Anything that I’ve done, at which I was the best, happened a long time ago. Years and years have gone by since I’ve even allowed myself to contemplate participating in an activity that required my best effort, much less at which I was the best. But I wasn’t always like this.
In the seventh grade, I had my first meeting with the Music teacher. She was a very odd person — she seemed to know a lot about music, and she carried around some kind of vial or bottle, which she sniffed frequently. I think she may have just been marking time until she could retire. But, in my first meeting with her, we talked about what kind of band instrument I’d like to play.
I zoned in immediately on the French Horn. I didn’t care if it was difficult — I just knew I wanted to make that kind of sound. My parents bought a used French Horn, which looked kind of ugly but had the prettiest tone you ever wanted to hear. I began to carry it back and forth to school; twelve blocks to the bus stop, and I began to become accustomed to that great big case, having it flopping against my knee as I walked to the bus.
I began to learn how to play the horn, and I think we could all see after a short time that I had been meant to play that instrument. By the time I entered the ninth grade, I was reasonably accomplished as a horn player, and I even got into the All-state band that year. That summer, my parents sent me to music camp at the University of Maine, and that is a whole other story, but as I continued to play, I got better and better. I belonged to the Portland Junior Symphony, and in my junior year I got first chair orchestra at all-state — numero uno in the state. I was proud, but I also expected this of myself. I never worked too much on playing the horn.
When the time came to choose a college, I chose U Maine, where I would be in the band under my favorite conductor of all time. He was the director of music camp, all four years that I went. I was so excited to get started. Until, along came my laziness and distaste for working at anything. The French Horn Professor at the college wanted me to change my entire approach to playing — he was right, and I would eventually have become a better player. But instead, I dropped out of the music department and stopped playing the French Horn at all. What a crying shame — but I was fast approaching crisis that first year at college, and my life management skills were suffering accordingly. I had one semester as a history major, and then dropped out of school to get married.
I carried that horn around with me from home to home, and state to state, never playing it but unwilling to let it go. In fact, I still had the horn in 1996, when my then-husband got a gig doing photos for our state music theater, during the run-up to the show. I always went along to rehearsals — I adore musical theater. That year, the company was performing Tommy, the Who’s groundbreaking rock opera, with a book by Pete Townshend. The pit orchestra struck into that beautiful intro, and they had no French Horn. This album was why, when I was a child, I wanted most to play on the horn, but I had never had the chance to play that piece. Now, I swallowed my stomach back down my throat, and asked the orchestra director if he had a French Horn for that signature opening. He said no, gave me the music, and a few days to practice before I auditioned.
So, not only was I going to pick up the horn after eighteen years, but I’d be playing my dream composition. I worked my butt off, never got very good, but good enough to do the show. It felt like a dream come true.
After the show, I continued to play for a couple more months, but I let it go again. Then, I had my bypass surgery, and I gave up on ever playing again. But in 2006, I had the opportunity to join a local school-and-community band; I stuck with it for one concert, but I had simply lost the spark.
When I had the accident that resulted in me surrendering my license, I thought that I had left my horn in the car when I sold the wreck for parts. Since then, I could swear I’ve seen it here in this apartment, but I can’t lay my hands on it tonight. I certainly hope — I don’t say this, ever, but I pray — that it’s still here with me. One of these days, soon, I’m going to have to set to and see if I can find it. When I played the horn, I loved it, and I was very, very good at it. I don’t know if I’ll ever try again to play, but I’d love to know that I still have that horn with me. Even now, I get tears in my eyes, wishing that I’d stuck with it, and wondering where I’d be now, if I had.