It Could Only Happen To A Musician-The Jokester in the Section

There is always one in the crowd who has to mess it up for someone else. It might be from a neglected childhood or a over active imagination, but for whatever the reason, practical jokers are a threat to society. The reason I am including this information is not to give you ideas as to what you can do to others, the real reason is to inform you of what someone might try to do to you and how you can prepare yourself for this unfortunate occurrence.

The altered valve

We have all been the recipient of this miss alignment problem. It most often occurs immediately after we have oiled our valves. You take a deep breath for your entrance and at the moment of impact, your once beautiful tone sounds like someone stuffed a sock in your bell. The back pressure from this unexpected resistance is enough to clean the wax out of your ears for the next ten years. We recognize instantly what has happened and a trick I learned years ago solves the problem. Trick that solves the problem: Blow softly into your mouthpiece and one by one, depress each valve. The one that sounds different from the other two will be the one to realign. We have learned to check after each time we oil our valves, knowing that this might happen but when someone purposely turns one of your valves and thinks it is funny, that is another story. Worse yet is the jerk who takes the time to put each valve in the wrong valve casing. Not only is this not funny, it may also damage the casing  from the misfit of valve to casing.

The open water key

This is a very popular trick among the feeble minded pranksters. If upon playing your first note, your sound is similar to the gurgling sound of water draining in a sink, first check your water key. When water key corks or rubber stoppers become miss aligned or faulty, the moisture in your horn as well as the air will exit through the water key hole and give a very obnoxious sound. Jokesters will think it is funny and place something between the tuning slide and the cork side of the key to keep it open. Always try your horn before you play your first note.

Ice cube in the mouthpiece

If you regularly rest your instrument on a stand while taking a break, you may be the recipient of this trick. While you were on break, your friend took one of his/her ice cubes and placed it in your mouthpiece as it rested in your trumpet stand. During the break, the cube chilled the mouthpiece and melted water drained into your lead pipe. When you pick up the horn and place the mouthpiece to your lips, first the shock of the cold mouthpiece on your lips is quickly followed by the gurgling of water in your tuning slide. This is a favorite of the warped minded pranksters.

Music out of order

This is my favorite argument for justifiable homicide. You return from intermission and about four pages down in the show, you turn the page to find your music is out of order. To everyone in the audience as well as your conductor, you are an idiot and to the prankster, you are just another victim.

Excedrin in your mouthpiece

This was pulled on me just before a Bobby Vinton show a few years ago. Before leaving the green room to mount the stage, I blew into my horn and my eyes bugged out for no air could be blown through the mouthpiece. I first checked for the valves to be turned and when that didn’t solve the problem, I pulled the mouthpiece. Sure enough, I could not see light through the small hole. Looking around the room, I searched for the face of the perpetrator but everyone looked innocent. I knew who had stuck something in my mouthpiece and decided to stick it to the jokester. I made a big scene about how practical jokes are not funny as I pretended to try to remove the object from the hole. It was now time to mount the stage as I pretended to try to remove the object. The jokesters face began to turn a deeper shade of pail as I continued my act to open the mouthpiece. By now I had discovered what was blocking the air passage; an Excedrin tablet. Now with only seconds before the down beat, the jokester was more than willing to help with my situation. At the very last second, I drove a sharp tool into the tablet and began to grind it into pieces and eventually extracted it from my mouthpiece, just in time to hit the first note of the chart. By that time my friend was about to have a heart attack and to console him, I turned and reassured him with the only comment appropriate, “You idiot!”

Faking you into an early entrance

While playing shows, there are times when your mind will wander off and you are running on auto pilot. You have played the music so much that you don’t have to count or even pay attention. At this point in the show you are very susceptible to jokesters. What they enjoy doing is waiting to the very last second and quickly raise their instrument, pretending to be caught off guard for the next entrance. You will, in your current state of dreaming, think you have miscalculated your next entrance and will jerk your horn up just in time to see your partner begin to laugh at your quick reaction to a set up situation. I can tell you that your attention will not slip for some time after that experience.

How to protect yourself from the villains in Gotham City

The last thing a practical joker wants is to have you check everything you need to do your job. With this in mind, before you play your first note, follow these rules-

  • Get to the stand early and check the order of your music.
  • Blow air through your horn before you have to play.
  • After you have tested your horn, keep it in your hands until you have to play.
  • If your partner pulls the “quick, it’s time to play” trick on you, wait a few shows and return the favor on him/her. They wouldn’t try that again on you because now they don’t think it’s funny.

Practical jokes can be very entertaining but when it comes down to interfering with a persons performance, think twice on how it could affect their art.

Bruce was a member of the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa, School of Music in Cedar Falls from 1969 until his retirement in 1999. He has performed with many well-known entertainers such as Bob Hope, Jim Nabors, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Anita Bryant, Carman Cavalara, Victor Borgie, the Four Freshman, Blackstone the Magician, Bobby Vinton and John Davidson.