A Bees’ Nest and a Smelly Old Baritone

Posted by Thomas Tucker on

Below is a delightful band director story written by Robert Storms.  Mr Storms is a composer and many of his works are available on PDF Band Music.  His background includes many years of teaching music in the western Washington area of the United States. This post and many other short stories by Robert Storms are available on Lulu Press.  The title of his book is "School Stories."

While teaching at Custer during the early 1960s, I was told that some band paraphernalia had been found in the old gym and it was all going to the dump. The principal allowed me to grant last-minute reprieves on any items destined for dumping. When I saw the small collection of odds and ends, one thing stood out like a snowy owl in a bare tree. It was an old, gold-colored, baritone horn with the initials “J.S.” scratched on the case. The instrument inside was a bad combination of ugly and smelly. The valves were stuck solid. I decided to grant it a reprieve despite its unsavory condition.

In 1968, Washington State music teachers had their own administrator, a state supervisor of music. To my surprise, the newly-appointed music supervisor turned out to be a friend of mine, Jim Sjolund. When I mentioned his name to some of the other teachers at Custer, I was informed that indeed, mister now-to-be state administrator had graduated from Custer back in the 1950s.

What great news I had to tell our students that day. One of our very own Custer band players of the past was now the head of all the music in the state of Washington. I was determined to not let this go unnoticed. As the fall concert was in preparation, I decided to incorporate a welcome home to one of our own during the concert.

In contact with Mr. Sjolund, I found out that he indeed remembered playing in the Custer band, and later in the Ferndale High School band, and was quite proud of the experience. He casually mentioned that his instrument of choice was the baritone horn. I asked him to be the guest of honor at our fall concert and he accepted. Then I asked him if he remembered his old instrument when he was at Custer. He replied that he did, but he thought that his instrument was dumped years ago.

“What color was it?” I asked.

“Gold, as I recall. Almost all the brass instruments were lacquered gold back then. It was an old horn when I began playing it.”

Each day brought more excitement to the students as they anticipated the arrival of their guest of honor. Boys were asking about the baritone. I told them that I had a surprise for Mr. James Sjolund when he arrived. Banners were made, announcing, “Welcome Back, Mr. Sjolund!”

On concert day our guest arrived in time to visit the school classrooms and look the school over a bit. He was quite surprised to find band being taught in the science room. I told him about the huge bees’ nest in the corner of the old gym and he just laughed.

“It was there while I was in school,” he said. “The nest was in the same area as the band room and the instruments were stored right next to the nest in the same corner of the room.” That is precisely where I had rescued his old baritone.

The Custer Daughters of Rebekah put on a nice dinner before the concert and the public was invited to help celebrate the return of a local boy that “made good.” Jim did his best to entertain the crowd of fifty or so attendees with his stories of attending school in Custer and the wonderful education he received there. The folks welcomed him in style. Custer style.

That night, during the concert, I introduced our guest to a standing ovation by the crowd of attendees. He made a speech in which he told of his days performing on a gold baritone horn and playing concerts in the old gym. As he spoke two boys approached him from behind, carrying the old baritone horn case. When he turned around to see what everyone was gawking at, he broke into a wide smile and said, “That's mine!” And it was. We gave it to him.

Of course, it had been my job to clean the instrument up and fumigate the case, but it was all his from there on. His face was bright red as he laughingly accepted the gift. We had surprised him. The students cheered with glee as he opened the case, to see his old friend, and then nodded to the audience that it was his all right. He told me that he played it all through school, that he started on the trumpet and later switched to baritone and loved playing it.

“The valves look better now,” he noted. Of course, they were stuck solid and got a laugh from everyone when he tried to push them down and got nowhere.



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