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It’s back to work in the West Point Band. We just finished our first week since returning from winter leave. I took some time off the horn over the holidays (Read: I didn’t practice once). It’s important to do this a couple of times a year, both mentally and physically. I always return with a renewed sense of energy and passion. This week, I became reacquainted with my trombone in the form of rehearsing for our concert, “West Point on the March.” As the name suggests, it’s a program full of marches.

Of course, when you’re coming back from an extended break by playing a bunch of marches, it presents some challenges. I can’t speak for other folks, but for me, there’s nothing more tiring than a march. I’m not going to lie, my face hurts right now. A lot of trombonists think you have to play Bruckner or Mahler to show your worth. Malarkey. The true mark of a trombonist’s class is the ability to play a concert’s worth of marches. You think Wagner and Tchaikovsky are tough? Try playing Sousa and Fillmore for nearly two hours.

Challenging as it’s been this week, I survived. It wasn’t that I ever sounded bad, I just didn’t have nearly as much endurance as normal. My plan to remedy this was to practice a little at a time—nothing too loud and nothing too high.  But even that isn’t so simple these days, as I have a 7-month-old daughter to take care of. What’s more, she cries every time I play my horn. I know I should be insulted, but it’s just too funny. Because of this, I have to wait until my wife is home so I can leave the room where my daughter can remain safe from the trombone’s scary sounds.

My plan of light practicing was working well this week, but last night it was about 6:00 and I still hadn’t touched the horn. I was cooking dinner for my wife and me when I realized this. I should add that I make a point to not practice or do anything productive after I have dinner. I like to eat and be done for the day. You can imagine the bind I was in. So while my chicken sautéed, I did the only sensible thing: I practiced in the kitchen. I played some lip slurs, and then I flipped the chicken. After playing Mozart’s “Tuba Mirum,” I added some fresh pepper. Following an etude, I cubed the chicken and dumped it into my pot of simmering soup. Dinner was nearly complete. How did I celebrate? By warming down with some Brahms. I try to avoid multi-tasking, but if I hoped to get through this weekend’s concert, I couldn’t take any days off. It was a bit extreme, I admit. But hey, I got through today’s dress rehearsal. Sunday’s performance should be a lot of fun.

It wasn’t the most conventional means of getting my face back this week, but if the job has taught me nothing else, it’s that you have to adapt and perform in any situation. Hopefully it will pay off with a great concert of marches.

Words: Staff Sgt. Phil Stehly