Thursday, February 2, 2012


Cooper visited his future middle school today for an instrument fair of sorts. Fifth-graders were invited to try out all the band and orchestra instruments in order to make a decision about which, if any, they want to play in sixth-grade.

Cooper has planned to play trumpet for about six years -- long before Steve was sick. Steve played trumpet not just through college (where he was a member of the Michigan Marching Band) but continued to play occasionally at church.

Knowing how important this was to Cooper, I emailed the band director in advance, explaining that Cooper would be open minded about the options but that his first (and emotional) choice was trumpet. I thought better to warn her in advance than to have a breakdown in the middle school cafeteria.

This afternoon we headed first to the band section and then to the brass section. Cooper was the first person to try out the instruments.

He was able to play the trombone. He was really good at the euphonium. The trumpet? Not a sound.

The instructor was very patient, explaining the process to Cooper.

Cooper tried again, and very little sound came out.

The instructor shook his head. "You can't play trumpet." (He clearly didn't get the please-be-kind-about-the-trumpet memo, which I completely understand. He was one of many instructors working the tables. I'm certain that if he had known, he would have handled the situation more gently.)

I stayed quiet and waited for Coop's reaction. In typical fashion, he stoically nodded his head. His face started to turn red, and I could see signs that he was doing everything he could to not cry. (In turn, I was trying not to cry, no small feat given the general emotion of being on a middle school campus for the first time with your child who started kindergarten, oh, last week. And the sadness that always comes with milestones without Steve.)

The instructor went on to explain that the shape of Cooper's mouth and lips would make it difficult to work with a trumpet-size mouthpiece.

In the notes field by trumpet, he wrote "Nah."

He did encourage Cooper to consider the euphonium.

Cooper and I walked away from the table, toward the percussion section. I wrapped my right arm around his shoulder and told him that it would be OK. That no one will be disappointed if he can't play trumpet. That he doesn't owe it to Daddy to play the same instrument.

Percussion didn't go well. (Those screening exercises are difficult! I am now 100% certain that I did not miss a calling to be a world-renowned drummer.)

We waited for the woodwinds next. There were friends waiting, too. I found Chris, whose youngest daughter is moving on to middle school. We commiserate often about our babies growing up. And she knows how much Cooper wanted to play trumpet.

I shared with her the trumpet trouble.

Cooper didn't have much luck with the flute. But one try on the clarinet -- bam! It was a beautiful sound. The instructor remarked that he had "a good chin"and was impressed that he could hit a high C. He also did well on the oboe and bassoon.

Meanwhile, Chris returned to tell me that she had visited with the band director, who encouraged us to stop by.

She was wonderful with Cooper. She never mentioned Steve, just said that she understood why the trumpet was important. She asked him to try again, and he was able to make some noise.

She told Cooper that some people are naturally gifted at certain tasks. But that if we work hard, we can also do well at anything we try, gifted or not. She would totally support his trumpet choice, but he would need to know that he would have to work harder than most other trumpet players.

He and I walked around. He tried out the harp in the orchestra section. He thought about it, asked my opinion, thought some more.

We sat back down with the director. She and Cooper visited some more. And then he declared clarinet his first choice.

And he was genuinely happy, which is exactly what makes me happy and would have made Steve happy.


s.h. said...


Anonymous said...

Good for Cooper!!! He will have such a great time in middle school, and his band director sounds pretty nice. Love watching him and his sister grow up. Bittersweet, but pretty incredible how they carry on Steve's legacy,

niki said...

I am a super band nerd and this made me CRY!!!!