Go for walk in the Delta Nature Reserve or along the greenway below Westview Drive on any given afternoon and you might hear the sound of a trumpet carried on the breeze.
That’s North Delta resident Terry Lee, who uses the park and trails as his own less-than-private studio, practicing to keep his skills sharp.
“This is a really very difficult instrument, it’s not easy,” Lee said after the Reporter ran into him practicing under the 72nd Avenue overpass last week. “Even when you play after several years, tens of years, there’s a sound that you get that is really not as good as what you have in your heart. And so you’d have to practice a lot.
“If you don’t practice for few days, you will know. If you don’t practice in a week, your conductor will know. If you don’t practice beyond that, the audience will know,” he said, laughing. “And then if you don’t practice for a month, you’ll lose it all. Like, you think you had it all, but you lose it again. So I’m just hanging on.”
Lee has become something of a fixture for park regulars over the years, practicing in the open air for a half-hour to an hour, five days a week, rain or shine.
“Or even snow days, you will see me here,” the 65-year-old said. “I’ve got my mittens on and I practice.”
|North Delta’s Terry Lee practices with his cornet under the 72nd Avenue overpass on Thursday, May 16. (James Smith photo)|
All that time playing out in nature has allowed Lee get to know many of the people who walk their dogs or jog or bike on the trails and in the park. Several people nod or wave on their way by, while others stop to say hello.
Lee remembered a pair of high-school-aged boys who heard him playing under the overpass, crossed the creek and climbed the hill just to try and give him an American one-dollar bill.
“I don’t really take money but they insisted, so I actually took a picture of them with the dollar bill and with my trumpet.”
In another memorable encounter four or five years ago, a young father came by with his three-year-old daughter. The little girl was fascinated by Lee’s trumpet, so he let her hold it as a look of wonder spread across her face.
Then there’s the older gentleman who lives in the area and comes down whenever he hears the trumpet just to chat.
“He will easily spend about half an hour with me. We’ll talk anything about anything.”
Theses days, Lee actually plays a cornet, a brass instrument similar to a trumpet but with a mellower tone. He has three or four favourite spots to play — including in the nature reserve, in the vacant lot south of 72nd Avenue between Westview and Highway 91, and under the 72nd Avenue overpass — depending on his mood.
The overpass gives him more resonance, allowing for a fuller, more forgiving sound.
“It sounds better than what you’re actually playing,” Lee said.
But to really get a sense of how he’s playing, Lee prefers to perform in an open field or for the trees.
“If I go in an open field I can really hear myself,” he said. “And when you play over there, all the trees and leaves will give you this scattered response.
“When I really try to practice, I go to the open space and I blow to the trees and the trees give me a quite different, natural sound, I can really hear what my colours are, what my tones are and so on.”
Lee played the trumpet in his high school’s marching band, but hadn’t touched the instrument for around 20 years when in 1998 his daughter, then in high school herself, told her parents she wanted to learn the saxophone.
“We went out and bought her a new Yamaha alto saxophone and I thought it was a great chance to [get me] a Yamaha trumpet. So I bought a Yamaha trumpet brand new,” he said.
But Lee soon discovered that though he still remembered all the notes and fingerings — “all the Sousa marches and everything” — he had forgotten how to make the instrument sound out.
“I took it way out somewhere in the mountain area and tried to blow it … but my lip wasn’t [ready], it was not going anywhere.”
“The Little Mountain Brass Band was only two years old back then, so I joined the band and I was in a so-called green band, which is for beginners and the re-starters,” he said. “Now I play the solo parts, but [then] I played the fourth parts and couldn’t make the notes for a couple of years.”
Lee said the band, which gets together every Sunday to rehearse and performs around 10 shows a year, is comprised mostly of people like him who have come back to playing after many years away.
“Probably I represent most of us, other than a few who actually studied the trumpet in university or became a music teacher. There are a few of them, sort of pseudo professionals, but about 80 per cent of us are not anything at all. I’ve never been in music school and I really suck at even reading the notes,” he said.
Though he’s made many friendships since joining the band, it’s the simple joy of playing that he finds most rewarding.
“It’s something that once you get into it … you can really forget all the stress. So I come out here to get rid of all my stress and I don’t have to think about anything else,” Lee said. “I try to do that at least, and I’ve been very successful at that. It gives me those half an hour to hour peace moments.”