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I polished up my trumpet this week. Shined it a bit, oiled all the valves, and started to blow. Its certainly been a while, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. My fingers still know where to go, and my lip is slow and a little sloppy, like so many areas of my life, but its getting there. I've been playing for about three days now. Probably the time I was at my peak on this instrument was the school year of 1993-1994. My junior year of high school I played for some auditioned all-state festivals, and was starting to climb the ranks of high school musicianship. The following year I had braces installed, preceded by a strange device that can only be described as a torture rack for your mouth. Twice a day, first thing in the morning and last thing at night, someone (usually my mother, sometimes my aunt) would take a little key, reach into my mouth and give this machine, which spanned the top of my mouth fastened at the teeth on either end, and give it a good crank. The idea was that my mouth, and from the feel of it my whole head, was not wide enough and this device would expand, stretching my palate, and my skull. I often feared that early some morning before my mother left for work, she would, in the darkness and before having her coffee, crank the key too far and my skull would split wide open down the middle. Fortunately, that never happened, and the structural damage seems to have been minimal, although I often wear tight hats, just in case. One actual side effect though, was that food would often get stuck up over the top of the device (or as the orthodontist called it, "The Appliance", which sounds like the name of a John Grisham novel involving top secret government decoders disguised as blenders). It became a post-meal ritual to wander around the house making strange faces and grotesque noises, trying to suck the mashed potatoes out of the space between the Appliance and the roof of my mouth. I think I discovered a truth that most people don't learn until they are much older than I was: The one consolation of having strange medical procedures is getting to gross-out those around you, and blame it on your condition. After the mouth-rack came braces. For all practical intents and purposes, this was like having barbed wire fastened around my teeth. That made playing the trumpet a rather painful, and sometimes bloody, endeavor. I didn't qualify for anything that year, and even after high school when I had the infernal metal contraptions removed from my face, I found that my playing was never quite the same. The trumpet mouthpiece presses against the lips, and the lips are supported by the teeth. Thanks to modern orthodontics, my teeth were no longer in the same place as they had been before. I suppose that was the point, but at the time it was rather unnerving. The angle at which I normally played the horn was all wrong, and sometimes I think I still haven't adjusted. I didn't play much after high school anyway, because I wasn't really hanging out with jazz types, and I have always had limited patience for playing by myself. I tried working the trumpet into the church band, but even then found that, except for the two songs with Trumpet in the title, there wasn't much to be done. So I generally play once, sometimes twice a year now. This time, the annual playing of the horn seems to be a little more natural, more enjoyable than it has in a while. The smell of the oil and the mouthpiece are comfortable, like the smell of an old relative's house, or even that relative herself. The sound is loud and clear, piercing through the fog like a cold shower or a crisp autumn morning. I'm not trying to accomplish anything, really. Not setting sights on joining a group, or becoming anything other than what I am. Every other area of my life is filled with goals, mission, and things to accomplish, but the trumpet is different. Playing is like a quiet walk by the ocean, not trying to think to hard about what needs to be done next week. It is an exercise only in the joy of being, of an existence created by Someone who just seems to think that Being is a great thing.

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