Franciscan Joy: Come Blow Your Horn

Friar Voices

Fr. Bill Farris


I began playing trumpet in the sixth grade, probably because my best friend had chosen to play trumpet, too. After playing for three unenthusiastic years (the novelty wore off, and I didn’t like to practice), I left it behind when I entered the high school seminary in Cincinnati. It wasn’t until my senior year that I started playing again. I wanted to become musically active; I knew the basics of trumpet playing, and so I got serious about regular practice!

Fr. Aubert Grieser needed musicians for two bands: one that played on the annual picnic day, and the other that he wanted to incorporate occasionally into our chapel Masses, which had recently changed to English. “Sons of God, hear his holy word…” Some may remember the tune! I found it a lot of fun to join with others.

I continued playing through the years at Duns Scotus in Southfield, Mich., even joining a serious community band in Plymouth during my last year of college. Through the theology years I would be invited to play at solemn professions and first Masses. One memorable student summer spent at St. Clement’s, Fr. Al Sagel on the piano and I worked through a book of Dixieland jazz. We practiced with much gusto after supper as often as we could.

After ordination and first assignment, I put the trumpet away again for a few years, but was talked into playing again by the director of the St. Bonaventure Jazz Band, Red Reynolds. While I was pursuing a Master’s degree in Franciscan Studies at SBU, he invited me to join the student jazz band. It was the first such group I played in, and I enjoyed the range of music we performed, especially the big band tunes. The next year, Red asked me to set up a tour for the student band in some Midwest schools, including a gig at St. Mary Magdalene School in Chicago, next to the formation house where I had been recently assigned.

Then I stopped practicing for about five years, until the good people at St. Louis Parish in Batesville, Ind., where I was pastor, asked me to join the Eureka Band, a local community band. I rediscovered the joy of playing music with others and even got the group to play for the parish festival (they still do, and I’m still invited back to join them!). Moving to Roger Bacon High School in 2001, I joined the Greenhills Legion Band for Monday night rehearsals and about 15 concerts a year.

Late in my musical life I finally started taking lessons from Paul Hillner, an instructor at Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music. I should never have waited so long to seek out a teacher; he helped me improve in so many ways. In 2012 I played a solo with Roger Bacon and got through it mainly because of Paul’s patient coaching.

I’m in between bands now, but I truly enjoy practicing daily; it is no longer the chore it once was. I am able to recharge myself, to work on challenging pieces that I may never master. The enjoyment is in getting a little closer to the goal each time.

I do miss the camaraderie that comes when the effort of each musician working together creates a communion between themselves and the audience. I find it refreshing to lose myself into a piece of music. For at least a little while, all my preoccupations and worries are on hold as we practice or perform together.

(Based in Cincinnati, Fr. Bill is Provincial Vicar for the Province of St. John the Baptist.)

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