The Menagerie

i’m a musician.

i have been a musician all my life. having a father who was an unsuccessful, frustrated (although quite good) sax player didn’t hurt any, but from as early as i can remember i have always been interested in buzzing on tubes, blowing across bottle necks and hitting things with various different sticks to see what sort of sound they make. as a small child, my grandmother was the head librarian in a small town in central illinois, and i remember seeing the cartoon Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom many times, thanks to my grandmother’s library access. very quickly i developed the reputation of being able to make an interesting (some would insist “annoying”) noise on practically everything.

i started playing trombone when i was 10 years old – i remember, they gave me a choice of instruments to play, and i chose trombone, and if they didn’t have any trombones, then trumpet was my second choice. of course, they had 25 trumpet players (this was an elementary school band, after all) but no trombone players at all, so while all of the trumpet players were getting “class” lessons, i was getting private lessons right from the start. within a year or so i “graduated” to a “real” private trombone teacher – a young guy named M. Scott Smith – and a year or so after that i got my very own trombone, a vincent bach 42B tenor/bass trombone that i still have, and still regularly play.

by the time i got to junior high school i was more than a little bit intrigued by other peoples’ instruments, although the school was very strict about not messing with other peoples’ instruments. bored with my father’s saxophone collecton (two sopranos, a tenor and a baritone) i secretly wanted to play flute and played with an unused school flute as much as i could get away with without getting caught. by the time i was in high school, i actually borrowed one of the school flutes, a bundy, and it became my second “official” instrument. before i ever even saw or heard one, i taught myself to play the didjeridu, including the circular-breathing technique, much to the chagrin of my trombone teacher – H. Dennis Smith, Principal Trombone for the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra – who couldn’t do it.

i learned that the basic valve positions for 3-valved instruments were all the same, and, as a result, over the next few years i learned to play french horn, baritone/euphonium, valve trombone, mellophone, fluegelhorn, tuba/sousaphone and cornet/trumpet. we moved across the country, from buffalo, new york, to the seattle area, and on our arrival, i joined the Seattle Junior Symphony, from whence i graduated to the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra when i started high school. i attended a number of Centrum music workshops and the Pacific Northwest Music Camp (which is now the Marrowstone Music Festival), at fort worden and fort flagler, outside of port townsend. it was at one of these workshops that i wrote a trio for natural horn, which was performed at the fort worden theater (seen in the movie “Top Gun”) using kelp-horns, which i harvested from the beach, half an hour before the performance. during junior high and high school i participated in numerous solo and ensemble competitions and got consistently superior ratings, both as a performer and as a composer. i played at my high school graduation on the valve trombone.

then i went to college, and took up trying to learn to play the piano, an avocation i still pursue from time to time. i never actually learned to play the way i want, but i learned to play chords and inversions, and i could hammer out a few things acceptably well. i would not say, in any way, that i am an accomplished keyboard player, by any means, but i get by. i also learned about synthesizers and recording, and i went crazy with pursuing my lifelong dream of making every bizarre noise imaginable, and incorporating them into a hit song that will make me a million dollars.

somewhere along the way, i attended Renton Vocational Technical Institute (now Renton Technical College) and became certified in Musical Instrument Repair. at the time, RVTI was one of only two places in the country where you could attend a musical instrument repair course that was longer than two weeks – the course i attended was two and a half years – and it was the only place in the united states that was authorised by the yamaha instrument corporation to teach the repair of yamaha band instruments. at the tech school i learned to make an appropriate sort of noise (and many inappropriate ones) on everything that i hadn’t already learned to play: clarinet and its ancestors and derivitives: bass, contra-alto, and contra-bass clarinet, basset horn, sarrusophone, etc. and the double-reed instruments, bassoon, cor anglée (“english” horn) and oboe, and their ancestors and derivitives: shawm, crumhorn, rackett, etc. i also got to experience standard antique brass instruments like the ophecleide, the quinticlave and the clavitube – ancestors of either the saxophone or the trombone, depending on whose mouthpiece you use – the serpent, the saxhorn, and the helicon, ancestors to the sousaphone.

over the years, i have played a bewildering variety of brass, woodwind and keyboard instruments (some at the same time) in symphony orchestras, theatre orchestras, marching bands, community orchestras, recording studios, rehearsal bands, pick-up groups and on the street. i have played literally everywhere from an abandoned subterranean reservoir on the pacific coast to the Pike Place Market to the John F. Kennedy Center for The Performing Arts. i have developed the reputation of being the guy who can be called in at the last minute to cover any musical part, regardless of the instrument… although if i don’t have the instrument myself, then i have to rely on the person who needs the part played to provide me with an instrument.

i currently play trombone with the Ballard Sedentary Sousa Band, tuba with Snake Suspenderz, and i play tuba and i am the sound-effects coordinator for The Fremont Philharmonic. with that kind of history, it goes without saying that i have a “collection” of musical instruments, most of which get played from time to time. Of course, this goes along with my wife who is a veterinary technician and an animal behaviourist, who has her own collection of animals.

the enlightened rantings of a brain damaged freak