Old Dogs and New Tricks

My friends, I had one of those "hallelujah" moments while I was out at the Fire Department Instructor's Conference (FDIC) in Indianapolis. It has been my good fortune to be able to attend the FDIC for 31 of the last 34 years. More than that, I have been...


A tuba is expensive he said. Why not buy this old baritone horn that I have hanging here, try it out, and if you like it, you can buy a tuba? It looked like a little tuba. The man seemed to make sense to me, so I agree to buy the horn. $200 later, I left the store with the old horn and a 'how-to-play-the-horn' book. So began my journey into the world of music.
 
It is important to note that I sought advice on this subject about a month earlier. It was at the CFSI Fire Caucus Dinner that I caught up with my friend Bill Markgraft, from Columbia, Missouri. I asked him if a guy my age could start playing an instrument. He was really blunt. He told me that it was possible, but only if I was willing to buckle down and put in the necessary practice time. 
 
It was not too much later, after buying the horn, that I contacted my son's school music teacher to ask her if she gave lessons to adults. We quickly agreed on a time and fee. That was how my music career began. My son and I would go over to her house and he would take the first half-hour session and I the second.
 
At some point during August of 1994, I broke the old horn I was playing. A tuba-playing friend from church told me to take it to the Dillon Music Company in Woodbridge. When I got there, I met one of the repair people who advised me that the horn was really an old student model and that is was not worth fixing. I then went into my 'I have always wanted to play a tuba' story with the repair guy.
 
At some point shortly thereafter, Steve Dillon, the owner of the store, came up and said that if I could wait a couple of minutes, he would have one of his folks help me. In the mean time he asked one of the sales people to surround me with a dozen or so horns. Wow, I was then taken to a room chock full of tubas of all sizes, shapes, and keys. 
 
It was about 15 minutes later that I met a man who would become a great part of my life. His name is Matt Walters and he still works at Dillon. After a lengthy series of discussions with Matt, I left with a nice student tuba. I also began to take lessons from Matt once a week at Dillon's. Later I played next to Matt in the Union Municipal Band. Matt and I now play together in the Greater Shore Concert Band. We have become really great friends.
 
Not too long after this point, the 1994 school year began. When my daughter's music teacher asked if any of the student's parents played an instrument, Katie told her that her dad was a tuba player, when in reality I was merely a tuba owner. The truth of the matter my friends is that I was at the same skill level as many of the sixth graders.
 
That was the beginning of a musical odyssey of many years' standing. Through the years, I had the joy of playing in the school band for every one of my children's graduations from both their middle and high schools. I had the rare experience of playing tuba during my son's senior euphonium solo at Freehold Township High School. Let me assure you that it is tough to play and cry at the same time. Today, I play in two community bands, along with the jazz group at my church. My friends, I am truly the old dog who learned a new trick.
 
Let us now flash ahead to this year's FDIC. It was my privilege to once again be asked to deliver an FDIC educational program. My session was entitled, 'The Leadership/Followership Equation'. It was a new program created for the show. I made my presentation on Friday March 25. I had a respectable crowd and worked to share my knowledge with them.
 
As I was sitting there after the completion of the program, I began to feel that I had not done as good a job as I should have. Fortunately for me, my best friend in the whole world was there. Jack Peltier sat in the back of the room, listening to my –program and assessing the audience. After I spoke with the last person from the class who came forward for a handshake, a business card, and some extra advice, Jack and I sat down and began to talk seriously.
 
We agreed on a number of teaching mistakes that I had made. I took a number of notes, so that I would not forget what we discussed. This is important, since I am scheduled to teach this course as part of my three-day program in Nebraska this coming May. It is really amazing how a veteran instructor can make so many simple errors. But as I often like to say, each of us is a work in progress.