“Love and marriage,” the old song declares, “go together like a horse and carriage.” The image has long been out of date, but there was a time on campus 20 some years ago when it would have been appropriate to substitute the words, “go together like trombones and piccolos.”
Tom McCabe ’87 (trombone) and his wife Karen Steck McCabe SMC’87 (piccolo) keep in touch with half a dozen or so trombone/piccolo couples from their era who met in the band and ended up at the altar. In a few cases, Tom says, he and Karen gave those relationships a bit of a nudge.
The McCabes themselves met as sophomore band members and became leaders of their respective sections. Now the parents of two children, they consider themselves exhibit No. 1 for the trombone-piccolo connection.
Tom McCabe calls Suzanne Hammond Vasti SMC’90 (piccolo) and Tom Vasti ’88 (trombone) exhibit No. 2. Karen Steck and Tom McCabe, Suzi Vasti says, “were our section leaders, and they arranged for the trombone and piccolos to get together for pre-pep rallies. Also, the bus assignments for away games included a trombone/piccolo bus.”
It was on a trombone/piccolo bus that Suzi slipped into a seat next to Tom Vasti when the band was in Dallas for the 1988 Cotton Bowl. As the bus neared a lunch stop, Suzi realized she’d left her money in her hotel room. She asked Tom for a small loan and “we started talking.”
Three years later, the pair recited their wedding vows in Sacred Heart Church before Father George Wiskirchen, CSC, then the assistant band director.
Melanie Abke Penna SMC’90 (piccolo) was a freshman in 1986 when she met Rob Penna ’89 (trombone). “He noticed me during band auditions,” she says, “and he told his trombone section leader — Tom McCabe — he wanted to be set up with me for the Band SYR in November 1986.” The pair began dating after Christmas break. Wedding bells rang in 1992.
At this point, the McCabes figured they’d spotted a trend. When a third couple, Kent Jeffirs ’89 (trombone) and Calliopi Liontakis Jeffirs ’90 (piccolo), started dating, they were sure of it. The Jeffirses began their relationship with a bit of humor that didn’t quite work. Kent was the band secretary, which made him the guy who had to approve excuses for missing a practice. Calliopi, he says, was “a shy girl from a Greek family and not used to the kind of kidding” that was normal in his own large family. “I told her I couldn’t approve her request, and she got a little upset.” That didn’t last long. By 1992, after Kent graduated from Indiana University law school, the couple was flying to Greece for a honeymoon visit to Calliopi’s ancestral village.
That’s a sampling; Karen and Tom McCabe know of a few other trombone-piccolo unions from the 1980s as well.
Melanie Penna finds it unsurprising that trombones and piccolos sometimes ended up married. “It seemed that our two sections were always together. Between practice, games and special events, the people you spent the most time with during your day were band members. It was, and still is, very much a family.”
So are the trombone-piccolo marriages producing a new generation of trombonists and piccolo players? It’s not a lock, apparently, although the results aren’t all in yet.
The Pennas have two children. Anthony, 10, is just old enough to join his school band, and his dad is starting Anthony on his “old beaten-up trombone to see how he does.” Gabrielle, 9, has shown interest in taking up flute when she’s old enough to join the band.
The Vastis’ son Matthew, 12, plays trombone in his school’s sixth grade band and jazz band. However, Suzi points out, “he’s also an awesome offensive lineman” who hasn’t decided whether his goal is playing football for the Irish or “joining the band to carry on the family legacy.” His sister, Annelise, 15, is a member of her high school’s marching band color guard. Suzi hasn’t lost hope of seeing her daughter march out of the tunnel into the stadium one day. “There’s still time to teach her to play the piccolo,” she says.
The Jeffirses have a daughter, Maria, 8, and two sons, Nicholas, 13, and Stephen, 14. None plays an instrument at the moment, but their parents planned to take them to the band reunion game this fall in hope that the music and the magic will take hold.
As for Karen and Tom McCabe, they have two musically inclined daughters. Lauren, 14, plays piano and French horn. Meghan, 11, is accomplished on piano, flute and cello, but the cello looks like it might trump the flute. Says her dad, “She wants to be Yo-Yo Meghan.” He’d settle for that.
Walt Collins is a former editor of this magazine. His parents wasted significant sums of money on piano lessons for him when he was young.