Family History in a Horn

Family History in a Horn

Sitting on a shelf in my closet, overlooked and forgotten, was a weathered black instrument case. The sides were scuffed, and the handle had been replaced by shoelaces tied together and fastened at the ends. 

I hadn’t opened it in years—hadn’t looked at it or even thought about it. Then recently in New York, my friend Tony Plog and I visited J. Landress Brass and saw a display of trumpets and cornets, many of them beautifully restored antiques. (To read about that visit, click here.)   

It sparked a memory. 

When I got home, I went to the shelf, and there it was—my own modest version of those beautiful instruments. I pulled down the case, dusted it off, and opened it. Inside was a tarnished silver cornet, with a few dents and dings but otherwise in pretty good shape. It had inlayed pearl valves and an elaborately engraved bell: 

C.G. Conn

The cornet had belonged to my father, Paul Kidd. He probably had received it, along with lessons, from his grandfather Ellis O. Kidd, a bandmaster in Lexington, Kentucky, who in the family was known as Daddy Key. You can see Daddy Key in this early photo of the Odd Fellows Home Girls Band, one of the groups he conducted. Years later, my father taught my brother Russ and me on that same cornet.

I went to my computer, typed in the model and serial number, and was told that the instrument was made in 1921. I bounced around the Internet briefly, finding a few other Conn Victors from that same year and learning that the great jazz cornetist Bix Beiderbecke had played a model just like mine. In fact, Josh Landress had shown Tony and me one of Beiderbecke’s cornets, and I wondered if it that was it.   

In addition to the cornet, the case contained a lyre—a small clip to hold music while marching—and three mouthpieces. Next to them was an unexpected bonus: my father’s handwritten sheet music for trumpets, played by my dad, Russ, and me: “Easter Fanfare,” “Joyful, Joyful,” and “God of Our Fathers.” 

Every month or two, the three of us would stand together at the front of our church, playing those lovely arrangements. By then Russ and I had new horns, but my father still used his Conn Victor. 

Remembering those trios and the smiling faces of the congregation, I’m grateful for Dad’s cornet, and for the gift of music that our parents gave us.


Blog: Music