When I learned to play the trumpet, which I took up just a few years ago, it was a totally different experience than any other instrument I had played before. I started piano lessons, eagerly, and after years of nagging my parents, at eight years old. I had eleven years of regular lessons with a teacher who became a close friend. I did exams, payed attention to all the aspects of technique, learned the theory, played in concerts, in the school orchestra, in church.
Learning the trumpet was much more like falling in love. I was irresistibly drawn to the instrument, which we had hired because my daughter wanted lessons. I played it while she was at school, just experimenting with the sounds, not officially "learning". When she stopped a term later, taking up the drums, I took over her lessons and could continue my fascination openly.
Still it was different. I played, not to learn music, but to hear the notes. I felt, rather than heard, the resonance of the air, flowing through smooth or rugged, clear and pure or distorted, and I shifted my body, my breathing, so that more and more consistently I felt that glorious lamina flow, perfect slow drawn-out notes, bending and shaping like smoke in a bottle, twisting and dancing, spiralling in full natural beauty.
Instead of practising the pieces my brilliant, long-suffering teacher gave me, I put on my favourite music and played along with slow harmonies, chiming with the spirit of other intuitive musicians: Sarah McLachlan, mostly, with a bit of Bach and Cole Porter thrown in.
Instead of doing the exercises my teacher, Mark, wanted, my lessons were sequences of duets, his music leading mine, interspersed with wild stories, told by me, distractions to allow my body to rest from the pressure in my lungs, the numbness of my lips. The experience was so intense I couldn't sustain it for long.
During this period, I wrote a novel about a trumpet player, with the title Air. In it, I explored the experience of living this way, feeling through life instead of following the notes on the paper, the rules.
Here's a quote from that novel:
"Her voice came as if from far away. I took the instrument from its case, looked around for the mouth piece and found it sitting in one of two special slots for it. I took it out and fitted it into the fine end. It slotted in cleanly, firmly. I twisted slowly it until it stuck, and then I raised the trumpet to my lips.
"From somewhere I had an understanding that it wasn’t easy to get a noise out of one of these, so I blew hard. It made a honking squeak and then was silent. I tried again, lighter. Nothing. I turned away from Paula, walking into another room. I needed to be alone to do this, it was serious. My life had taken on a new direction; in fact, my life had never really had a direction before. This was it. Outside words and explanation. I had found myself."