Letting The Trombone Slide – GOLD NOTES #16

by Matthew J. (Matt) Goldberg


Tuesday, December, 18 2012


The other day, I had a flashback to a school assembly at my elementary school. It is a somewhat vivid memory, although I can’t tell you if I was in fourth or fifth grade, and if I was in the Parkway or Hillside School—both are in Mt. Laurel, NJ. Whichever the ultimate truth, I was carrying a trombone at the time, and our bandleader was named Mr. Wenzler.

This memory was inspired by the holidays and my love of music. The last two Thursdays, I compiled a couple Chanukah-related song lists for this very site, and in day-to-day life I am starting to get bombarded by Christmas music. I really don’t mind the latter influx…it’s a fact of life, and I enjoy many of those songs…but how could an all-time great like Paul McCartney pen and sing anything as atrocious as Wonderful Christmastime? Please forgive the slight digression about Paul’s major transgression.

When it comes to music, I like to think that I have a decent ear and fairly eclectic taste. As a singer, I’m tolerable; as a musician, well, here’s my story. As kids, my two older brothers and I received second-hand instruments at roughly the same time. Dan was given a clarinet, Josh had a trumpet and I got a trombone. I can’t remember if we chose these or if they were assigned by our parents. In retrospect, given our lack of proficiency, I think they were wise not to get us an electric guitar, drums or a violin. They were patient and encouraging, if not total gluttons for sonic punishment.

Yes, I wish I played a cool instrument like the saxophone. Or, if I played piano or guitar, imagine all the songs I would have learned to play. And if I really knew music, I’m sure I would have composed any number of songs; writing poetry and lyrics comes very easily to me. On the other hand, perhaps the trombone was my best shot in those days—and I may have even chosen it. It requires almost no dexterity, and I had the long arms for it.

My musical claims to fame were few, although not so far between; I only played from the fourth grade until midway through sixth. In fourth grade, I recall that there were three trombone players in what served as our band. I was ranked second, and it was a safe spot. The number one player (Randy…and yes, I recall his last name) was a talented musician who played this and other things throughout high school and perhaps beyond. I was no competition. Number three was a tall, skinny dude named Jay, who apparently practiced even less than me. Me? I had my moments, although I recall my parents asking me to practice with the “mute” on. No, it wasn’t a remote control button, but a cone-shaped white thing that fit into the horn and somewhat muffled my misfires.

I can tell you that mute or no mute, the tone of my instrument was halfway between flatulent and pleasing. I did march in one or two Memorial Day parades, and then there was that fourth or fifth grade holiday assembly. Our music coach was Mr. Wenzler, a tall guy with glasses and a mustache. I remember asking my parents if he was Jewish; I don’t think he was, although he did have a good, silly sense of humor.

Perhaps, his sense of humor extended to selecting me to play a trombone solo at a assembly in front of my peers. Why me, and not Randy, I thought, both then and now. I can still understand why he didn’t choose Jay.  But, here’s the kicker: I was asked to play Jingle Bells. I wasn’t philosophically opposed, other than my long-held philosophy of not wanting the rest of the band, to say nothing of the rest of the school, laughing at me. It almost crossed my mind that the late, great Tommy Dorsey wouldn’t have made this solo sound all that great. And neither did I…

…but I got through it, and don’t remember being teased too badly about it. I do recall giving up my musical career in sixth grade, tired of being unprepared for rehearsals and even more weary of schlepping my instrument onto the school bus once a week. Talk about being a target for the less-than-kind among us.

I’m not sure what this concert…I should say “incident”…said about me, my musical talent, or even about Mr. Wenzler. It may have even said something about Chanukah and Christmas. And while I am somewhat happy to have had this experience, I sometimes fantasize about playing the requisite notes and then launching into a medley of I Had a Little Dreidel / Oh Hanukkah / Hava Nagila.

What would Mr. Wenzler have said about that?

GOLD NOTES is a weekly feature that is, well, about something, if not quite everything, or nothing. To leave a comment, please reply below or send Matt an e-mail.

Matt’s latest book, “A Snowball’s Chance: Philly Fires Back Against the National Media”, is now available on Amazon.com; contact him for more information.

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Filed Under: Gold NotesHumor


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Matthew J. Goldberg About the Author: An author, speaker and custom writer from Cherry Hill, NJ, Matt loves to entertain people through his writing and public speaking. Laughs, Smiles and just enough Wisdom reach his audience through the magic of his written and spoken words. More about Matthew

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