I started taking piano lessons in second grade, and continued through high school. I picked up the trumpet in grade school, and was well on my way to being a band geek when I entered junior high. I dutifully signed up for “C” band (the lowest tier, home to screw-ups and chronically unmusical types) and looked forward to my career blowing brass. The first milestone was going to be testing for chair. I surely didn’t want to be stuck with the boring parts that go to third or fourth chair, so I practiced my scales and worked on my test piece until I had it down cold.

Unfortunately, the poor unfortunate administrator who had been stuck with “B” chorus (home to screw-ups and chronically poor vocalists) learned that I could play the piano. He took me aside and explained that not only could he not play a keyboard, but he wasn’t particularly musically inclined. Looking back to seventh grade, I remember him almost begging me to help him out, but that could the rosy glow of hindsight. Flattered beyond the capacity of a pubescent boy to resist, I told him I’d switch from band to B chorus, and play piano for him.

Ah well, at least I would be leaving band with a bang. My last day in class was the day to test for chair. I sat there, waiting my turn, listening to the older kids play their scales. They were awful. I mean, there was a reason they were stuck in C band. I puffed with pride, knowing that at least I would leave after making a great impression. Then my turn came, and the band director said -

“Oh, PAgent. Since you’re leaving, you don’t need to test. Next!”

Bastard! That, it turns out, was my last experience in band, and my last formal experience as a trumpet player. I had unwittingly set my path, and my path led away from brass instruments, pep band, marching band, goofy-looking shakos, parades, and everything that went with being a band geek. Instead, I would be an accompanist. I would play everything from a beat-up Hammond organ that we inherited from the high school because it fell out of a pickup, to a Moog synthesizer, to a concert grand. I would play for chorus, for choir, for jazz choir, for countless soloists, talent shows, and in rehearsal and in the orchestra pit for several musicals. It wasn’t all bad, the girls were a lot cuter in choir.

Despite my extensive and varied experience making other performers sound good, I didn’t pursue music as a vocation. Sad but true. Nevertheless, old habits die hard. I always pay attention to the piano player. When my children started appearing in school performances, it pained me to see some poor overworked music teacher trying to get all 30 kids to come in at the same time, much less on the same note, frantically directing with one hand while trying to hit as many of the right notes as they could on the keyboard at the same time. I felt genuinely guilty that I wasn’t helping somehow. I was never good at improvisation, and couldn’t play by ear, but I was a hell of a sight-reader, and surely knew how to play with a choir.

Last winter, I accompanied my daughter’s girl scout troop as they sang carols at a local assisted-living center, and it went pretty well considering that we didn’t actually rehearse at all. But when I attended a subsequent performance at their grade school, it was pretty painful. Oh, I know most parents couldn’t have cared less, but I spent years giving pitches, coming in on the downbeat, and banging out the melody line when the sopranos were getting lost. It was painful for me.

So, I told my wife to let the music teacher know that if she needed someone to play during future performances, I’d be willing to help out. This week, I got a stack of Christmas music to review. Although I don’t sit down and tickle the ivories as often as I should, I could still bang my way through all of them. I even had a few alternate arrangements in my library to offer her. I think the actual performance is in a week or two, and while I’m not looking forward to it in the classical sense of giddy anticipation, I am at least…content…that the accompaniment will not be the weak point at this year’s show.