The Tyroleans

So, last time I told you about the Oktoberfest in the town I grew up in, and a little bit of the town’s cultural history. That background landed me in the middle of something that I can’t say I ever thought I would become a part of – a German folk dancing youth group called The Tyroleans.

You see, in third grade I took up playing trumpet in band class. And that was something I learned to enjoy a lot as I grew up, really enjoying being in a concert band when I got to  junior high. (I could write a whole post on junior high band – the instructor who really cared about his students and my first serious crush on a girl, but I digress.)

So, by the time I got to high school, I was still playing the trumpet. Loved it. Joined the high school marching band. I missed the elegance and class of being in a concert band, something which I frankly preferred, but sometimes you just gotta go where they tell you to go.

Well, as you know, most of my freshman year was spent in pain and learning to walk again, so when my sophomore year rolled around and I was right as rain again (see the previous post, “What’s In a Nickname?”) I picked up where I left off and rejoined the high school marching band.

Except something was wrong.

The high school band instructor was less than welcoming, shall we say. I didn’t mind being Third Chair Trumpet (you play harmony if you’re lucky) even though I had once been a First Chair Trumpet (you get to do trumpet solos) since I had been gone for a year. But when he started making numerous cracks to the whole band like, “Oh come ON, Ken, (a kid who played the saxophone) even BRENT could play this!”  Well, band started to not be so fun anymore. To this day, I hold that band teacher as one of the worst teachers I ever had in my life. I mean, that was just unprovoked.

So, I had this problem. I wanted to keep playing the trumpet. But the high school band teacher had decided to make my life miserable because I’d had a bum leg for a year – to the point that I decided I didn’t want to be in band anymore. Nice job, teach.

Well, one of the seniors in school approached me one cold winter morning as I went into the band room to stow my trumpet for the day. He broke the ice (no pun intended) by sharing a Weird Al song with me on his Sony Walkman. I was pretty sure I was being set up here. (Okay, so by then I was a bit on the defensive!) Anyway, it turned out that this senior kid Matt was totally on the level, he was in this youth group called The Tyroleans, and they were short a trumpet, would I like to come and meet everyone and try out a few tunes?

So I did. It was a German oom-pah band, plain and simple – they played German folk music at the Oktoberfest each year, and got to travel all around the state playing to empty hotel conference rooms and drunken Oktoberfests. All I needed to join was 40 bucks for my Lederhosen (remember what Lederhosen are?), a desire to play the trumpet, and a fondness for travel.

Sign me up.

And so, as my enthusiasm and respect for the marching band dwindled to nothing, I started meeting this German folk dance group on Thursday nights for two hours of German folk music. I was ecstatic when I finally got to go on my first trip – to the Casper Hilton. I went everywhere in the state in The Tyroleans, and had a blast kicking out those traditional German folk dances and and belting out traditional German brass numbers and even a few ballads.  And “Oh, Tannenbaum” at Christmas time, can’t forget that. I mean, it was like being in a road band. Wait. I was in a road band.

There was the time that we went and played at a retirement home’s Christmas party in Thermopolis, coming back in Matt’s Chevy Citation (one of the most poorly conceived automobiles in history – if the car had anything at all to offer its driver it would be a nervous breakdown from the rear wheel drive, no weight on the rear axle, and brakes that lock up when you look at them.) Visibility was maybe 10 feet in what is known as a ground blizzard – snow blows and drifts horizontally across the highway, all but obscuring the pavement. Matt just put in a tape of German music, told us to listen for the harmonies, and drove us back home going 25 mph.

Matt was a pretty great guy.

I was in Tyroleans for a little over year, and it brought my spirits, my trumpet playing, and my faith in basic human kindness back from the brink.

A few days before the end of my sophomore year, I was called in to the principal’s office.

It was about this application that I had submitted on a bit of a whim – an application to learn to drive a school bus, and work for the county as a driver before and after school if it all worked out.

Turned out I had gotten some sterling recommendations, and they wanted to give me a try.

It clashed with band class, so I was going to have to make a choice.

One of my few regrets in life is that I politely explained to the high school band teacher the dilemma, and that I thought I was going to hang up the trumpet for now and take the keys to a bus in its place.  What I really wanted to say is something that I would rather not repeat here, but I was raised to have a bit more class than that, so I bit my tongue.

As it turned out, all of the seniors that made up the bulk of The Tyroleans were moving on – to college, to start their lives. With the guy who ran the Oktoberfest in town being in ill health at the time, there wasn’t much new blood in The Tyroleans, and it became apparent that it was probably time to know when I’d had a good run and go ahead and turn in my Lederhosen.

You pretty much know the rest of the story. I became a school bus driver for 2 1/2 years, during which time I fell in love with Rock and Roll, a cheerleader, cruising Main, and a 1967  3/4 ton pickup, not necessarily in that order.

Believe it or not, I still have my trumpet – the same one for which my folks shelled out money we needed when I was in the third grade, so I could have a decent education and an appreciation of music. The trumpet is busted and dented, and has definitely seen better days. But with a few spot welds and some valve oil, I think it could still play.

Maybe I’ll get it fixed up and see if it does.

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