Ralph Higgins

Ralph Higgins
color pencil sketch by Gayle Higgins

Quotes I Like

“Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

-Albert Einstein


Monday, March 3, 2014

This Old Horn

     It’s just an old piece of twisted brass, with tubes going here and there, finally ending in a flourish called the bell.  It is designed to make music and it’s called a trumpet.  But this particular horn appears to have been through a war.  The battle scars and blemishes are obvious and a close look will reveal the wear made by the hands that held it through many years of work and play.

            That old trumpet could tell a lot of stories.  Some of the early scratches may have resulted from being tossed on a sofa when the smell of spring grass and the crack of a bat hitting a ball were too much for a kid to stay in the house and practice his trumpet.

            The old horn learned to adjust to the shaking hands of a terrified eight-year-old kid playing solos in a large church, a “required” task that he hated. And the same kid at thirteen playing in a local symphony orchestra for the first time . . . and actually being paid.

          Then, a year later, nervously warming up backstage for the first concert with the San Jose Symphony Orchestra - back when the horn began to earn its keep.   

                Unfortunately symphony orchestras have gone the way of the Brontosaurus in a culture where untalented rock stars are paid millions to play three chords on a guitar, scream, jump around, foam at the mouth, and look stupid while classically trained musicians take day jobs to buy food.

            The old horn could tell stories of a wide variety of venues and musical styles.  The horn found itself passing musical gas in big bands, recording studios, circus bands, pit orchestras, symphony orchestras, bugle calls in the military, country club combos, and just plain fun with rowdy audiences at places like Big Al’s Gashouse or the Red Garter in San Francisco.   
Back in the Day
       Country club combos and jazz groups became a staple and a welcome change from tuxedos and the formality of various classical venues.  And they paid more.
      The old horn was good at paying college costs and opening doors to people and places otherwise inaccessible to the “non-elite.”  But soon the old horn learned to be content in its supporting role when teaching school, business, and real estate projects took precedence over music as the major source of income.

            In recent years the old horn has retired, along with the kid who played its first note. Now it rests in its case until called upon to say a few musical words now and then. 

            When it hears the click of its case being opened, it’s usually for another jam session and some fun.  Although its recreation now is limited, the old horn knows that when music is in the soul, to not play music is like holding ones breath.


  1. You and Sacha-mo are the best horn players I have ever heard. Is the second photo you also? If so you look like you just stepped out of the Lawrence Welk band. I wanted to learn to play the Sax at Los Gatos High School but Blatner just handed me a sax and stuck me in a room. He never taught me anything. He was too obsessed with Ralph Higgins. I did learn how to play "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White" by ear. The good ole days.
    Your pal,
    Jimmy Loar

    1. The second photo was me too, but it's a bad copy and I don't know what it was taken for. Thanks for the compliment, Jimmy. It's interesting that Orrin Blattner, our band teacher, got me started playing professionally and he and I worked a lot of gigs together through the years. He was a great guy and a real loss to me when he died.
      Hey, Jim, that's not bad to play "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White" by ear with no instructions. You should have kept it up. It's not too late.

  2. And a mighty fine player you were my friend. I had the opportunity to hear you play that long-hair stuff and jazz. You had great tone and imagination with that horn. Good news, "If you like your horn, You can keep your horn". I sent mine to the Mission field in Cambodia.
    Celsius Country

    1. Thanks, but you didn't do too badly blowing a trumpet yourself. Cambodia? Is the horn "bi-lingual?"