Saliva Nostalgia

unidentified hairy-armed trumpet player

unidentified hairy-armed trumpet player

Ah, saliva nostalgia. My favorite kind. Isn’t it yours?

What? You’ve not heard of that kind of nostalgia? I’m really surprised.

It sounds disgusting? You don’t say.

You question the mental state of anyone professing fondness for it? I’m taking that as an insult.

OK, bear with me for a moment while I pry my tongue out of my cheek — before it gets stuck there — and I’ll explain.

Son #2 recently took up the trumpet. I myself played the trumpet from 4th grade to early in 9th grade, with frequent breaks for sleep, meals, dental appointments, and the like.

Early on in their learning, a neophyte trumpet player is taught the necessity of periodically using their instrument’s water key:

After playing the trumpet for a while, its sound may get “gurgly”! This happens because your breath condenses inside the trumpet, forming drops of water. Pressing the water key opens a hole in the tube, allowing the water to drip out. (The pros still refer to it as “spit” and they sometimes call the water key the “spit valve.”)

Although I never got paid for playing the trumpet, I must have been a “pro” because I referred to the water key as the spit valve and, in fact, had never heard of the term “water key” until I did the research for this post. It seems what I thought was saliva was really water, hence making the term “saliva nostalgia” a misnomer. I’ll stick with it as the title for this post, though, because it sure as hell is catchier than “Excess-Internal-Trumpet-Moisture Nostalgia.” But I digress.

One would think trumpet players, with the possible exception of those in third world countries, would be taught to, when using the spit valve, hold a rag or something under the spit valve — or position the spit value above a sink, tub, sidewalk, or thirsty lawn. That may not be common sense but it should be evident to any adult player with the slightest regard for hygiene and a shred of common courtesy. To a kid, maybe not so much. So I was relieved to learn my son was taught by his instructor to use a tissue or paper towel.

I, on the other hand, was either not taught this or chose to ignore it, for the only target for the spit — OK water — I expelled from my trumpet was the floor directly beneath. I didn’t discriminate between types of flooring — hardword, linoleum, carpeting — any type was game. Nor was I selective as to the location. Water from my trumpet landed on the floor of my bedroom and my living room, my teacher’s house, band practice rooms, auditoriums — you name it. If I played there, I expelled water on the floor.

Here’s the odd thing. I don’t ever recall hearing any objection.

  • When I used my spit valve between Herb Alpert tunes, I never heard any member of my captive audience of parents, brother, and grandparents ever say, “Hey, what’s the hell’s the matter with you. Don’t do that on our living room rug.”
  • When, as a 6th grader playing with the junior high band in front of my fellow elementary school classmates (and feeling like a big shot), I used my spit valve right after the band’s rendition of the song from the Alka-Seltzer commercial, I never heard my classmates emit a collective groan of “oooohh, gross”.

I have no idea why.

Could it be that the members of my audiences knew it wasn’t spit I was expelling but water? That wouldn’t surprise me because most of them were smarter than me. At least they were smart enough to recognize I wasn’t spitting into the instrument’s mouthpiece; as son #2 and his teacher would concur, one cannot properly play the instrument that way. Besides, each use of the spit valve only emitted a few drops. Maybe nobody was grossed out by it. Maybe they were grossed out but thought it wasn’t worth making a big deal out of. Or maybe they just didn’t notice.

Whatever the explanation, it’s probably good nobody told me I needed to catch the dripping water. Lazy soul that I was/am, having to expend that extra effort, however minor, probably would have resulted in my trumpet playing days ending even sooner than they did.

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2 comments so far

  1. Renee on

    News to me. Just didn’t notice, so taken was I with the beautiful music. Remember our piani and trumpet duets?

  2. QC on

    @Renee:
    Didn’t notice, huh? Wow!

    I remember you playing the piano, but I don’t remember duets.


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