Becoming a musician at fifty

Regaining long lost skills means bringing the past into the present and moving beyond it to imagine new horizons.

It's hard to believe now, that just a few weeks ago I wasn't a trumpet player. I used to be a trumpet player in the long-distant past and I thought I had good reason to assume that's where it would all stay.

I grew up playing trumpet in brass bands in regional NSW. I blew my first notes on cornet aged about seven at the kids band in Gilgandra in the mid seventies.

Brass banding has a strong association with military commemorations and was the musical culture of the coal mines of Europe, England and then Australia:

"...the Industrial Revolution had been sweeping across Europe, bringing with it huge upheaval and changes to society, economics and politics. Business-minded individuals quickly exploited the new technologies; factories, mines and mills sprang up and, with the creation of a huge number of jobs, urban areas became more populated and living standards began to rise. People gradually lost the opportunity to partake in traditional rural entertainments and pursuits, and so they turned to brass bands. Their popularity duly soared...[Source]."

In regional Australia, the local brass band was perhaps one of the only opportunities for secular community music outside of church with the local band often playing a role in Anzac services. In fact, the town where I began my musical journey is famous for being the starting point for the Coo-ee March, with locals beginning the effort to rally volunteers for the 1st World War, leaving Gilgandra with 25 men and ending in Sydney a month later with 263 recruits.

In return for the loyalty of the locals, parishioners of Bournemouth England raised 1,200 pounds to go toward the building of an Anglican church, St Ambrose 'which they judged to be "the town in the British dominions with the greatest record of achievements in the war" [Source]'.

Such a traditionalist past might lead people to imagine Gilgandra to be a stuffy place but I remember it as a very casual town where people could be themselves- or at least I could as a small child. Google maps show the main street has barely changed over my lifetime.

When I started back in music most recently, a lot had changed in the world. Technology is now an integral part of how even classical music is created and enjoyed and the motivations I had as a teenager vying to become an orchestral instrumentalist - or later as a homeschooling parent putting my son through AMEB exams underwent a rapid evolution after I returned to music during the pandemic.

With my first (very amateur, shoestring) recordings I have tried to cover this vast breadth of experience spanning back decades with a nod to the historical working class grass roots banding era to the modern day contemporary (and very loud!), March Against the Machine.

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Danny Boy
After the Long Day
New Horizon
Lazy Bones
Hold My Hand
Summer Breeze
March Against the Machine

Having had my journey as a musician interrupted before I came of age, I realise that my first months back have been me catching up with what might have been my stylistic development had I continued on as intended. Life changes us all, music itself changes, as it should, and the more I get into music again as a composer, the more comfortable I feel about moving forward as opposed to living in the past.

Having come back into music through relaxation music to sooth my pandemic-induced anxiety, I was loathe to seriously consider brass instruments as still relevant to my musical ideals. Set against that was the knowledge that if I wanted a speedy return to being an advanced performer (as opposed to just writing music), playing an instrument I had already mastered to a reasonable degree was the shortest path, but I wasn't quite ready.

I was terrified of annoying people, scared of my own shadow and had trouble imagining a role for brass instruments and music in my life. I bought a cheap acoustic guitar and flute and it still took me 18 months to get the courage up to practice the flute, one of the softest instruments there is. I progressed extremely fast given that, like trumpet, it is a wind instrument, but I found myself in a constant battle with the unfamiliar mechanics which cause a range of issues including requiring annual maintenance which I can not afford.

Due to the various flute peculiarities, I came to feel more like I was in a relationship with a very moody person rather than using a tool I could rely on to do a job. I came to wish for a return to an instrument that I felt I understood, and trumpets with their mechanical simplicity seemed worth revisiting given their popularity makes them easy and cheap to source (comparatively speaking).

I still wasn't convinced I'd make a good trumpet player, I had last been in a competing B grade band nearly two decades before (playing solo Tenor Horn) and hadn't particularly enjoyed the experience. I finally came around when I discovered Nadje Noordhuis, an Australian trumpeter who moved to New York early in her career and creates soothing jazz trumpet music which I instantly fell in love with.

Three months ago when I got my cheap trumpet in the mail I had no idea if I'd remember my fingerings or be able to play a note and there were some shaky moments. Playing the flute had given me a new appreciation for brass in that the increased resistance with trumpet meant I felt like I could play much longer notes. But the months on the flute also influenced me to assume I could jump about like a grass hopper from octave to octave so I'm giving the flute a rest while I regain my 'trumpet brain'.

Initially I was very self conscious playing the trumpet because you have to play at a certain volume (at least initially) or you're not really playing at all. For someone as anxious as I am, sharing walls with my neighbours or even in public, I found this excruciating.

As time went on I have come to feel more comfortable, to write new music for the trumpet and to extend myself stylistically far beyond where I was when I was playing in brass bands. I have a long way to go, particularly when it comes to accessing quality recording equipment but I can at least call myself a trumpeter now (once again) and when I think about how recently that was just a strange idea to me, not to mention the rest of the world, I think it goes to show that while you can take the girl out of the music, you can't take the music out of the girl ;-)

2nd Nov 2022

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In her youth, Rosie was a state champion trumpet player. Rosie has a BA in Sociology, is a published author, researcher, programmer & policy advocate whose submissions have been referenced in Commonwealth Parliamentary Reports. After a very long absence from music Rosie returned to music during the pandemic & is now a composer & musician. Email:

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