76 Trombones Trumped
Written by Meredith Wilson, it is one of the most iconic songs ever composed. “Seventy six trombones led the big parade, with a hundred and ten cornets close at hand. They were followed by rows and rows of the finest virtuosos, the cream of ev’ry famous band. “ Almost sounds like a political rally, doesn’t it? The candidate and the accompanying press corps would be the trombones with advisors and political national party members comprising the cornet section. And who are the virtuosos? That would us – the voting population.
This is not a piece favoring any one political party, although you are forgiven if you think that. The word trombone literally means big trumpet and the word trumpet means – well, a number of things. The first use of the word is found in fourteenth century French dialects and it refers to a turning around, specifically a musical instrument that turned around in its construction. Originally trumpets were made of rams’ horns and were known as shofar. This instrument is mentioned in the Torah and Old Testament. Later trumpets were comprised of bronze and silver. One was found in Tutankhamun’s grave and the earliest date back to before 1500 BCE.
The trombone was simply a very large trumpet and the name changed, possibly due to the other meanings of the word trumpet that originated in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, denotations that include “false” and “mockery”. Again, starting to sound like the political rally metaphor might be true, huh? This is really about living life to our fullest, meeting our best potential.
If we stopped singing Meredith Wilson’s grand song at just the first stanza, that might be true. Wilson, however, in his second stanza, really gave us a blueprint for living a great and productive life. “Seventy six trombones caught the morning sun, with a hundred and ten cornets right behind. There were more than a thousand reeds springing up like weeds, there were horns of ev’ry shape and kind.”
The body of mankind has sprung up like the woodwind reed instruments Wilson describes and continues to do so every day. We are all of “ev’ry shape and kind” and to Wilson, that is what made the band so glorious, gave body to the harmonies of creation, and amplification to the joys of life.
Berlioz, another famous composer once wrote: “Notwithstanding the real loftiness and distinguished nature of its quality of tone, there are few instruments that have been more degraded (than the trumpet). Down to Beethoven and Weber, every composer – not excepting Mozart – persisted in confining it to the unworthy function of filling up, or in causing it to sound two or three commonplace rhythmical formulae.”
We often degrade our own potential but simply filling up our hours with commonplace nothingness. We need to take our mark on the starting block and then march through each day with purpose, intention, and a decision to make each day count. Our lives are much more than simply filling up space. We need to give our lives function.
“Seventy six trombones led the big parade, when the order to march rang out loud and clear: Starting off with a big bang bong on a Chinese gong, by a big bang bonger at the rear. Seventy six trombones hit the counter point, while a hundred and ten cornets played the air. Then I modestly took my place as the one and only bass, and I oompahed up and down the square.”
I hope today you take your place and march up and down your life proudly. You are the only you that the world will ever have. WE need your voice to blend in and provide counterpoint and harmony to the voices of the rest of us. We need your quality of tone to lead us all into the future. In the big parade of life, you are important and we want to see you oompah. Every life matters!