The effect of cold weather on brass instruments, which are used by several volunteer bellringers to attract crowds during the Salvation Army’s annual Red Kettle Season, has generated many amusing incidents. The following tale is a favorite of Elgin, Ill., Corps volunteer Craig Johnson, who founded an all-volunteer band of adult and student musicians dedicated to increasing kettle contributions by playing every Friday night and all-day Saturday during the Christmas season.
“This will be our 21st season manning the kettles as the Elgin Brass Band for the Salvation Army,” said Craig. “One season a talented, young trumpet player joined our volunteer band. His father, an accomplished accordion player, wanted to encourage his son by playing along with our group.
“We knew playing brass instruments outside in cold weather can be a challenge. It’s rough on lips and fingertips, but at least the metal in all of the brass instruments generally goes up or down in pitch together as temperatures rise or fall. Unfortunately, we discovered accordions don’t change pitch much at all in fluctuating temperatures.
“Our first carol with the boy’s father, who enthusiastically encouraged us along on his accordion, just didn’t have that simple, clear, Christmas-carol beauty we all know and love. The brass instruments were at least half a note lower than the accordion, but we didn’t give up. Doggedly, we tried another carol. Same result.
“Beginning to think we might be discouraging kettle contributions rather than increasing them, thankfully someone in the group finally figured out how to end our pain: the accordionist would present his stellar performances when the brass band rested between songs!”