Wagan Tarp was one of those gentlemen you instinctively warm to. He had led, for a soldier, a largely blameless life. He had risen to the rank of sergeant, leading crossbowmen across Partann and even onto the Red Steppe. Yet somehow he also married and was a loyal husband and devoted father to three children. As he grew older, sleeping on the ground in the rain lost whatever appeal it ever had. He was lucky in that various small towns wanted watch sergeants to keep their watchmen up to the mark. Hence he was intimately familiar with many of the small towns of Partann. But finally he realised that even this was getting a bit much for him, so he drifted back into Port Naain. Given his wife had died some years earlier, he had intended to just find lodgings somewhere. At this point his youngest daughter stepped in and demanded that he live with her and her husband. Her argument was that he wasn’t capable of looking after himself.
Thus, after a lifetime of martial service, old Wagan was finally conscripted. He buckled down to his new life, quite liked his grandchildren and tried to be useful around the house. Yet he missed the challenges of his old life. After all, back then, not only did each day fetch something new, there was the comradeship and banter with friends.
Then his luck changed. His son was a professional musician. He played the trombone. Money was short and he couldn’t afford to turn down offers of work. Hence when he was offered two jobs for the same evening, he took both, rationalising his decision with the assumption that one of them would cancel. As the evening drew closer it was obvious that both were going ahead and he would have to choose which to attend. Then he had an idea. One of the events was a small gathering of musicians who would play for people to dance to. His absence would be immediately noticed. But the other event was an orchestral performance. There would be at least one other trombone present. So he suggested to his father that he take his son’s spare trombone and join the orchestra.
Wagan was immediately intrigued by the idea. He would meet new people, probably have a couple of drinks afterwards, why there might even be fisticuffs. This was the ‘good old days’ reborn. Of course he said yes.
On the day of his first performance Wagan arrived early to the morning rehearsal. As the other trombonist watched Wagan take his instrument out of the case, holding it as if he feared it would explode, he asked, “Have you played with many orchestras.”
“So where do you play?”
“I don’t, this is the first time I’ve ever touched the instrument.”
Wagan explained the whole story. Now here he had two advantages. As I mentioned originally, he was the sort of gentleman you instinctively warm to. Secondly, the trombonist he was talking to was musician enough to know that work is scare and you don’t turn down jobs. So he whisked Wagan into one of the small rehearsal cells (calling them rooms would be far too grand) below the stage and hastily tried to inculcate in him the basic mysteries of trombone playing.
Obviously you cannot teach somebody to play the trombone in a couple of hours. But Wagan was taught two things. The first was how to blow the trombone properly so that he would produce a note. The second thing he was taught was how to adopt the proper facial expression one sees in a gentleman playing a trombone, as well as how to watch his colleague out of the corner of his eye so he knew whether to push the slide out or pull it in again. Obviously he had to know how to produce a note, as this meant he was less likely to do it by accident when he was miming.
At the evening performance things went well enough. Wagan mimed adequately and managed to make no sound at all. I feel that other, more self-important, musicians might usefully take lessons here. After the performance he was paid and joined his colleagues in the bar. They treated his imposture with such equanimity that he wondered how common an occurrence it was.
But that night as he lay in bed he pondered his musical experiences. He determined to learn the trombone and play it properly. This he did with the same solid enthusiasm he had brought to everything else he had done in life.
His determination was met with mixed feelings amongst his family. His son thought it was amusing and commendable. His oldest daughter felt that it was good that her father had a hobby. His youngest daughter, who shared a house with the aspiring trombonist, set her face against it.
At the same time, Wagan took to practicing in the street. Whilst he got a fair bit of barracking, (something that he could cope with easily enough, the trombone, even in the hands of a tyro, can produce a fine range of disparaging and flatulent noises whether you intend it to or not) he also discovered others who found his enthusiasm infectious.
Soon there were half a dozen of them, men of a certain age, armed with a miscellany of trumpets, bugles, and similar horns, joining Wagan in his practice. Initially it must be admitted that the cacophony was eye watering. But with practice they did improve. It was often possible to discern the tune they were attempting to play. Indeed I several times got them invitations to perform. These came from the less fastidious sort of ale house where any sort of music is considered an invitation by the clientele to join in singing particularly boisterous songs which feature increasingly scatological verses. Provided that the ensemble stuck to the handful of tunes that they all approximately knew, things went well. Indeed even when they extemporised or drifted away from their usual repertoire, the audience were as likely to cheer them on in their mad career along the wilder shores of modern music as they were to boo.
In the end, youngest daughter put her foot down. But by then Wagan had made his plans. One of his fellow musicians owned a shop. Whilst the next generation managed the shop, the old chap was the only one who lived above it. Given the shops on either side used their premises were storage, nobody was particularly put out should the mating wail of the trombone ring out late into the night. Wagan was once more his own man.
On the off chance that you fancy exploring Port Naain further
More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. It covers the perils of exam invigilation, the problems associated with literary criticism, the benefits gained by hiring erotic dancers and the healing properties of hot water and syrup of figs. An unparalleled guide to the pitfalls which await the honest artist attempting to ply their trade.
As a reviewer commented, “Poetry in motion – practical hints for the hopeful scribbler from a master of the art. The trials and tribulations of the professional poet described with wit and wisdom. Loved it.”