My first high school band exchange, during my sophomore year, began on a gray Thursday morning without preconceptions or promise. I was but 15 years old and didn’t know what the next four days would bring.
After an uneventful six-hour bus ride from Amherst to Ottawa, we arrived at Laurentian Collegiate on a brilliantly sunny April afternoon. We were ushered into the school’s cavernous auditorium, where we waited to be paired with a host family. Seated beside me, Steve was soon called to the front. A stunningly beautiful girl with shoulder-length, chestnut-colored hair glided forward to greet him. “Lucky Steve,” I thought. I was instantly smitten.
Following a lengthy tour around Canada’s capital city on Friday morning, we returned to the school for a combined band rehearsal. With the school day’s final bell, the stage began to fill with 120 young musicians. After taking my assigned seat, I noticed Steve’s attractive host moving in my general direction, masterfully traversing the slalom course of chairs and music stands. As she drew nearer, I grew ever hopeful. Playing fourth horn, I habitually sat in the section’s very last seat.
“I guess this seat is mine,” she said as she sat in the vacant seat beside me. “Hi, I’m Sally,” she said in a dulcet tone. “I’m Bruce,” I faintly replied. What luck – she also played fourth horn!
For the next two hours, the joined bands practiced several selections of music in preparation for Saturday evening’s formal concert. Our musical scores had few difficult passages and far too many rests. Before long, we were conversing as teenagers are wont to do. At the rehearsal’s conclusion, we agreed to meet at the dance scheduled for that evening.
After dinner, I dressed with care and intent. Marnie, my grade 13 host, drove us to the school and I stood, in the gym’s dimmed light, waiting for what seemed an eternity. My teenage angst soon disappeared with a gentle touch on my shoulder. “Hi, sorry I’m late.”
Time hung suspended for the next three hours. We danced and laughed until well past 11. Returning to reality as the lights brightened, we bade each other a good night, knowing that the morning would bring still another rehearsal. How I dreamed that night!
Saturday’s rehearsal seemed both interminable and wonderfully intense. Beethoven’s “Egmont Overture” was pure bliss for horn players. Still, during elongated rests, we continued our earlier conversations in muted whispers. That evening’s formal concert was a great success and the party afterward was joyfully raucous but all too brief. Nearing midnight, I unhappily departed for my billet. Sally assured me that she would be at the school the next morning to bid me farewell.
Sunday dawned overcast and cold. The weather matched my disposition. As I loaded my horn into the bus’ storage compartment, Sally arrived as promised. Hastily exchanging addresses, we hugged awkwardly and I boarded the bus.
I longingly looked at her through the rain-stained window. Her smile overwhelmed me. Impulsively, I opened the window and leaned out as far as I was able. “Kiss me!” I pleaded. But before she could respond, our band director pulled me back into my seat. As the bus pulled away, Sally waved and blew a solitary farewell kiss.
Sensing my despondent mood, our aged, kindly chaperone offered me sage consolation: “Write her when you get home. What will be will be.”
And so I wrote. And so did Sally. Fifty years on, we are still making wonderful music together.