I am an addict. I tell people I could stop anytime, but deep inside, I know I am lying. I need to listen to music, to write music, to play music every day. I can’t go a whole day without, at the very least, humming or whistling the tunes that crowd my head. I sing myself hoarse each morning in the shower, and playing the trumpet leaves a red mouthpiece-shaped badge of courage on my lips all day. I suspect that if someone were to look at my blood under a microscope, they would see, between the platelets and t-cells, little black musical notes coursing through my body.
On many occasions I’ve woken my family (and perhaps the neighborhood) composing on the piano early in the morning. Other times, my mother will admonish, “It’s too late to play the trumpet.” But I can’t understand why people wouldn’t want to hear music any time of the day. Keeping the music bottled up is more than I can bear. “I never worry about you sneaking up on me,” my friend once admitted to me. “I’ve never seen you walking without humming or whistling to yourself.”
For me, playing the trumpet is the opiate of music in its purest form. I love to play in all types of ensembles. I’m not just addicted to one kind of music; I couldn’t imagine limiting myself like that. Choosing just one kind of music would be worse than choosing one food to eat for the rest of my life. Playing orchestral music, for example, I become a sharpshooter. Waiting, I hide behind rows of string players, ready to jump out with a staccato attack that pierces the hearts of the audience. Playing in an orchestra, I can be Atlas, holding the other musicians above my head, or Icarus, flying through a solo in a desperate attempt to reach the heavens.
Completely different, small jazz ensembles are like a conversation with your closest friends. “So,” someone asks, “what do you think about. . . .” We mull it over together, and then each has a say. I build on what the piano proclaimed, or disagree with the saxophone. Playing jazz like this makes me giddy; jazz musicians know that music isn’t little dots on a piece of paper, but a feeling that makes you want to stomp your feet, shout for joy, or grab a partner and swing. Taking a solo, I extend my wings, a baby bird jumping out of my nest for the first time. Flapping madly, I hope that by some act of seeming magic my music will fly on its own.
Not only am I an addict, I am also a pusher. The schools in the neighboring community are unable to afford musical instruction, so each week several other high school musicians and I teach music at an elementary school on the east side of town. I work with all of the trumpets for an hour before we join the other instruments to play as a band. Having tutored since freshman year, I’ve seen my students gradually improve. Four years ago, few of them could read music.
This year, one of my best students won a scholarship to the Stanford Jazz Workshop. Many students from the east side of town never continue on through high school. At our last homecoming game, all of my students came and played with the pep band. One student, who had been struggling in school, confided in me that playing with us had made him excited about attending high school for the first time. That afternoon, I saw a new music addiction forming; it was almost better than being hooked myself.