Trouble in Trumpet Land

By Russell Lewis

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The integrity of the upright shall guide them (Prov. 11:3).

My name is Ben. I used to be the best trumpet player in our school band. Did you notice that I said “used to be”? When Bradley moved here from Centerville last month, everyone went gaga over how wonderful he was on the trumpet.

Mr. Gerhardt, the band director, still let me play the first-chair trumpet part, but I could see that my days as the band’s top-dog trumpet player were fast becoming history.

Today during band practice, Mr. Gerhardt announced, “Next week we’ll have tryouts for All-County Honor Band. Only first-chair players are eligible.”

I let out a sigh of relief. That meant me! Dad had said that if I made All-County Honor Band, he and Mom would buy me that new trumpet I wanted. That old, beat-up one I played now had probably been around since the fall of Jericho!

Then I nearly fell off my chair at Mr. Gerhardt’s next words: “Since Bradley was a first-chair player in Centerville before he moved here, I’m going to let him try out, too.”

I groaned. It looked like my free evenings were a thing of the past. I was going to have to actually practice my Honor Band music for the tryouts. I glared at Bradley. But he was too busy putting his trumpet away to notice.

I didn’t get much sympathy from my folks at dinner that night. “It isn’t fair!” I complained. “Mr. Gerhardt’s going to let the new guy in school try out for the Honor Band.”

Dad looked at me kind of funny. “So that’s why you’ve suddenly started practicing again!”

“He’s only been here a month,” I said. “Shouldn’t there be a rule about outsiders not being eligible for a year or so?”

“Would you want to represent your school if you knew you were second-best?” Dad has a habit of answering my questions with questions of his own. Usually hard ones, too, like that one. “It makes you think,” he always says. It gives me a headache! is what I think when he does it.

Now I had to practice my trumpet instead of play video games after school. And even if I practice an hour a day, that might not be enough to beat Bradley out of the Honor Band spot.

All the next week I practiced until my lips hurt where the mouthpiece pressed against them. The tryout music was getting all crumpled from being taken out of my trumpet case so many times. Finally I just stopped taking the music out—I had it memorized, anyway, by then.

During band practice on Wednesday, Mr. Gerhardt had our whole band try to play the Honor Band music. Boy, was it hard! Most of the other kids just stumbled around, losing their places, playing wrong notes. If it hadn’t been for Bradley and me, the music would have been a total disaster.

Since Bradley and I seemed to be keeping the music going on the right track, Mr. Gerhardt let us keep playing. I noticed that Bradley didn’t look at the music any more than I did.

He must have practiced a lot, too, I thought with satisfaction. Then I groaned. If he was practicing more, I would have to practice more, too, unless I wanted to give up on my dream of playing in the All-County Honor Band on my new trumpet. That dream was getting dimmer by the day, but I wasn’t ready just yet to give up on it!

When Mr. Gerhardt finally stopped the band, Bradley turned to me with a big grin on his face. “Hey, you’re pretty good! Want to come over to my house tonight? We could practice some great duets I brought from my last school.”

“Uh …” Bradley wasn’t supposed to be friendly! Didn’t he know that we were bitter rivals for Honor Band?

“I sure miss my old trumpet partner from Centerville,” Bradley said with a sigh. “We used to play duets together almost every day after school.”

I looked down in embarrassment.

“I guess you have something else planned,” Bradley said. “Maybe we can get together another time.”

I thought about how I was going to practice an hour a day, just to beat this guy out of Honor Band. Then I thought how much fun it would be to play duets with someone as good as he was. I was having a hard time remembering that he was supposed to be my rival, not my friend!

“Some other time,” I said as coolly as I could, turning away. But I had a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach, like maybe I hadn’t handled the situation exactly right.

The tryouts for Honor Band were Friday afternoon. When it was time for the trumpets, Bradley played first. He played it so perfectly that even I had to applaud when he finished.

I didn’t do so bad, either, I thought to myself after I played. All those hours of practice have really paid off. The whole band waited nervously to hear whom the band director would choose.

When Mr. Gerhardt cleared his throat, everyone stopped breathing. I looked sideways at Bradley. He was looking down at the floor. I wondered if he was praying.

“It’s a hard choice to make,” Mr. Gerhardt began.

So, who is it? I muttered under my breath. Don’t make speeches—just tell us who won!

“A band is like a team,” he continued. “And a team is only as good as its individual players. That’s why we help each other, just as Bradley and Ben have been doing.”

I didn’t remember helping anyone except myself.

“They set an example, and they helped the newer members with their parts. I only wish I could choose both of them!”

Oh-oh! I thought. Here it comes! I held my breath.

“I have chosen Bradley to represent our school at the All-County Honor Band this year!”

You could hear the whooshing of thirty breaths being let out at once. Then the room got quiet as Bradley stood up and faced Mr. Gerhardt and the band.

“Thank you,” he said, “but I’m a newcomer here. I don’t deserve to be your representative.” He pointed at me. “Ben’s the one you should have!”

Suddenly I remembered Dad’s question. This time I already knew the answer. I stood up and faced the band. “Mr. Gerhardt made the right choice,” I said firmly. “The reason I wasn’t chosen was that Bradley played better than I did.” I felt my face redden, but I gripped my battered trumpet harder and went on, “I’m proud of our band, and I wouldn’t want the second-best player—me—to represent it.”

It was hard to tell Mom and Dad that I’d lost to Bradley, but I told them what he’d tried to do, too, and that felt good.

The next day, I poked Bradley and grinned at him. “How about us getting together after school today to play some duets? But watch out—next year we might have a different guy in Honor Band—one with a brand new trumpet!”

Illustrated by Dick Brown