The Solo Duet
Drum Major Tim Cummings – Not Playing Again!
During three years of band in junior high, I had a fear of performing. (Readers who know me may think: Tim Cummings had stage fright!?) Rehearsal was fine, concerts were okay, but competitions? Somehow, I was always sick or out of town. I have never feared performing or speaking or otherwise doing something in public as I did playing a musical instrument when it mattered.
And that was odd. The last child in a very musical family (my dad played by ear – either one, it didn’t matter!), I ultimately played five instruments. But not at competitions!
When I enlisted in the Navy and reported to basic training, I was assigned to a drill company rather than a rifle company. That was excellent, for drill companies were the boot camp elite. Formed only once each week, there would be one drill company for five or more rifle companies. The paths between the two types of units diverged around week four, when rifle company personnel do a week of galley duty, drill companies began their rehearsals. In the subsequent weeks of boot camp, drill companies focused on their new regimen of preparing for high profile performances and rifle companies did, well, whatever it was they did until graduation.
Drill companies provided the fifty state flag team, rifle drill team and the drum and bugle corps for graduations, ceremonies, parades and so on. I chose the drum and bugle track, first playing the trumpet then the french horn. I later became the drum major (see the photo at top).
At a San Diego Charger football game, we played during the halftime. Just being off the base was a shock, the first time we were on civilian soil again in a month and a half. The crowd was pegged at 42,500 as we took the field. Sorry, that sounds American Pie-ish.
We played a number of songs including, of course, Anchors Away. A big favorite of ours, and the public’s, was our rendering, of all things, the Budweiser theme. Sounds strange, but we really did play it well. Another great piece was “Gonna Fly Now” from the original Rocky movie. We nailed it during practice and when playing on the base. It would be the highlight of our brief sojourn into the world that night.
This evening, there were just two of us playing the trumpet, myself and another recruit. As the thirty-five member drum and bugle corps worked through the piece, it was electric. But what was electric then gave me a real shock. As we began the part where only the two trumpets played, I learned I was the only trumpet playing. The shipmate next to me pulled a me and was fingering the notes, not a breath passing through his mouthpiece, by the valves or out the bell. Somehow, I managed to play flawlessly even as I gulped in mortal fear. The thought came to me that he who shied away from playing whenever it mattered years before was playing a solo in front of a fair-to-midling sized audience. I went from being shocked to sassy, and finished the piece pumped!
We finished the song and whatever else followed (though I remained surprised, my lips pursed in fear, my lungs gloating from their achievement) and marched off the field. I glanced at my trumpet mate. He sheepishly shrugged a “Sorry!” back at me. I dared not think what would have happened to us if we had both trusted the other one to play!
Lesson: Be ready to do what is expected when you’re in the position to do it. Major lesson: Be ready to do what is unexpected of you, in circumstances that may be thrust upon you without notice.