Tooting my own horn can be humbling

Column by Michael Alcorn
Posted 8/28/18

Among the ways I describe myself, the one that probably goes back the furthest in my life is “musician.” And, I have discovered over the last couple years, that as the kids get older and leave me …

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Tooting my own horn can be humbling


Among the ways I describe myself, the one that probably goes back the furthest in my life is “musician.”

And, I have discovered over the last couple years, that as the kids get older and leave me more time to my own devices, I get to spend more time playing my trumpet for my own edification.

Which, I have to admit, is both a blessing and a curse: a blessing in that I get to do something I really love; a curse in that, as I recover some of my former abilities, I remember again how far short I fall of my ideals.

Nonetheless, I continue to work at it. In fact, there is this one piece of music in particular that I’ve been working on, and I finally started getting to a point where I thought I was playing it pretty well. So, I went back to an old recording I have of that piece by Wynton Marsalis, just to compare notes (pun entirely intended).

And now I want to put my trumpet back into storage and never pick it up again.

Just kidding. Sort of. I am certainly not the first musician who has listened to a recording by Wynton Marsalis and wanted to quit, though I may be one of the oldest.

There is, in hearing somebody do what you do at a level well beyond you, a brand of learning that you can’t get any other way. It is both humbling and inspiring. Well, inspiring once you get past the initial reaction of wanting to quit, that is. And so, today, just like I have every other day this summer, I got my trumpet out when I had some time and went through my routine to try to get better.

I had a similar reaction a couple weeks ago after watching a bit of the Professional Golfers’ Association Championship live in St. Louis.

Those guys do things that are absolutely unfathomable — many, many levels beyond what I and most weekend hacks are capable of. But that didn’t stop me from going out the next day and playing a round of golf. And, in fact, I might have even been a little better for having an image in my head of an actual good swing to emulate.

Not good, mind you. Just better.

It feels like there are some strange undercurrents growing in society, where we go to odd lengths to shield ourselves from the idea that not everybody is equal, as if achievement has almost become a vice.

If you think of the sports world as an example, consider how easy it has become to hate success. Once upon a time, the Dallas Cowboys were known as “America’s Team” because of their success; these days, the most hated team in football is undoubtedly the New England Patriots, a team that has won five Super Bowls in the last 16 years. And, sure, they’ve had some scandals that contributes to the hate, but, mostly, it’s just their unparalleled greatness.

This is a dangerous mindset, I think, particularly where our children are concerned. I know, as a public school teacher, I’m supposed to be all about cooperation and the common good and all that rot, but I think — no, I know — there is a place for healthy inequalities. The best teams aren’t made up of equals — they’re made up of collections of diverse excellences. If we try to shave off and round out all of those differences, the only thing that can remain is mediocrity. Can you imagine what would happen to the Denver Broncos if all those quarterbacks over the last three years had stopped all their work just so Paxton Lynch wouldn’t look bad by comparison?

As for me, I will continue seeking out examples of people who do things way better than I do. It’s the only way to grow.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go practice.

Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His novels are available at His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.


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