Is That All There is, Trumpet Man?
-Reflections on the passing of a dear friend.
Roland Chirico was a dear friend of mine, and a music icon, not only to me, but to oh so many. I sit here reflecting on the magnificence I was able to share with him over the decades of knowing and working with him. Roland chose to pass on Valentines Day, a fitting day for a man with such a huge heart.
Even though he was a veteran, a photographer, an avid bicyclist, one of the first to assist Connecticut in unionizing teachers, the trumpet called to him. And even though he worked in the newspaper industry, had a PhD and was a professor of journalism at Manchester Community College, the trumpet always called to him. And even though he was a founding member of the Unitarian Church in his town and held weekly socials after services for years and years, the trumpet was never far from his side.
Often, he would travel the United States on his “Elderhostel” trips with his sisters Gloria and Lorraine and carry his special “small trumpet”. He would handily whip it out at times and entertain those in his presence. He would chuckle at the thought when the Elderhostel changed their name to “Road Scholar – “Because no one wants to be considered an elder, I guess,” Roland would muse.
Even though he held many other jobs throughout his 90 years, one thing was always crystal clear, his identity has always been being a "Trumpet Man". That is what he most identified himself as-A Trumpet Man. Even two days before he transitioned, when I visited with him, he said this to me, “I’ve been a trumpet man. I like that.”
His mouth pieces were his "mistresses" and he would take great delight in selecting just the right mistress for the pleasure of playing.
(He had hundreds of “mistresses”.)
I remember him telling me the story of after the service he drove to Florida and was planning to give up the trumpet. He packed his belongings in a station wagon and tied suitcases and such to the top. Along the way he got into an accident and there lying in the road was his trumpet. At that point he told me, he never wanted to let the trumpet go again. (I may be embellishing and romanticizing this story a bit, but I hope you get the sentiment here.) Because of this angst or push -whatever we want to label it - with exploring and deciding who we wish to be in the world, he strongly identified with the 1950’s film “A Young Man with a Horn.”
Roland performed all over the world and worked with some of the greatest artists - Liberace, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Steve & Eydie (whom he always favored because they were authentic, kind and real to him) - at the Oakdale Theatre – and the now-long-forgotten-Ice-Capades in Hartford, CT, just to mention a few. His stories were humble, and his chops were always in shape. He would practice for hours a day. I always wondered how someone could be THAT determined and passionate.
Roland the “Trumpet Man” had his own one-man-show and performed for years and years at assisted living and health care facilities in Connecticut. In his way he inspired me to do the same, but with voice. He would chuckle to me and say, “The audience I’m playing for is younger than me.” I know deep down he was proud to entertain them with quips and stories, songs and trumpet playing from the wonderful golden age of the Great American Song Book. For why else would he do it if it didn’t bring him joy?
I last played with him on October 23, 2021 in New Haven, CT with the Glenn Hanson Orchestra and his decline was noticeable - as he only picked at the chocolate chip cookie that we recently scoped out afterward. I knew his joy was wanning.
When I shared time with him two days before he transitioned, he said he was "ready". He also said that this pandemic had flattened his spirit. He lost his wife, Lynn, the summer of 2021 and that was another blow to him. He was surrounded by family and friends - he was a man of great wealth in that area. And while he always identified as being a “Trumpet Man” first, he never lost sight he was a husband, a father, and a grandfather. He just didn’t identify with those titles as much. Perhaps because he may have felt he lacked in those areas with what the ideal picture of a Father, Husband or Grandfather figure meant to society and those around him. To him, the trumpet never failed him. But he was not one to lament on weaknesses within. He knew his shortcomings and he never made excuses for them.
Roland was more than just a Trumpet Man to me. He was a dear friend, more than a father, or grandfather, for that matter. He was my personal psychologist, philosopher, a true renaissance man, and a romantic lover of the Great American Song Book.
Roland and I used to spend hours and hours discussing the Great American Song Book.
We would query together and offer up opinions on what happen to “just holding hands” as a fun pass-time?
He would share with me certain memories he had of the entertainers, singers, and musicians he worked with. And we always were surprised that we each liked the same songs. Songs, like, “I gave you lilacs for your furs”; -which is really titled “Violets for Your Furs” but because I love lilacs, we called it that instead. That’s what friends do. Then there was “How Do you Keep the Music Playing?”, a beautiful song composed in 1982 by the amazing Michel Legrand with lyrics by Alan & Marilyn Bergman. I remember in one cabaret show he and Lynn attended, I dedicated this song to him. Weeks later we had lunch and he had to tell me that I ruined the song by playing it as a fast-tempo Latin instead of the true standard ballad that it is. That’s what friends do. Another song we loved to discuss is “That’s All” with the wistful lyrics written by Alan Brandt in 1952 with music by Bob Haymes:
“I can only give you country walks in springtime -And a hand to hold when leaves begin to fall
And a love whose burning light Will warm the winter night That's all, that's all…
If you're wondering what I'm asking in return, dear - You'll be glad to know that my demands are small
Say it's me that you'll adore For now and ever more That's all, that's all….”
Its simplicity was not lost on us.
I wrote this post to process my own loss. But I also wrote this in the hopes that it helps us all understand the power of the mundane. The power of the simple. The power of the cycle of life-death-rebirth. The power of embracing our inner “Trumpet Man”. The power of simply living. The power of finding your tribe-those that resonate with you. Those that accept you for all your crazy and short-comings – for all your dreams and masteries-for all the music in your soul that keeps swirling and wanting to get out.
“What brings you joy?” Roland would sometimes ask me. For me, I know music brings me joy. This doesn’t mean I need to do it 24-7. I do it in short spurts, but it is a continuous flow that travels in and out of me. Intellectual conversation brings me joy, too, I would I tell him. This doesn’t mean I need to have intellectual conversations ALL the time. I do it in short spurts. I need those mundane and silly conversations to provide context and perspective to the intellectual ones. Nature brings me great joy. This doesn’t mean I don’t love the action of the city or the thrill of a busy crowd. I do it in short spurts as it brings the peaceful sunset over the western horizon into sharper focus for me. Balance. Paying attention to the markings on the musical page of life. The decrescendo, the staccato’s, the phrasing – it all gives you a place to start from and to go.
In our monthly therapeutic lunches, Roland and I would sometimes ponder the great big question, what is “The meaning of life”? We each played in different big bands, small groups, church settings, high school musicals all across New England. We would nit-pick music apart and talk about the upcoming gigs each of us had. And while I don’t recall us ever getting any closer to answering the Big Question, we knew that being a musician is a funny field.
We innately knew that we were part of something more, something bigger. And as musicians, we know we each bring our little bit to the group. Yet, Roland and I, so many times, would joke that we frequently couldn’t remember a spouse’s name, or know what town our fellow musician sitting next to us grew up in - or hell, I still mess up the pronunciation of musicians names I see regularly! - but we always circled back to keenly understanding that at the end of it all, we are a unit of musicians that bring life, hope and joy to those listening to the music we create together. I am grateful every time I see and play with my fellow musicians.
I am thankful for each one of you out there. What a gift you bring to the world!
In closing, I want to share this one song that Roland and I often analyzed - as only two self-interested divas could do. That song we spoke a lot about was written by the American songwriting team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in the 1960’s. It became a hit for Peggy Lee “Is That All There is?" Here’s a few excerpts:
I remember when I was a little girl, our house caught on fire I'll never forget the look on my father's face as he gathered me up
In his arms and raced through the Burning building out on the pavement
And I stood there shivering in my pajamas And watched the whole world go up in flames And when it was all over I said to myself Is that all there is to a fire?
And then I fell in love With the most wonderful boy in the world We'd take long walks by the river or Just sit for hours gazing into each other's eyes We were so very much in love
Then one day he went away and I thought I'd die, but I didn't And when I didn't I said to myself Is that all there is to love?
Is that all there is?
I know what you must be saying to yourselves If that's the way she feels about it why doesn't she just end it all?
Oh, no, not me, I'm not ready for that final disappointment Because I know just as well as I'm standing here talking to you That when that final moment comes and I'm Breathing my last breath, I'll be saying to myself
Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing Let's break out the booze and have a ball If that's all there is.
I am not sure why we both were “caught” in this song, for me, it could be that I experienced a house fire when I was 6years old. But when I visited Roland days before he passed, I said to him, “Gosh, Ro, Is that All There Is?” He chuckled and looked off, and said, “Then break out the booze.”
So tonight, and many other nights onwards, I will break out the booze, raise my glass high in a toast to my dearest friend, one whom I felt truly understood me, and I will remember Roland.
But I will never say "Is that All there is?" I will only marvel and exclaim "How could there have been so much?"
Val Rogers is an intuitive, artistic writer, entrepreneur, and voiceover artist for MediMind Cloud9 online meditations. She is a singer and entertainer performing throughout Connecticut & New England with a special affinity to perform at Assisted Living, VFW & Senior Centers. She is a Mother of a Marine, a volunteer for Connecticut's Northeastern Veterans Community Center, and the co-host of the "Truth Serum with Maria & Val" a YouTube Channel dedicated to sharing the fun and wisdom of our age with the world .
She works with her husbands company, King Energy, LLC, bringing residential geothermal heating and cooling solutions to hundreds of homes in Connecticut.
She lives in Willington, CT with her high school sweetheart husband, (Scot) their son Cole, two rescue dogs and donkeys and a slew of gardens, weeds and chickens.
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