We walked out of The Local, an Irish Pub in downtown Minneapolis, and onto the nearly empty street. Like any city late at night, there were a few groups of people coming and going to other restaurants and bars, a few drifters enjoying the cool end-of-summer night, and a few loiters passing time and tittering. And like in any other city, there were street musicians providing us with an end- of-week soundtrack.
Go to any big city – Philly, New York, LA, even Minneapolis – and wander the streets or descend into the subway labyrinth and you’ll find musicians jamming out with their saxophones, guitars, and trumpets. They play covers and originals. They open their instrument cases, exposing the dull, red, velvet interiors, hoping passersby toss in a few coins or dollars. The music is good; the musicians are experienced and you find yourself tapping your feet to their beat.
This night was different. Walking down Nicollet, we passed a middle-aged man who pressed a trumpet to his lips. He peered down from under the brim of his fedora and played the notes in the book that sat on his shiny, metal stand. If I could have seen the title of the book it probably would have read Trumpet for Beginners or Playing Trumpet: Lesson One.
He played a single note, his forefinger firmly holding down the first valve. The tone skipped and chirped. His notes were sometimes loud and sometimes soft. Sometimes elongated and sometimes staccato.
At first I laughed at the simplicity, but quickly I recognized and appreciated the courage – guts – it took for this man to learn trumpet, not at home or in a class, but on the street for all to hear. His playing was simple, amateur, and heartfelt. I don’t know his story. He may have been hungry. He may have been homeless. He may have gotten kicked out of his house for learning the trumpet. He was brave. He was passionate. Maybe the next time I see him his case will be filled so much that he won’t be able to close it. Maybe it will be so full that he’ll have to carry the case in his right hand and the trumpet in his left hand. Maybe.