I've been pining for an alto horn for several years now, ever since I made the trek back to my teenage annual music camp, Central Music Institute, for their 75th Anniversary Alumni Weekend. Playing in the large band again whet my appetite for those days of making music with others in a brass band experience (something very hard to duplicate in any other way).
The best alto horns, made by Yamaha or Besson, would cost over a thousand dollars and are out of my price range. I began searching on-line, hoping something would turn up. There were several Yamaha's that I've looked at over the past year, but most of them just didn't seem like they were in the best condition for the prices being asked.
Then one day, a little over a month ago, I googled "used e-flat alto horn" and up popped a Craigslist ad in Charlottesville, VA, offering this little beauty for only $60. Not only did it look good, but it came with a case, mouthpiece (you'd be surprised how many instruments were offered without a mouthpiece), valve oil, cleaning brushes, a stand and music.
That is the beauty of life within The Salvation Army: you can locate something of interest miles away and find someone in an Army location there to assist in the acquisition. The officer there said that the guy explained that he used to play an alto with his high school marching band and decided he might like to pick it up again, so he purchased the horn and used it for about four months. Then it sat in his closet for several years and he realized it would do someone else more good than him. Perfect!
It's no Yamaha or Besson, but I'm thrilled to pieces with my find! My tattered Arban's book hasn't seen this much action since I was a teenager, back when my brothers called me "Metallic Lips" because I spent every spare minute practicing in the hopes of joining The Salvation Army's Chicago Staff Band (a dream that I almost realized in my senior year of high school, until my parents were moved from Chicago to South Dakota and I lost the opportunity, after passing the audition phase). I'm having a blast!
I try to practice for twenty to thirty minutes each day. The valves aren't the best (I find I have to oil them frequently to keep them moving smoothly, which means they weren't made very well). It is clearly a student instrument. Nonetheless, it is meeting a strong emotional need within. I am reconnecting with my intense desire to play the horn again. I play every Thursday with the local corps band and will play with the divisional band, once it resumes in January. I will join a small ensemble this Tuesday to play for the funeral of an Army officer, Major Bob Scott, who was promoted to glory after battling a brain tumor. Plus, if I head out to music camp again next year, I'll have my own instrument to play, although I may still ask them to provide me with a Yamaha, if one is available. By then, my lips should be in excellent shape and maybe I'll be back to making the sweet music I was capable of as a teen.