Marching Saints (Issue 1146)

In which we are reminded that good coaches help us perform better than we think we can.

I may have shared this story before and I’ve been reminded of it this week.

Several years ago, I arranged for a New Orleans traditional brass band to kick off a conference in which I was the Master of Ceremonies.   The idea was that they would march in to the conference general session the first morning of the conference; I would march in with them playing my baritone horn. When we got to the front of the conference hall, at the end of the first song, they would continue on with other music and I would drop out.

As I packed for my trip to New Orleans, I had second thoughts about the plan. I left Boston without my horn.

On the morning of the conference, I met the band members, introduced myself, and said, “I’m not going play with you guys today. I didn’t bring my horn.”

Band members hissed and jeered for a few seconds that concluded with, “Up to you, man, you’re the boss.”

I left the room, telling them that I would come back to get them when it was time for them to march in.

Feeling a bit sheepish about what I’d done, I confessed my retreat to one of the conference speakers, a client, someone I’d known for a few years.

She became immediately indignant. “Nick Miller, you go right back into that room and tell them you’ll play.”

I sputtered.  She cut in, “No excuses.  GO!”

So, I went…

…back to the band and said, “Changed my mind,  I’d like to play. Does anybody have an extra horn?” Nobody did.

The lead trumpet player said, “You can borrow my horn if you like.”

I accepted his offer and asked, “Do you have another mouthpiece?”  He didn’t.  So,  I broke a rule that we are taught as brass players from the very first time we pick up an instrument: Don’t use somebody else’s mouthpiece.  I put his horn to my mouth and played ”When The Saints Go Marching In” to demonstrate that I could carry my own.

As I took the horn down from my mouth, the lead trumpet player nodded his approval, leaned over to me, and said, quietly: “Don’t worry, I’ve had my shots.”

“I’m going to die”, I thought.

Never mind, the show must go on. At the appointed time, we strutted into the conference hall playing  “When the Saints Go Marching In”.

When I caught my client’s eye a little later in the morning, she mouthed the words, “You’re welcome!”

Sometimes, when our strength falters, we are boosted by friends, coaches,  or colleagues who know better than we, in those moments, that we can perform. We are grateful for such friends.

Nick Miller is President of Clarity Advantage based in Concord, MA. He assists banks and credit unions to generate more and more profitable relationships, faster, with business clients, their owners, and their employees through better sales strategies and execution. Additional articles on Clarity’s web site.

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