Sunday, September 13, 2015

Of Trombones and Tender Mercies


If I knew fifty years ago what I know now, I would have urged my husband, Derrill, to keep his college trombone and find a group to play with. But the expediencies of food and shelter and a growing family create different priorities when you're young.

We always had music in our home, though. Derrill's college trombone was sold to buy a marimba, and that was sold to buy a string bass that we toted with us through several moves. We found a friend who played guitar, and for a couple of decades we spent many family evenings singing folk songs.

Derrill playing in the Peach Days Concert
We got seven kids raised and launched, and about the time we had an empty nest, Derrill bought a beater trombone on Ebay. That led to another trombone, which led, finally, to the vintage Bach Stradivarius trombone. It's a model used by many professional musicians, a truly fine instrument.

I know Derrill would like to have been able to play jazz trombone. He has a great ear and a real appreciation for the art form. After he got the Bach trombone he took lessons and spent lots of time woodshedding out in his shop.

He played this horn in the Skagit Concert Band in Mt. Vernon, Washington and for a short time in the Symphony of the Canyons here in Kanab, Utah. But he was frustrated with his inability to pick up where he had left off over fifty years ago.

There was the timing problem, too. As we push on through the middle seventies, we realize we haven't time to learn things that are going to take years of dedication. Life becomes a matter of choices.

In light of that fact, Derrill figured he didn't have time left on this earth to learn to do the Bach horn justice, so he decided to sell it.  He is not trombone-less, as he has another horn that is easier for him to play. Still, advertising the Bach Stradivarius was hard for him to do.

Mike Hettwer, a man in Oregon, bought the horn for his son, Matt, who was studying for his master's degree at California State University at Long Beach. Derrill boxed it up and sent it off, and months later got an email from Mike:

Matt Hettwer, left, winner of competition.
I just wanted to let you know that Matt is putting your trombone to good use. Last week he competed in an international competition in Valencia, Spain, and won! The event was sponsored by the International Trombone Association. He won the Carl Fontana Jazz Trombone event. Thanks again for selling your trombone to us. He is so happy to have it!

Derrill replied:
What a pleasing message. Thank you. We send our congratulations to your son. It was a great horn to own, but far better that it be in the hands of such a talented musician.
Mike's wife Kami wrote back, saying:
Matt's prize is an Edwards trombone, but he says he will continue to use the Bach exclusively.

Kami also sent a link to a newspaper article about Matt's win.

So there you have it. Not only is the Carl Fontana Jazz Trombone competition a very big deal, but you can see from the newspaper article that Matt Hettwer is a dedicated jazz trombonist.

So what is the tender mercy? It's a little hard to explain, but here you have a man, a septuagenarian, who now has the time to practice that he didn't have as a young father trying to provide for his family. He's able to buy a nice horn, but in the meantime his body has betrayed him.Seeing the music is harder and remembering the quick passages is trickier, and his arm doesn't work like it used to.

So when he finally realizes that's one dream that's not going to be realized, he sells his nice trombone. He packs it up and sends it off and figures that's the end of it.

But it's not. He finds out that this horn that he spent hours and hours practicing on is now in the hands of a dedicated musician, one who loves jazz and is mastering the craft. One who's won a prestigious award. With Derrill's Bach trombone.

So, though Derrill hasn't yet gained facility as a jazz trombonist (I still hear him out in the shop playing along with  Louis Armstrong CDs), his favorite horn is playing lots of jazz. There's a lot to smile about, there.

4 comments:

Kami Hettwer said...

Liz, thank you for sharing such tender mercies. We are so glad Matt was able to provide a little comfort to you and Derrill knowing his trombone is being put to good use. The article brought tears to my eyes. Hugs. Kami

ighj,b said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ighj,b said...

Hello, this is Matt Hettwer. I want to let you know that it makes me very glad to see that you are happy where your trombone ended up. As any musician can attest, one's instrument is personal and seeing it pass to a stranger can be unsettling at the least. I would feel the same way if I was in the same position and could only hope that it would be well taken care of, as unlikely as that would be. That is why I thank you for the kind words you have written and I share in your sentiment in the deepest way possible. Rest assured, your trombone is in good hands and I will take care of it as best I can. -Matt

Liz Adair said...

Thanks, Kami & Matt, for your comments. I hope you'll let us know as your music career carries on, Matt. We'd love to hear you play someday. With or without this particular trombone.