Richard Wagamese

Richard Wagamese

By Richard Wagamese

I have always loved the sound of a trumpet. When I was small a brass band came to the church I attended and I remember looking up in awe as the trumpet player pealed off a high cascade of notes above the melody of an old favorite hymn.

Eventually I quit going to church but I never stopped loving the sound of a trumpet. I once listened to Baroque era trumpet on a canoe trip in Algonquin Park. As the sun was sinking and the land was descending into the depths of shadow, I stared out across a placid lake with the sound of glory in the headphones. It was unforgettable.

As First Nations people the closest we came to a trumpet was a birch bark cone rolled up for calling moose. Some people used buffalo horns but it was rare. So the attraction to the sound of a trumpet isn’t a cultural one for me- it’s a spiritual one, more than anything.

Maybe that’s why I decided to try to learn to play one. I’m fifty-five, Ojibway, with no connection to the instrument beyond the joy of hearing it and I decided to try to play one. The results were hilarious.

I joked with friends that my first efforts actually called moose from the bush. The notes I blew were horrible frankly. They couldn’t even be properly called notes. They were flatulent and wet and rude sounding. The dog even cringed. But I was playing a trumpet.

It’s gotten better since then. I’m almost able to play a proper musical scale now without disturbing the neighbourhood dogs. I may never get anywhere close to the glory sound that drew me to trumpet in the first place but it’s fun to try.

That’s the thing of it, really. If joy isn’t expressed it fades. It doesn’t matter if the thing that brings you joy is a part of your particular culture or not. It becomes so by virtue of you doing it.

Native trumpet? Why not? I could have been in love with sound of the tuba and found a way to learn to play that and it would become a native thing to do. The fifty-five year old Ojibway sitting out on his deck playing marching band songs on a tuba. My neighbours are likely glad I settle on a trumpet.