What Are You Afraid Of?

       I recently placed a question in my closet/man-cave: “I wonder what my life would be like if I started doing all the things I’m afraid to do?” The question came from reading James Altucher, and surprisingly, the first afraid-to-do thing I thought of was about music.

       One of my goals for 2017 was “to practice trombone at home more often,” knowing that any practice at all, even only one time, would exceed what I’ve been doing. But I needed more; a new big goal to follow after my summer hike. It was time to reboot some ancient habits, so I did something I’ve been afraid to do. I signed up for private trombone lessons, my first since 1976.

       “So why take private lessons, at your age?” you might ask. “Don’t you usually run away from situations where you appear to be a beginner? Isn’t that the very thing you’ve been afraid of?”


       I knew taking lessons would be scary at first, exposing my fading ability to a professional musician. But I also knew the scary would last only one or two lessons, and then the constructive work would begin.

ninja trombone.jpg

       I have played trombone since 1968. In the past 49 years I’ve played in the Kermit Junior High Band, Kermit High School Band, Hobbs High School Band, New Mexico Junior College Band, University of Oklahoma Band, Midland College Community Jazz Band, the Grace Presbyterian Ecumenical Dixieland Jazz Band, Global Mission Project Celebration Orchestra, and the First Baptist Church Midland Worship Orchestra. Those are the ones I remember.

       Currently, I own four trombones: a classic Conn 88H from 1973, a Bach once played in high school by daughter Katie, a cool black pBone, and my favorite, a King Silver Sonic 3B that I’ve played since the summer of 1970.

       But I haven’t actually applied myself to improve my skills since college. I’ve been coasting.

       Well, as I’m writing this, I’ve survived my first lesson. My teacher, the Principal Trombonist with the Midland-Odessa Symphony and a member of the Lone Star Brass, younger than my own kids, is an excellent musician and instructor. If anything, he showed me too much deference, probably due to my advanced state of life, as if I’m his grandfather. That doesn’t bother me. This is going to be fun more than scary.

       I’m so happy that playing trombone is still part of my life after all these years. I’m a better engineer because I’m a musician. I’m a better writer, a better teacher, a better husband and father and lover. Having music in my life makes me creative, open-eyed, and helps me appreciate quality, hard work, and practice. Playing jazz has taught me how the important features are often the most subtle. Making music swing is more about heart than technique. The same is true with engineering.

       I Corinthians 1:5 says, “He has enriched your whole lives, from the words on your lips to the understanding in your hearts.” (Phillips) Music is one of the most enriching gifts God has given me.

       Not only does music enrich my life, but it’s firmly embedded in my family. Dad was a church worship leader and Mom played piano so there was always music in our house. I was often “recruited” to play trombone solos in church, and since there weren’t many soloists in those small congregations I stayed in the regular rotation.

       What’s more, Cyndi and I first met in a band hall in 1973, and we’ve played in various ensembles together ever since. I cannot imagine our life without this bond between us.

       One of my favorite Bible verses is Psalm 33:3“Sing to the Lord a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy.” That’s what it takes: skill (hard work), and joy (sheer pleasure). Or as my musical mentor and trail guide, Rabon Bewley says, “You’ve got to dig what you’re doing.”

       How about you? What is something you are afraid to do? How would your life be different if you did it?

“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32