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Thursday, March 11, 2010


One of the great things my parents did for me was give me the opportunity to play music. Playing the recorder and singing were part of the education system. The piano and trumpet lessons were care of Mum and Dad. They were both very keen on music, being members of a local choir. There was also a collection of records. If the radio was playing music, it would have been the classical station. Martin, the elder brother, moved away from the classical side of things, but I stuck to it.
One of the highlights of my orchestral career was playing in the Messiah along with my parents singing in the choir. The glare from Dad's wide grin as he watched me playing must have been a distraction for the audience. A small compensation for the years of forking out money and time.  I hope I am not responsible for his loss of hearing.
During my first days at high school, we were given a musical aptitude test. I got enough right to be selected for instrumental lessons. I had to choose which instrument. I chose the clarinet. There were none left, so I took up the trumpet. Ralph Simpson was a NZ champion cornet player and my first teacher. Soon after I joined trumpet lessons at a Christchurch School of music. That was Saturday mornings gone for many years. As well as group lessons, there were orchestras and wind bands to play in. Later I had private lessons from a wonderful teacher called Vere Smyth. As well as being a very accomplished player, Vere was a yoga teacher and had a doctorate in maths and physics.
The trumpet is not the best instrument to have in your house if you are not playing it. It is only now that I consider the pain the rest of my family had to go through. And the neighbours. One time I was doing some long note practice. Long and loud. During a pause I heard a cry from a house a few blocks away.
"Shut up!'
Good call. It probably made me a little self-conscious for a few days. It is interesting that a rather shy and withdrawn fellow such as me ever took up such an outgoing instrument. When I joined the local symphony orchestra, I was known as the trumpet player that did not drink and make lots of noise.
If I stopped playing the trumpet for a few days, there was a rapid descent in ability. Thus, I developed strong discipline. This transferred across to other areas of my life. Well, some of them.
There was another incident worth telling. I inherited my father's big teeth and Mum's smallish jaw. Not a good match. The teeth buckled and twisted to fit in. Mr Orthodontist came to the rescue, removing a few pre-molars and adding a wire to straighten things out. The day after getting the wire out, I was playing a game where I was blindfolded and Matthew was leading me around the house. I tripped and hit my tooth on something hard, chipping off half of a front tooth.  This was before I started up the trumpet, and did not seem to hinder things. Years later, the tooth was repaired. That was when I had a problem. The extra bit of tooth meant changing the position of the mouthpiece. 
When I headed for Japan, I decided to retire from the trumpet. Living in apartment buildings would not be a good environment for a trumpet. Besides, I had given up my part time job as an orchestral player. That was too much to keep going with the demands of life as a teacher. It was a sacrifice though. One of my room-mates in Japan, Peter, was a trombone player. He brought his trombone and soon got complaints from neighbours.
A year ago, I returned to NZ. Matthew's shed held the remains of my first life. Boxes and boxes of books. Lovely books that I would love to have with me. Rubbish bags full of clothes. The jewels of a large CD collection. My Italian racing bicycle. A suitcase full of Bhutanese weaving; the gifts that had been given to me when I left Bhutan in 2000. And my trumpet.
I pulled the trumpet out, and began playing again. What a terrible sound that was. But my love affair with it was rekindled. Now, when the rest of the house is engaged in conversations that I cannot understand, or watching Bollywood movies that I don't care to watch, I move into my bedroom with my second girlfriend. My trumpet talks to me.
Ugyen pulled out the Bhutanese weaving, and it made the journey back to Bhutan.
Restarting the trumpet as an adult has been quite a different process. I am much more aware of things. As a child, I did not question things. Maybe that was a better way. But I cannot help thinking that if I had had the same questions when I first started, I would have made better progress. Only now am I started to see patterns in the music which were hidden. Being classically trained, led me to reading music. Now I want to escape from that more. Listen, even.
Thanks, Dad. And Mum, if you are reading this somewhere in another life. Were you that fly buzzing loudly as I did my long note practice last evening?


  1. Moving and eloquent.
    I'm astonished that I'm the first to comment.
    The world would be a better place if fewer people read the Daily Mirror, and more read eyeamempty.blogspot
    Glad to see you've taken it up again.

  2. I'm sorry about the tooth. If it's any consolation, Tomasz Stanko plays brilliantly with no teeth.

  3. Davey, what nice things to say. Others, don't forget to check out the wonderful photos and wry comments at

  4. I don't think I ever blamed you Matthew. Nice of you to feel responsible though. Or did you trip me up on purpose? As for the trumpet playing, I may have to knock out a few more teeth to make progress. Chet Baker also lost his front teeth and was able to make a decent kind of noise.