By on Sep 3, 2023 in Featured, Fiction

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Marching band with superimposed baritone horn

Okay, okay, I know … I remember opening this bottle of Zocor that is right here in front of me. I mean, it was just a few minutes ago that I did, just before I let myself get distracted by the news on TV that wasn’t really news, nothing that Walter Cronkite would have put on the news anyway. The question remains, the question the bottle seems to be asking me is: did I already take my nightly tablet? Honestly, I haven’t a clue—and that, of course was something I did or didn’t do after I opened the bottle. I do remember taking a tablet—but was that last night, the night before, the week before??? And yet there are things I can remember from so long ago. Not everything, of course, but certain things. Why those? What I have long suspected is that what gets recalled is what is tagged by emotion. Like pride. Or fear. Perhaps pride, however undeserved, touched by fear, however unjustified, is the most potent mnemonic of all.


It was late afternoon at a high school in a suburb of New York, during the mid-nineteen-sixties, and time for band practice. The teenage version of me—yes, I was that young once—barreled into the commodious rehearsal room, only a little late, grabbed my baritone horn from the instrument closet, and hurriedly settled into my assigned seat. The music teacher, the conductor, was already on the podium from which, grimacing, he tracked my progress.

The usual cacophony at the start. Yet, a pattern: two acoustical diamond shapes laid end-to-end. A crescendo of random utterings of woodwinds, brass, percussion, and unruly adolescents. The gradual quieting precipitated by the conductor’s rapid beating of a metal music stand with his baton. The one moment of pristine silence preceding what was even more pristine than silence: the pure tone beckoned from the concertmistress’s clarinet. Triggering another crescendo as more and more musicians attempted to match the pitch. Followed by the inevitable decrescendo as each individual tune-up was completed.

Far to the conductor’s right, beyond the sea of clarinets, the smatterings of flutes, double reeds, and saxophones, in a crescent of gleaming blond metal, lay the domain of the lower brass: trombones, baritone horns, and tubas. Instruments whose players have a reputation for irreverence and outright mayhem. Often well-deserved. Why might this be the case?

A theory.

Every brass player knows, in his heart, that what produces even the sweetest of his music is, in essence, a controlled fart. Made with the entrance rather than the exit of the gastrointestinal tract. Which instructional manuals like to call “a buzzing of the lips.” But it’s a fart, nonetheless. Now the sound of the upper brass, the trumpet for instance, is so far removed from that aforementioned disagreeable bodily function as to allow those hoity-toity prima donnas to conveniently forget their humble roots. For the lower brass, however, such self-deceit is impossible. The very tones these musicians produce are, at times, flatulent in pitch, timbre, and volume. Yet from such tones, the tenderest of music perfumes the air. Perhaps it is the stunning paradox inherent in coaxing angels to fly out of their assholes that inevitably grants lower brassmen an absurdist take on life.

Merely a theory, of course.

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Glenn Kane is a former emergency physician who traded a stethoscope for a word processor and the writing of medical articles for fiction. He has just completed a novel about a weak family tempest-tossed and ultimately splintered upon the rocks of what is now a joke, a meme, a muttering online: the irrepressible conflict between the baby boomer and millennial generations, which he foresees thundering out into the political arena in the mid-2020s when the story unfolds. Born in New York, Glenn now lives in Southern California. He may be reached at gkanedkane@gmail.com.