When my husband Terry played his trumpet for the two Easter worship services in our church this past Sunday, he played “The Holy City.” It’s an old standard and it does have words but few people know them because not only has the music kind of faded into history, it has usually been played instrumentally so that there has been no need to learn the words. Suffice it to say that they tell the story of Holy Week, from Palm Sunday to Easter. Terry has played “The Holy City” on Easter in worship services in many churches through the years. I can remember seeing the pride in his mother’s always peaceful face as she watched and listened to him play that piece in particular.
Terry is a really fine musician. Music was not his major in college nor did he pursue it in his graduate studies. In some ways, he is like so many of us who started playing an instrument when we were in elementary school, maybe continuing through our junior high and high school years. But then we shoved the instrument and the music aside as we went on to other priorities. Most of us regret that now.
But Terry was different. He started playing in 4th grade an old, used cornet that he bought for $100 of his “pig money” (4-H pigs). He took lessons locally from teachers in nearby Flandreau and Egan, S.D. When he reached the age of 16, his parents bought him a brand new King Silver Sonic Cornet. They shelled out $350 for it and that was a lot of money for a couple of South Dakota sharecroppers. But they must have seen the potential their son held because they also invested in lessons for him; lessons from a music professor at South Dakota State College (now University). He developed his expertise and played especially in church worship services.
Just a word about the King Silver Sonic. That was a line of instruments produced by the H.N. White Company of Cleveland, Ohio. Famous trumpeter Harry James played a King (although probably not a Silver Sonic). They were fine instruments and those produced in the factory in the early 1960s were probably the last of what are regarded to be among the best brass instruments made at the time.
Now, I never knew the difference between a cornet and a trumpet until I married Terry. I could see a difference in the length and perhaps the shape of the bell, but until I could compare the sounds of the two, I wouldn’t have noticed a difference at all. It is subtle but definitive. My limited knowledge of music leads me to conclude that the sounds of the two could be compared to the different sounds of the violin and viola or the clarinet and oboe. Subtle but definitive.
Terry continued to play that King Silver Sonic cornet through many years, many church services, many band concerts, and the familiar “Taps” at the funerals of soldiers. Its sound continues to be clear and clean and his continued practice has increased his ability.
Off and on through the years I heard Terry express a desire for a trumpet. In the early 2000s, he bought a fine and new Bach Stradivarius. But what he had really been searching for was a King Silver Sonic trumpet that would have been comparable to the cornet his parents bought for him back in the mid-1960s.
And, then one day it showed up on Ebay. It was what he called the “trumpet mate” to his cornet. The serial numbers on both his cornet and the trumpet listed on Ebay led him to the conclusion that both instruments were probably manufactured about the same time (and, in fact, probably were in the manufacturing plant at the same time). Both were likely assembled between 1963 and 1965.
He made the investment and the King trumpet arrived a few days later in pristine condition. It came in its original case, a duplicate of the case that has carried Terry’s King cornet for all of these years.
He was thrilled. But there was something about all of this that was curious. So Terry sat down and wrote to the seller of the trumpet to inquire about its possible history.
It turns out that the trumpet was purchased by the parents of a young man in Champaign, Il. He would have been in his last year of junior high or first year of high school, in the early 1960s. The young man played first chair trumpet in his high school concert band, in the marching band, the jazz band, and the German band. He also played the trumpet in church. He was the only student in any of the bands who could “triple tongue” (listen to some of the great trumpet players today – like Wynton Marsalis or Chris Botti to hear examples of triple tonguing).
In his first year at Illinois State University, the young man was killed at the age of 19 by a drunk driver (sometime in the early 1970s). His trumpet was played for the last time at his funeral by his best friend with whom he often played duets. After the funeral, his parents put it under his sister’s bed where it remained untouched all these years until it was sold to Terry.
He got the trumpet a couple years ago and has played it in a couple of churches and regularly in bands since. He has felt honored to perhaps continue a music legacy cut short decades ago.
Ironically, one of the duets the young man played with his best friend was “The Holy City.” When the trumpet found on Ebay arrived at our house, the two duet parts were included inside the case.
At his funeral, the piece his friend played on that trumpet was “The Holy City.” It was the last piece played on that instrument until Terry picked it up and played it again.
“The Holy City” on that particular trumpet was especially meaningful for this year’s Easter worship. It just seems that this horn was meant to play to God’s glory.
Psalm 150 (NRSV)
Praise for God’s Surpassing Greatness
1 Praise the LORD!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty firmament!
2 Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his surpassing greatness!
3 Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
4 Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
5 Praise him with clanging cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
6 Let everything that breathes praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD!