Cornet: (n) a valved wind instrument of the trumpet family.

Mr. Rallihand.

He was my junior high school band director.

I didn’t think much about him—he was just another teacher. When you’re that age, you look at all those who are educating you as mean funny wisdom on words that begin with a C
eighty-year-old grown-ups.

Yet I did get him to smile—because unlike many of my fellow-band-mates, I chose not to play the saxophone or clarinet as my primary instrument.

I picked trumpet.

He explained to me what a noble instrument it was—how it beckoned armies into battle and punctuated the victories of the Roman legions.

(I lost interest.)

He told me where to go to find a trumpet to rent.

I gave the information to my mother, and she came back with a horn. Now, I was no expert on the mechanics or appearance of trumpets—but this one was smaller. When I took it to band class, Mr. Rallihand frowned at it like it had just tooted foul gas.

He said that this was not a trumpet but rather, was a cornet. He then launched into a lengthy explanation, of which I only remembered two thoughts:

  1. Small
  2. Harder to play

So as I squawked out my first notes on my cornet and Mr. Rallihand patiently instructed me on how to squeeze my lips into the mouthpiece to produce tone, I had the perfect out.

“But Mr. Rallihand,” I whined, “it’s smaller. And hard to play.”

I think he regretted sharing that with me.

Finally, one day he walked in carrying a new trumpet which the school had just purchased for the band program. He handed it to me, and I made my way back to the row of the “trumpeteers.”

I was sad to the point of anger. Not only was I no longer special with my trumpet-with-shortcomings, I also now had no excuse for sounding like crap.

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Clarinet: (n) a woodwind instrument with a single-reed mouthpiece

There were twenty-one members in my junior high school band. Eight of them played the clarinet. It not only seemed imbalanced, but
sounded even worse.

It didn’t take me long to learn to hate the clarinet.

It’s one of those instruments that has to be played perfectly, and even when it is, one’s listening toleration is abbreviated.

The famous clarinetist Benny Goodman may be the only person who will ever be remembered fondly for putting the “black licorice stick” in his mouth. Every other person who licked the reed and then tried to blow through the horn has produced varying degrees of misery for the surrounding humans.

I know there may be those who disagree with me. They may even cite a case when their clarinet solo in high school brought their mother to tears. (But are we sure they were tears of joy? People often cry when they’re in pain…)

I think it’s safe to say that even if you find my assessment to be too judgmental, I probably will not find you anytime soon attending a concert advertised, “A Clarinet Chorale.”


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