I'm suddenly in tune with trumpets

By

A clarion call... Not the figure of speech, but a single mellow, sustained trumpet tone outside my window gets me to my feet. It's not the first time I'm up this morning, but this time it's final. I've just been awakened all the way through.

I was early and reluctantly stirred from sleep by trucks. Then I'd bounced in and out of bed several times to see who had been delivering to the market across the plaza.

It's not just the motors left running, but the banging of empty dollies and the slamming of doors - all resonating brutally upward from concrete, asphalt, and brick toward my open window.

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I had, in fact, been mentally taking note of whose products to boycott when the trumpeter sounded his first note, scattering my mean-spirited reverie. Now I've caught my breath in surprise. Civilians don't get morning trumpet calls, let alone a master musician's warm-up, which is what follows.

Hanging out the window, I look for the source. Perhaps he's down in the street, striding purposefully among the pigeons already gathered for handouts; maybe he's sheltered amid that little cluster of trees; or more fancifully, up on a crenelated rooftop and clad in scarlet and gold as befits a king's herald.

But no one's there. No sunbeam slips through an open window and glances off a telltale shaft of brass. There's no open window, in fact, except my own.

Still, he's out there somewhere, addressing sounds to the blue sky. He scatters abroad nimble scales, first with nuances of loud and soft and then with little yieldings of tempo.

For a moment, I actually can feel what he is doing; imagine his fingers on the valves. And yet, how can I do that? When was I ever a trumpet aficionado?

Well, I felt the salsa in the songs of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass when I was in high school. I enjoyed the genial Al Hirt performing pop and classical favorites.

More recently, I heard the virtuosity of Wynton Marsalis in concert. But until this morning, I've never really heard the trumpet itself, never before had my ears opened to its subtle possibilities.

Now I hear quick staccato outbursts with matching dexterities of breath and fingering. Afterward a few more scales, each one surging up and down cleanly, held this time to a firm tempo. Then come three agile major thirds - do mi, do mi, do mi.

I laugh. How can something so musically simple be so playful?

Just as I want to step out on my nonexistent balcony and open my arms to this acrobatic aubade, I'm stopped by a broad, sustained blat with a slight metallic edge. It's a musical guffaw that says our trumpeter can play around with tone color. Its pitch is orchestral A, the traditional end of warm-up in the concert hall.

Then silence... Inevitable. But coming so suddenly, it hovers...

Only slowly do I breathe out and release the experience and the awe. It's just past 7 a.m. The day has barely begun, and something extraordinary has already happened. I wonder if anyone else has heard it.

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