Miles Davis. Wynton Marsalis. Louis Armstrong. Great trumpet players, all. You know their work.
Less familiar, perhaps, the sonic stylings of Emersey Benson, 5th grade trumpet player for Robertsville Middle School band. You can be forgiven for not yet knowing the impressive oeuvre of this young talent. She started playing trumpet three months ago and made her triumphant stage debut on Thursday, November 30, 2017.
The evening was a rousing success. Dozens of eager young musicians crowded onto stage, some of them battling their first bout of stage fright. Others seemingly immune to prey of nerves. The palpable expectation of young musicians and parents alike radiated through the auditorium as our musicians warmed up, practicing their embouchure, clarifying their tone, moving together as one unit through a series of controlled aural blasts.
And then, show time. The band director introduced each section, one by one, letting each present a sample of their craft so the audience might better appreciate the contribution each instrument brings to the sonic weave. The trumpets were ascendant.
The 5th grade performance was crowned by two performances of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”. The program listed the piece as “Star Search”, but we knew the song’s true title. The first take had trumpets playing medley. The second take had trumpets providing color. Both were solidly recognizable.
As any proud parent, I strained to hear the notes sail from Emersey’s horn but could not pull them apart from the other joyful sounds. That’s pretty much the point. Unless you are playing a solo, it is usually best not to stand out. Emersey’s trumpet melded with the rest, indiscernible, but I knew from her practice at home just days earlier that her playing was solid, steady and bright. All the notes in the right order at more or less the proper time.
It was, for me, an intensely emotional experience. I am learning to play piano but have never played in the company of other musicians. I love to see music played live. The coordination and self-discipline required to bring one instrument into concert with many others is beautiful. Every performance, no matter how small, is a conversation without words. I am always overcome, sometimes moved to tears.
I often feel most human in the company of musicians having their conversation. Each of them connected to one another in a unified band and the band, in turn, connected to the audience, which is now its own thing rather than a collection of people. Live performance welcomes individual people into human company. It is among the most powerful things people can do.
Thursday night’s performance was special. I felt the thing I felt when watching Dave Brubeck, Sonny Rollins or Wynton Marsalis perform at the Tennessee Theatre. The thing that moved through me Thursday night was the same thing that has moved through any of the Indigo Girls, U2, Tom Petty or Violent Femmes shows I’ve attended.
I can only hope my trumpet playing daughter and these young 5th grade musicians felt it too. I hope they will continue to develop their coordination and self-discipline no matter the level of talent each believes they individually possess.
I hope they recognize what they are doing together is art and that they keep mashing keys and pressing forward to recapture the transcendent experience of music so they might always know what it really is to be human.