Hope is in the air

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated June 27, 2010 12:00 AM

I can feel it. It’s in the air. People are optimistic about the incoming government. There is something about the entire campaign, the conduct of the elections and the results, that has given people a sense of hope for the future. The fact that most of GMA’s deputies and surrogates who ran for office lost big time tells us that our people are not up to the same old business as usual.

Everything suggests freshness. Apart from the unusual and the very dramatic circumstances that made him president, Noynoy Aquino is not entirely cast from the usual template. He is young, single and not keen on living in Malacañang. He also talks about effecting change and, from all indications, he seems to sincerely want to lead the nation to a new path of transparency, accountability and progress.

Like everyone else, I am hopeful, even if I know that in the world of politics, there are no straight lines between intention and execution. Who knows? Perhaps we are poised to soar on new wings and a prayer. For sure there will be disappointments, but I hope there will be more successes.

Just the same, I have made my wish list of what I would like to see happen in this country in the next six years. I won’t mention the things that are already on everyone’s list, such as the elimination of graft and corruption. My list is more esoteric; some are actually small things that I am asking for. If they can’t be fully achieved, I hope some of them can at least get started.

1. I would like to see the spirit of reform permeate every sector of our society. I wish that institutions in such diverse sectors as media, business, religious, transport, industry, agriculture, and even cultural groups take it upon themselves to imbibe new values like efficiency in service following world-class standards that will lead us to become a better nation. Specifically, I wish that they would take more modern approaches to solving problems. We have all seen recently how an institution with such a low credibility rating like the Comelec could deliver its mandate well when it adopted newer, more modern ways of doing what they are supposed to do. I believe that we can hasten our progress by applying modernization in our lives.

2. I would like to see art and culture grow and flourish. By this, I mean, more substantive presentations, shows, works done by artists and performers of all sorts that are not only progressive and cutting edge, but also identifiably “tatak Pilipino.” A people who are free and proud sing and dance to their own songs, and enjoy plays, TV shows and cultural presentations that portray their values in their most elevated form and essence.

In music, I would like to see original Filipino music undergo a renaissance. For television, it would be great to see less Korean dramas and, in their place, more homegrown TV programs that are less obsessed with young love, and more concerned with substance, intelligently conceptualized and executed.

3. I would like to see new motifs when we celebrate our fiestas and holidays other than the usual Ati-atihan, Lenten crucifixions and the Hala-Bira of Cebu. We are a rich country with a great, varied heritage of fiestas and communal expressions from different regions. We should expose more of these to national prominence so we have a wider repertoire of celebratory expressions to enjoy and even share with foreign visitors.

4. As a young boy many moons ago, I used to enjoy watching balagtasan on TV. This great oral tradition and art form is truly ours. Partly theater, elocution and logic, it is quite engaging. I remember how I marveled at the elegance of speech, the soaring delivery done with flair and intelligence. I would not mind seeing this tradition revived before it is gone forever. I hear there are very few people left who can still debate with such elegance.

5. We should have more songwriting contests but this time with participants coming from all over the world. I once watched something similar in Japan and it was great. It was quite a thrill to watch locals versus foreign singers and songwriters vying for the prize.

6. I want us to have an honest-to-goodness ID system that will make it so much easier to do business and other financial and social transactions. In Australia, different levels of IDs are required of anyone who may wish to rent a house, open a bank account or cash a check. For house rental, a “100-points” ID (consisting of a driver’s license and perhaps a passport, for example) is needed. For other transactions, a driver’s license will do. This simple matter of IDs can make transactions traceable and will keep a lot of people more honest.

7. It would be great to hear more OPM songs in varied genres on radio. Our radio stations should sound like they are broadcasting from here for us, and not from LA for an American audience. It would be wonderful to hear local talents doing rock, pop, jazz, reggae, classical, kundiman, etc. without the straitjacket of American Top 40 dictating how we should sound. It would be cool to hear more songs in the vernacular.

8. There should be more mandated initiatives that will involve citizens and communities in tree-planting and the greening of the environment, cleaning the city and beautifying it. I don’t know what the costs are but we can require all houses, institutions and businesses that are along main avenues and thoroughfares to keep their facades clean and painted and remove all signs that are aesthetically unappealing.

9. It would be good to think of initiatives in education or health along the lines and goals of Gawad Kalinga for housing and community building. What if, say, government required all doctors to work in health centers for at least one day a year? And to make it palatable, government could make the service tax deductible. How many poor Filipinos would be able to see a doctor at least once a year? So many treatable and simple illnesses and discomforts that poor people suffer can be alleviated or cured. More thinking and planning should go into this; there might be something to it.

As in 1986, we are poised once again to fulfill a great renewal, a promise to aspire and be better versions of what we are, if not the best we can ever be. Let us, each one of us, take full responsibility for the change we wish for our country. President Noynoy alone will not save us. Only we, moving as one, can. Let us not fail ourselves this time.

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I will be giving a Basic Photo Workshop on July 10, Saturday, from 1 to 7 p.m. at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. Cost is P3,500. Please write me at emailjimp@gmail.com to reserve a slot or to inquire. Or call Ollie at 0916-8554303/426-5375.

Topics will cover familiarization with the features and functions of the camera such as aperture opening and speed, ISO, white balance, and techniques in photography such as framing, lighting, exposure, composition, action shots, portraiture, and a whole lot more.

Students must have a DSLR.

Some thoughts on fatherhood

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated June 20, 2010 12:00 AM

Father’s Day has got to be the most confusing day for people like Erap, Ramon Revilla and Dolphy.”

That’s a joke I tend to repeat every year when Father’s Day comes around. I say it in jest, but in all seriousness, I believe that being a father is one of the most difficult jobs in the world. A man may have many talents and achievements that define his stature in society, but to me, being a father stands as tall or even taller than any other measure in defining the character of a man.

Someone once said that it is easier to become a man than to be a man. Fatherhood has the great potential to make one a man. When a young man marries and has a child, things happen in his life that can change him forever. For one, there is now a living person aside from his wife and his siblings that will carry his family name. By virtue of his siring a child, he has started a line that can potentially continue forever. And this business of having a line introduces him to a bit of immortality, knowing that he has extended himself somehow. Becoming a father has a metaphysical, spiritual dimension.

As a father of three (two daughters and a son), the feelings I have about fatherhood are many faceted — and some are unexplainable. When my eldest child was born, I remember staying up late just staring at her and marveling at this gift of a living being that one moment would deprive Lydia and me of sleep, and on the next be so peaceful and beautiful just lying on her crib. Her vulnerability evoked such strong primal feelings in us.

I remember feeling so much tenderness when I held Erica in my arms for the first time. I was afraid I was too clumsy when I carried her and I thought I might hurt her. So I just stood there like a statue. Once she stopped fidgeting, I simply froze, not wanting to disturb her peace.

Children come in different packages. My second child, Ala, was an easy baby. She was not colicky unlike her elder sister. She hardly cried, and she was such a beautiful baby, it was so pleasant taking care of her. With a little prodding, she would coo as if she knew that it was making her more adorable and lovable. I would forget my tiredness and cranky mood when she would do that. Ala was love personified. I was a calmer father with her, perhaps because I already had valuable previous experience.

My third child, Mio, was a boy! Af-ter two girls, I was quite content with the idea of having yet another daughter. So when the doctor told me I had a son, I was stunned. It took a while before the reality of having a baby boy dawned on me and I broke into a wide smile. I had a son! How cool is that! Mio’s coming into the world awakened in me new aspects of fatherhood. I wanted to bond with him in a special way outside of all-family bonding. I looked forward to the day we could go camping, fishing, doing father-son activities together. I had that yearning to be a father to him in a way my own dad was never able to be with me, since he died early in my life.

When Mio was a baby, I liked carrying him around my room because he seemed to get stimulated looking at everything so intently. When he did so, he looked very much like an uncle of mine. He also chuckled the loudest and could be easily provoked to do so.

I can proudly say that I taught all of my three kids to read and do math. I saw in each of them an empty, malleable mind and my aim was to teach them as much of everything that I knew. I wanted them to be curious and develop the habit of learning not just marketable skills, but more importantly, life skills they will need to maneuver through the terrain of disappointments and changes as people perennially engaged with life. Thus, I tried as best as I could to be patient and answer every question they had, no matter how hard or silly or nonsensical, as children can often get.

Perhaps because of the atmosphere Lydia and I created in the home, our kids like to read, converse and express themselves, at times, quite passionately. And for that, we are quite proud of them.

I am a person who values experience more than intellectual knowledge. Some people are content reading about things. I prefer to actually live life. Reflecting on his father, Aldous Huxley wrote that he “considered a walk in the mountains as the equivalent of churchgoing.” I am that kind of a person. I believe my children are the same.

Like children, fathers come with different temperaments and styles. Early on, I told myself that the last thing I wanted to be was an aloof, unapproachable father who demands that his children behave a certain way because they carry his name. I readily accepted the fact that they are not my possessions but are only entrusted to me to care for and love.

But like any father, I often ask myself if in my parenting style, I have been too lax with rules and too forgiving of their faults. Have I spared them too much of the discipline I received as a boy? There will always be pluses and minuses with regard to how one raises his kids. And being a dad is to have such doubts. We just have to come to terms with the fact that we can only try our best.

We can only love our kids in the best way we know at the time we do. Our behavior is always “the state of the art” of what we are as people at any given time. I have learned to accept this incrementally and each time I do, I somehow become a steadier, more consistent dad. In trying to resolve my doubts, I find I can fit easier into a father’s shoes.

A big discovery for me as a father is constantly learning that as much as I am supposed to raise my kids, I am also being raised by them. I am not talking only of countless hours of helping them with their school work and reading to them at bedtime, but also of the many moments when they have taught me patience, greater understanding, and yes, unconditional love.

When our children do things that disappoint us greatly, we may be prone to anger and shouting — and that is understandable. But after we have calmed down, we awaken to the realization that in spite of what they have done, we still love them, and we always will, and we will still try to be there for them, no matter what. It is a love that opens us up in a scary, reckless way because it demands so much from us.

I am talking about tough love, the love that does not feel good but needs to be dispensed from time to time. But we know it is love, and it can only be good, eventually, even if it does not feel that way, initially.

If we parents learn this, our children will also learn it and hopefully, they will apply it to us when the situation calls for it. I know of people who discovered their father’s improprieties later in their lives, or after their parents have died, and took years recovering from it. As much as their fathers accepted their faults and forgave them when they erred, they never thought they would have to repay it in kind.

Sometimes, I wonder how my children will remember me when I am gone. God knows I am far from perfect. I hope that by the time I die, they would have learned enough about life to be as forgiving and as unconditional of my shortcomings as I am of theirs. I am quite confident that they will. As a blogger, Robert Brault put it, “You will find that if you really try to be a father, your child will meet you halfway.”

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“Tapping the Creative Universe,” a creativity workshop which will make you creative for life, will be held on June 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 and 28 from 7 to 9 p.m. at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. Please call Ollie at 0916-8554303. Cost: P5,000. Visit http://tappingthecreativeuniverse.com/ for the syllabus and FAQ. Write me at emailjimp@gmail.com for any queries.

Our democracy lives!

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated June 13, 2010 12:00 AM
Illustration by REY RIVERA

What a proclamation it was last Wednesday in the halls of Congress. The room was packed. Every seat was taken and monobloc chairs had to be added for guests who had already spilled into the floor where congressmen sit. The air was electric, the excitement palpable.

Wearing various shades of yellow, people showed up for the proclamation of Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino III and Jejomar Cabawatan Binay as the newly elected President and Vice President of the Republic of the Philippines. The scene still looked like election fever judging by the yellow attire, pins, bands, etc. worn by the public, except that the air was way more euphoric and even smelled triumphant. It was every yellow volunteer or partisan’s moment. We were at the Batasan to see our new leaders proclaimed. We, the people had, indeed, won.

The first and only time I was ever in this hall of Congress was during FVR’s time as president. There was an intense debate going on about whether the government should impose a total log ban. I was for the total ban. To dramatize our stand, a few of us artists and activists showed up at the gallery and at a given signal took off our shirts and exposed T-shirts that had letters which spelled out our objection to the proposed selective ban. In no time at all, security escorted us out of the building.

Before leaving my house for the proclamation, I called Mae Paner (who had informed me that we had a seated invitation) to ask her what the attire was. “Basta yellow,” she said. Since it was a proclamation, I thought I should look a bit more formal. I looked at my clothes closet and saw I had one yellow short sleeve and one long sleeve polo shirt. I opened my drawer of T-shirts and reached for my old yellow collared one with the ubiquitous map of the Philippines on the right side of the chest. This T-shirt was one of my “battle” uniforms, one I wore to sorties and other political events during the campaign that, in my mind, helped “win” many hearts for my candidates. A warrior celebrates victory bedecked in armor. And so it was the yellow “battle” shirt for me that day.

The Batasan building is a huge Marcos-era structure and I must say it is, aesthetically speaking, neither beautiful nor appealing as a legislative edifice. It somehow looks and even feels like a big-time Las Vegas casino. In a way, the metaphor is apt. After all, fortunes exchange hands here and its walls have seen both the small and mighty, the dynasties and their destinies come and go. Surely, many people who have worked here as congressmen have made a killing through corruption at the people’s expense. Like a casino, someone loses when someone wins. But, as they say, the “house” always wins in the end. Too bad for the rest of us. I am sure I was not the only person there who gazed at the congressmen present and wondered who among them were corrupt and who were not.

Sitting close to the congressmen who sat at their tables looking bored, and seemingly unimpressed by the historical event playing out before them, it only confirmed what I have always felt every time I see video footage of sessions in the hall. They looked as bored in real life as on TV! Or they could have been feigning indifference as they held their cards close to their chests to conceal their political colors.

Another impression I had was that there seemed to be a great disconnect between the people who govern and the governed. This was obvious when some congressmen showed slight shock or annoyance at the exuberant expressions of support from NoyBi participants who clapped, cheered, whistled and expressed themselves loudly and emotionally while shouting their candidates’ names as we do in rallies. I was quietly amused when the contrarian in me tried to imagine that this Marcosian structure could have an allergic reaction at the sight of common, ordinary people “polluting” its rarified air.

While the proclamation was a done deal, a sure thing, it was not as simple as a lot of us initially thought. Parliamentary etiquette, plus a few speeches, were part of the proceedings and had to be done. Senator Jinggoy Estrada read the somber conciliatory concession speech of his father recognizing Noy as the winner of the last elections. That to me was a classy exit for a man who had inhabited the political sphere controversially in so many ways and for so long. Here was a man who had played the roles of actor, mayor, senator, VP, president and even prisoner, singing his swan song. As one would expect, the speech was quite well received.

On the other hand, Senator Pimentel’s speech was punctuated with sharp humor which played well among the gallery as he referred to the now-famous acronym PCOS as “President Cory’s Only Son.” He also made light banter about insisting that the proclamation be conducted in broad daylight so he could see Jejomar Binay’s dark complexion.

To be sure, political divisions were still present even among the sea of yellow. The Binay partisans occupied the left side of the entrance while the Noy supporters, in overwhelming numbers, took over the rest. When people would shout “Noy,” a corresponding monolithic sounding “Binay” would retort back. This went on back and forth for a while and I am sure it bothered not a few people that partisan politics was still playing out up to proclamation day.

Mae Paner and I started to shout “NoyBi” as a way to bridge the gap, but got little support from many of the NoyMar people who were there and were obviously still hurting. But the Binay group caught on and soon enough started to shout “NoyBi” as well, and before anyone knew it, the entire hall followed suit.

I was tweeting away while the proceedings were going on and I got a nasty tweet for instigating the “NoyBi” shouting during the pre-proclamation. How dare I express support for Mar’s nemesis who, in the minds of many, was as corrupt as a corrupt politician can get? I was also accused of being a Binay supporter all along. While everyone, including the candidates themselves, knew I campaigned with all my heart for the NoyMar ticket, I bow to the will of the people. The votes have been counted. The results may not have been to my liking but it is the preference of the majority. As a democrat, I recognize and accept the expressed desire of the majority, slim as it is.

“Vox populi vox dei,” as they say. The voice of the people is the voice of God. I would rather see Noy and Jojo work as a team than be antagonistic toward each other.

God knows, the last thing we need now is division at the top. As it is, we are in an uphill battle. The best way to start is to give our leaders the support they will need if they are to carry their promises to fruition. I will give everyone the benefit of a fresh start but will keep my eyes open. I will not be a doting fan of anyone who will be blind to any wrong, simply because of loyalty. (I have never been a blind fan, with the exception of the Beatles, but that’s another story.)

It was quite a sight to see the hands of the elected President and Vice President raised by the Senate President and the Speaker of the House, especially since months of negative thinking making the rounds had made this moment seem simply unimaginable. Remember how many experts predicted various scenarios like failure of elections, or massive cheating? Or how all our idealism would be trumped by the sheer power of Villar’s money and GMA’s massive cheating resources?

As I watched the elected officials raise the hands of our new leaders, I thought to myself how grand and majestic democracy can be when the voice of the people is heard and recognized. Often, I must confess, I have had my doubts about democracy itself because it often takes too long to get anything done. It seems to have too many moving parts and many more parts that should be moving but are not. What is sometimes referred to as “checks and balances” can result in gridlock and it does so way too often. And this happens when people do not take their leaders to task and choose instead to become apathetic and indifferent.

My generation had their experience of People Power in1986. Many other nations saw it and knew it was something great they could use. And they did. And for many of them, it worked out for the better. This generation’s People Power experience was the elections, the equivalent of our EDSA. They experienced the individual and collective power of volunteerism that was so amazing because it could run on empty and could defeat big money and huge resources. Perhaps, this time around, we should not forget how powerful we, the people, can be, if we unite in great numbers and tell this country what we want.

I left the building feeling hopeful that maybe this time around, we, as a people, may have learned a thing or two about having another shot at redemption. As I got into my car, I received a text from a friend who pointed out that it was exactly nine months since Noy had declared his intention to run on September 9, 2009 (09/09/09). It was also a Wednesday. Mercury is the guiding planetary force and is represented by the god Hermes in Greek culture, who also happens to be the god of healing and whose color is, believe it or not, yellow!

I am not particularly superstitious but in this case, I will go with it. In the ‘60s song We’ve Only Just Begun by The Carpenters, there is a line that goes, “a kiss for luck and we’re on our way.” This old EDSA warrior will take every amulet offered as a sign of goodwill and support as we continue our long march. It’s still a long road ahead. There will be setbacks and disappointments. There will also be victories. I hope there will be more of them than the setbacks. But it’s a road we have collectively taken and which will hopefully bring us to a much better place.

Turning points in history bring their participants to greater realizations of themselves or diminish them further. It is my fervent hope that we finish the march together as true heroes, bigger than life, a people that future generations will sing about when they celebrate being Filipino.

Mabuhay tayong lahat.

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I have two upcoming workshops:

1) “Basic Photography Workshop” at White Sands Resort, Cebu on June 19, 1 to 7 p.m. Call Shirley at 0917-6207424. Cost: P3,750. You can also send queries to emailjimp@gmail.com.

2) “Tapping the Creative Universe,” June 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 and 28 from 7 to 9 p.m. at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. Please call Ollie at 0916-8554303. Cost: P5,000. Visit \t “_blank” http://tappingthecreativeuniverse.com/ for the syllabus and FAQ.

Embracing uncertainty

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated June 06, 2010 12:00 AM


Illustration by REY RIVERA

I was watching a documentary the other night about the Titanic, the mighty ship touted to be the most advanced, modern, state-of-the-art sea vessel of its time, which its makers claimed was virtually unsinkable. The toast of the engineering world, it was built using the finest materials available, and had the imprimatur of utmost safety from experts in the maritime industry. And yet, we all know that, on its maiden voyage, it sank after hitting an iceberg, killing hundreds of its well-heeled passengers.

The documentary on the Titanic brought to mind the US Challenger space shuttle which exploded seconds after it was launched in 1986, killing the entire crew.

Such mishaps shocked the world because tragedy or failure was the farthest thing from people’s minds, considering the extreme care and preparation that went into these endeavors. But, to paraphrase Robert Burns, “the best laid plans of mice and men most often go awry.” Things do go wrong at times, despite man’s best efforts.

We all try to go for the sure things in life, or at least go the extra mile to neutralize uncertainties that may disrupt our plans. This is understandable, since predictability and comfort are valid human longings.

We send our kids to the best schools with the highest reputation to be able to ensure their future. A lot of kids spend an inordinate amount of time in school, which may start from pre-school all the way up to a master’s degree or a PhD. The aim is for them to get a superior education and thus have the opportunity to get the highest-paying jobs available. There is a lot of preoccupation with success. There is nothing wrong with that; it’s good to aim high.

I marvel at how methodical parents and students can be in their pursuit of this goal. They follow the track of long hours in school, lots of studying, a graduate course, a doctorate, practicum in a prestigious firm, so that when they finish, they have the best credentials to get ahead.

But then, just like in the world of machines and technology, things do not always turn out the way we expect them to. We have all heard tragic stories of the promising graduate who suddenly falls into a devastating addiction, the charismatic priest who leaves the priesthood, the socialite who is set to marry Mr. Right but suddenly cancels the wedding, and worse, elopes with someone who is far less stellar.

Such stories leave us scratching our heads in disbelief; we are hard put to find an explanation for what happened. It seems the only conclusion we can draw is that life has other plans for the people involved.

I know a girl who canceled her wedding even after the invitations had been sent out because she felt that things were just too “perfect,” so she began to have doubts. Her parents were aghast at her decision and could not understand how she could turn her back on a “sure thing,” even if it was exactly for that very reason that she distrusted everything.

Joseph Campbell, my favorite wise old writer (I have read practically all his books), wrote about this exact same thing when he warned, “If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.”

This is such a powerful insight that I took it to heart the moment I read it.

We yearn for a life that we can control as much as possible. What we forget is that there are just too many variables that make life wildly unpredictable. Life has a dynamic energy that can animate and set its own course, even if we do not do anything. The best we can do is engage with it as we create and pursue our dreams while, hopefully, getting it to cooperate with what we want to happen.

As a musician, I like to compare the business of living to jazz. Improvisation is at the very heart of jazz. One has to make do and attempt to ride the waves of chords, beats and time signatures that life is playing. To be able to do that, one must be open, awake to life and its imperatives.

I remember watching the legendary Duke Ellington perform with his band over 40 years ago at the CCP. Before the show, he asked a rising Filipino violinist to join him and play a few bars of Summertime, a favorite jazz piece. The young man must have rehearsed his parts very well because he played every note quite perfectly during the performance. As he finished the last few strains of the piece, he smiled proudly at the audience, obviously pleased that he had not just “survived” Duke Ellington, but that he also did quite well.

Old Duke, the playful jazz maestro, probably felt that the young musician was, well, too polished and rehearsed, and on the spot, he signaled him to do another round of the routine, this time, totally impromptu. Totally taken aback, the young man hurriedly picked up his violin and after a few tentative, unsure notes, began to catch the vibe of where he wanted to go with his instant improvisation. Midway, he began to nail it and finished the piece with a pretty good riff, to the approval of the audience.

I learned two things that night. One is that practice and preparation will get you a crack at auditions and maybe even the job. The other is, openness, flexibility and presence will help you not only to succeed, but do well. The first will give you competence and some confidence. The second is a bit harder to learn because it demands that one must come from a true place. Earlier authentic experiences are the raw materials that shape and guide performance.

I have seen people in other disciplines who have learned the first lesson not through any formal education but through mere observation. They are quick studies who never even finished school but are observant, flexible and hungry for knowledge.

The author Samuel Butler compared life to a solo violin recital where one learns to play the instrument on the fly. It’s a pretty apt analogy, which I must always remember, now that I have ended a 40-year run with APO and am, in a great sense, starting anew.

It excites me that life may call me to do new things. While I have some projects going, I always ask myself what tomorrow will bring. I have accepted and embraced unpredictability. I am able to pack a suitcase in a few minutes for sudden, unexpected journeys. Who knows? I could just suddenly open a trumpet case and engage this new instrument with great enthusiasm, dedication and enjoyment.