“The Ill Wind that No One Blows Well”

I’ve taken up the french horn. When I pick it up to play, my cat slinks out of the room, her ears flattened to her head. Proof positive that cats CAN be trained – at least to avoid pain.

The horn was originally my brother’s. When he upgraded later in life, he passed it along to my father, who used it to make sounds that entertained my niece when she was very young. But it’s not an easy instrument to master, especially with dentures, and it ended up in his upstairs closet, where I found it, in its original case, covered with dust, wedged in between two rusting file cabinets, a week after he died.

I added it to my collection: two trumpets (also originally my brother’s), two ancient trombones (I don’t remember how I came by them), two serviceable saxophones (a tenor and a soprano), a cello (my mother’s), a viola (the one instrument I actually played back in the day), and a set of entry-level congas.

I don’t acquire as much as accumulate. I’m the shore – stuff washes up on me. Ninety percent of everything in my home came to me from deceased relatives. The rest from living relatives. I mentioned this to a friend who knows me too well and she nodded and observed, “you’re passive.” I objected. “We’re not talking about relationships with people,” I said. She shrugged. “People, things, whatever.” I proved how active I could be by making her lunch.

I’d been thinking about learning (or relearning) how to play one of the instruments in my collection for a long time, and – inspired by the second movement of Haydn’s Horn Concerto No. 1 in D major – I decided on the french horn. In the last several months, I’ve nearly mastered Lightly Row. Notes in the higher register give me trouble – I have to press the horn to my lips with such pressure that it’s pushing my incisors out of place. And yet, there is something gratifying about making such a racket.

My brother is an accomplished player and is pleased that I’ve taken it up. We’re an ocean apart but I hope, some day, we’ll sit down and play together. A duet perhaps. I have a two-part score for Lightly Row. If only I can keep my teeth til then.

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