By on Sep 3, 2023 in Featured, Fiction

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Marching band with superimposed baritone horn

The first selection was to be Ralph Vaughan Williams reworking of traditional music, the English Folk Song Suite. We were to rehearse the final movement. It features a solo trumpet early on. A bit later, the lower brass, principally the baritone horns and trombones, take over the melody. You might even say that the lower brass are showcased at that point. It was thus with a sense of epic courage and not a little trepidation that I lifted the horn to my lips. And prepared not to play.

When we got to the section where the lower brass carry the melody, Archie and I made a special effort to appear to be playing. We affected intense expressions, drew deep breaths at the end of musical phrases, and fingered the valves appropriately. Even so, a few bars in, the conductor’s face assumed a quizzical expression, and he began to stare in our general direction. Clearly, he sensed a problem. He stopped the band. And resumed play from the beginning of the section. Again the quizzical look, this time most definitely aimed in our direction. He stopped the band again. He began again at the same place. This time, however, he asked only us lower brass to play. Archie and I continued to fake it—neither of us wanted to be the first to crack. Then the conductor stopped sooner than before.

He returned to the beginning of the same section yet again. Now he called upon only the three trombones and the two baritone horns. Two thoughts raced through my mind as my armpits filled with sweat and the hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention. First, how could we possibly avoid discovery when we were forty per cent of the ensemble? Second, if we did, and the conductor then asked for only the baritone horns to play, what the hell would we do? I cast a sidelong glance at Archie. Archie was staring back in sheer terror. The baton went up.

When it came down, three trombones and no baritones began playing. This time, we were required to continue on to the very … end … of … the … section. Time stood still. Each passing moment massively multiplying the risk of exposure followed by the rueful disappointment of a dedicated teacher publicly expressed—shame AND humiliation! My heart thumped BEAT! … BEAT! … BEAT! The conductor’s perplexed expression focused on us baritones. Then he lowered his baton, stopping the music—the torture continuing. He stared. And stared. His piercing eyes burning through and out the back of my skull. BEAT! BEAT! BEAT! The conductor spoke.

Much better,” he said and turned to face the entire band.

“I think that’s enough chicken for today,” Archie sighed heavily as he wiped his forehead.

Very much relieved, I nodded vigorously in agreement.

Raising his baton, the man on the podium commanded, “Everyone, once more from the top.”

We lower brassmen lifted our horns to our lips.


Okay, okay, I know: not exactly a handful of Spartan warriors facing down like a million Persians, is it? But, still, a tale of threat and tenacity, of some pride and some fear. I close the geriatric-proof pill bottle having decided not to take (another?) tablet this evening. The palm trees outside my window whip about in the Santa Ana winds, locating me firmly in my current place and period. I contemplate the contemplation of distant events through the scuffed up lens of time. Memory: rusted knives dripping honey.

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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.