Under the grand piano in our living room lie 3 trombones. Each was played by a successive generation of Quinns, my Uncle Joe, myself and my son Adam. Each horn has its own separate story of travel and adventure.
My Uncle Joe’s trombone was a Buescher True Tone from Elkhart, Indiana. It has a 7 inch bell which is silver-plated with gold engraving on the outside and brass on the inside. In the fall of 1938, after cutting the best crop of his life, (40 bu/acre), my grandfather, knowing his son, Joe’s interest and talent for music, went in to visit the high school band teacher, Clarence F. Boess. He asked him for suggestions and this trombone was the result. It cost $85 and Grandpa Quinn paid cash for it. It was near the top of the line for its day. Joe was only starting the 6th grade at that time but after taking lessons all fall, he was placed in the high school band by the middle of the school year because of his skill and talent. During the next three years he had the opportunity to play for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in Medicine Hat, Alberta (receiving a standing ovation for a rendition of the 2nd Hungarian Rhapsody by Liszt in Missoula), in a state music festival, with a trombone quartet and as a solo act called Soul of the Surf.
Twenty-three years later, as a sophomore, I played the same solo at the state music festival in Missoula. I saw my uncle’s name on the music so I new he had once played it. The coming of war, in December of 1941, brought many changes to the music program of Big Sandy High School. Gone to war were most of the music teachers as well as trips to music completions and concerts. The band did continue, however, thanks to conductors who would travel from nearby Havre to help keep it going.
I started playing Uncle Joe’s trombone when I started the 5th grade in 1958. I got a newer used one when I started the 7th grade 2 years later and then finally got my brand new Conn Constellation in the fall of 1963 at the beginning of my Sophomore year. It cost about $650 and was near the top of the line for its day. It had a bright shinny 8 inch silver bell. Unlike Uncle Joe’s trombone, this one had a lock on the slide and a threaded sleeve that attached it to the bell. These updates made it less likely to come apart accidentally. I took lessons on and off from high school or college students or our local band instructor. I participated in district and state music festivals from my 8th to 11th grade year in school. My big music trip during high school was as a member of the National FFA (Future Farmers of America) Band. We traveled to the convention in Kansas City, MO in the fall of 1965. Not only did we play for the convention but also led the American Royal Livestock Parade which was held at the same time. I played in the ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) band my freshman year at Montana State University (MSU) and volunteered to join the MSU marching band. They needed extra players to go to California the play at the Camellia Bowl in December of 1966 during finals week. It was my first trip to California. We played for the game and participated in the half time show. I loved it! In 1970 I joined the Montana National Guard Army band and then transferred to Guard Band in California when I started graduate school at UC Davis. My trombone has not seen much regular playing since I left the guards in 1976 but I have played at a few events over the years and still play some duets with my son once in a while.
Adam also started playing a used trombone when he was in the 5th grade. I helped him get started on it, supplementing the lessons he was getting at school. At the beginning of his freshman year in 2008, we bought him a new Conn 88H for $2,095.
This instrument was also near the top of the line for its day. It had a rose-gold finish, an 8.5 inch bell and an f attachment. The f attachment allowed him to play more notes more quickly by using the trigger to play different notes instead of moving the slide to a new position. He took lessons in Great Falls for 4 years and advanced very rapidly. He also played solos throughout high school at district and state music festivals and received superior ratings his last 3 years of high school at the state contests. During the summer of 2009 he traveled with an Honor Band from Montana, the Dakotas and Minnesota on a 5 country European tour that included the UK, Germany, France, Germany, Switzerland and Austria. In 2011 he was chosen to play in the All North West Band High School Honor band in Seattle and during the summer of 2012 he was chosen to play in the National High School Orchestra which performed in the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. Adam’s trombone really took him on lot of great trips. His last steady playing was in the symphonic band of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah during his freshman year of college during the fall of 2012.
Although we do not play very often, Adam and I do get out our horns for fun occasionally and even helped out with teaching trombone to two of the 5th graders in Big Sandy last winter. Although the cases are a little dusty, the instruments are alive with memories that now span nearly 70 years. They long to be picked up to make more music and memories and occasionally we do just that.