Ken was nervous as he started to school. This was the day of the Middle School marching band tryouts. More than anything else in the world, Ken wanted to be in the marching band.
Cradling his trumpet case in his right arm, Ken imagined himself marching down the street dressed in a blue and gold band uniform. The drum major would strut along in front, and the drums would beat out the cadence. It gave Ken goose bumps just thinking about it.
As he passed the house two doors from his own, he saw a boy about his own age sitting on a porch swing. He must be part of the family that is moving in today, Ken thought. He wished he had time to get acquainted. But he had to hurry to the tryouts.
Ken was the first person to get to the band room, except for the music teacher, Mr. Walker.
“Ready, Ken?” Mr. Walker asked. Ken’s hands felt damp, and his knees trembled. “Ready,” he said. He fumbled as he lifted his trumpet out of its case. To calm himself, he thought again about marching down the street. The band would start playing. Ken would lift his trumpet, ready to blast out a heart-thumping march. … That’s where his dream always ended—just before heads started turning to see where the sour notes were coming from. Maybe he should just forget the whole thing.
Mr. Walker tapped a pencil on his desk. “Try this tempo,” he said.
Ken looked at the music he’d chosen. Then he lifted his trumpet and blew.
The pitiful little blats that came out of his horn weren’t anything like the notes on the sheet of music.
“Try again,” Mr. Walker said. “Take your time, Ken.”
The second time wasn’t any better. Ken’s fingers just wouldn’t find the right notes, and his breathing was all wrong. “I’m just nervous this morning,” he stammered.
Mr. Walker stood up. “Ken, a lot of people have trouble playing musical instruments. Their coordination and sense of rhythm just aren’t quite developed.” He came over to put a hand on Ken’s shoulder. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s like not being good at basketball. Most people improve as they get older.”
“But I can march just fine,” Ken insisted. “I know I can march. And I can learn the music if I practice a lot.”
“Can you march and play the music at the same time?” Mr. Walker’s voice was kind.
Ken thought about it. He had a hard time even walking while he played.
“Ken,” Mr. Walker continued, “go home and practice tonight. You can try again tomorrow.”
“Thanks, Mr. Walker,” Ken said. But he knew that even if he practiced all night, he probably wouldn’t be good enough to march with the band.
The rest of the school day dragged by. On his way home, Ken heard somebody playing a trumpet. The notes were clear and true. Squarely on pitch.
The music was a march that made Ken’s heart thump. It came from the porch of the house where the new family had moved in. The boy blowing the trumpet was the one Ken had seen that morning. He was still sitting on the porch swing.
Ken walked up close and listened. “Wow!” he said when the boy stopped playing. “You’re some trumpet player.”
The boy grinned. “I get lots of practice, especially today, since Mom’s still busy unpacking and I won’t be starting school until next Monday.”
“Any chance of your giving me a few pointers?” Ken held up his trumpet case. “I’m trying out for the marching band tomorrow.”
“Sure.” The boy motioned for Ken to sit on a porch chair. “My name’s Eric,” he said.
Ken heard a crash inside the house and a tired voice saying something about hating moving days. “Are you sure you have time for me?” Ken asked. “Maybe they need you in there.”
Eric smiled a little. “I’d just be in the way.” He pointed to a wheelchair that sat in a shady corner of the porch. “I’m not a whole lot of help.”
Ken felt his face redden a little as he realized why Eric was always sitting. “I’m sorry,” he said.
“It’s OK.” Eric waved a hand. “I guess everybody has some kind of a handicap. Now, go ahead and play something.”
Handicap. Ken knew what his was. But he could try, couldn’t he? Thinking of the beautiful notes Eric had played, he put his horn to his lips and blew.
The trumpet screeched.
“I’m not too good yet.”
Eric didn’t deny it. “We’ll work on it.”
They worked on it for over two hours. Eric was nice. He didn’t even blink when Ken hit sour notes.
“It will sound better in the morning when you’re rested,” he said when Ken left.
But Eric was wrong. The next morning in the band room, Ken’s trumpet-playing sounded worse than ever. He knew even before Mr. Walker said anything that it was hopeless. His dream of marching along in a blue and gold uniform died.
When Ken got home after school, Eric was sitting on the porch swing again. He didn’t even ask what had happened. Ken guessed that it showed in his face.
“You wanted that a lot, didn’t you?” Eric said gently.
Ken nodded. “More than anything else in the world.”
Eric rubbed the trumpet that lay in his lap. “I used to dream about being in a marching band too. You know—with flags waving and people watching and me marching along playing music that almost makes your heart jump out of your chest.”
“Funny, isn’t it?” Ken said. “You’re really good at playing the trumpet, but you can’t march. I can march just fine, but I’m no good at playing.”
“Hey!” they shouted in unison, eyes shining.
Mr. Walker said later that the band that year was his best ever. He said that maybe it was because everyone tried to live up to the enthusiasm that Ken and Eric had brought to it.
Ken didn’t know about that. But he did know that there wasn’t anything wrong with his marching as he pushed Eric’s wheelchair through all the maneuvers. It was easy to do perfectly while those clear, sweet notes from Eric’s trumpet sounded in his ears.