed was one of the most delightful weekends I have ever spent. I was warned that the wedding was not going to be traditional by any stretch. It would be held outdoors, atop a mountain overlooking Crested Butte, the place the couple had met. And one other matter; the bride and groom would be on horseback. When she had traded her horse for her trumpet all those years before, she had not traded her passion, and sometimes we do get to have our cake and eat it too.
----- I didn’t realize how close I had come to failure of the highest order until someone called me over to join in a conversation with the maid of honor at the rehearsal dinner. “You’re going to want to hear this.”
----- It seems as though the dorm girls in college had a little game they loved to play when they took road trips. They would take turns driving. The driver would list all the things they wanted at their dream wedding. It was the job of the person riding “shotgun” to take dictation, forming an ever-changing wish list, a verbal hope chest of dreams. But it seems as though the fun would stop when my trumpet soloist took the steering wheel. “She wouldn’t play. All she would say is, ‘I want my high school band director to play trumpet at my wedding. The rest doesn’t matter’.” At hearing that story I had to hold back tears. How close I had come to choosing my own comfort zone, relaxing on a lazy hot summer day while miles away my trumpet soloist’s wedding took place without me.
----- So the story continues. She and her husband live in Colorado, on a ranch, surrounded by horses. He works with the horses. She works in town. She develops programs for troubled youths so that they may find their passion, their voice, their crowded stadium on a breezy Friday night.