It’s late in the evening and I’m on my computer watching a cheerful-looking cartoon man named Beezerly having many people’s worst nightmares, confidently honking the crowd’s horn with a wind instrument he can’t play.
The moment the song picks up the tempo, Beezerly is unbeatable. Bass rushes to the relentless drums at the perfect moment, inviting our young protagonist to play the complex melody of “Hava Nagila” at lightning speed. It is an atonal buffet of gas-adjacent groans emanating from Beezerly’s golden instrument. At one point, the cartoon musician triumphantly holds a note too long and nearly faints. He is visibly gasping in pain, leaving a strange gap in the classical melody.
I can’t help but feel sorry for Beezerly because I’m Beezerly (or at least I play like him). His pain is my pain—literally, my attempt to play 20,000 musical notes in less than three minutes left a burning pain in my mouse-clicking hand and arm. But, like Beezerly, I’m not intimidated by the momentary pain and embarrassment of getting a (obviously, overly generous) C grade on my performance. If true mastery is forged in the almost constant fire of ego-shattering failure, then Beezerly and I are on the same path towards self-improvement. Plus, it’s an outstanding way to kill 15 minutes while laughing at stomach fart sounds.
When gameplay videos from Trombone Champ (like Guitar Hero, which just replaces guitars with trombones) went viral last Wednesday, I lived the game as I assumed its creators intended: I unknowingly clicked on the video at 8 a.m. when my computer speaker volume was near near. Max and staring at a frowning Beethoven in the background, the sound of a fake digital man bleating Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony nearly tore his eardrums. My dogs were startled, too, and howled wildly at this musical disrespect. I started laughing so much that tears welled up in my eyes. In 11 seconds, the Trombone Champion turned my whole house upside down. 10/10. Well, notebooks. An excellent game.
In just a week, the Trombone Champion has gone the usual route of something truly enjoyable going viral. You get news articles with headlines like “The Internet’s new favorite video game,” and reporters track down the game’s makers, who find a large audience overnight, responding with truth, enthusiasm, and surprise, albeit cautiously. People start posting their own funny videos and scores on Twitch and YouTube, and you come across loads of random people and influencers playing and reacting to the game.
But man, I absolutely love watching those clips of first-timers playing Trombone Champ. No one is completely prepared for how difficult the game is and how slippery the controls are. However, this is a feature and not a fault, for the initial inability to produce a coherent melody gives way to all sharp and flat bleets, hums and timbres. They usually start giggling because the actor is human and therefore easily enjoys unexpected sounds that sound like farts. The effect becomes part of a rich history of jokes, in which people deliberately surprise the audience with terrible music. Mozart’s composition “A Musical Joke” horse this video changing instruments of a symphony and playing “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001: A Space Odyssey)”.
There’s another level of Trombone Champ’s nuanced comedic genius, and it’s that the game starts from the premise that the avatar you’re playing has at least some understanding of its instruments. But when the curtain opens, the poor soul immediately finds itself in the wrong scene. The game’s creator, Dan Vecchitto, acknowledged this very well. this Washington postarguing that the game feeds on “loudness combined with uncertainty” and “steps onto the plate with the utmost confidence”. It’s a simulator to get you in trouble, but just keep moving forward and pretend everything is normal, which is a pretty accurate way of describing being alive in 2022.
This weekend I was reading some YouTube comments about a Trombone Champ gameplay video. For YouTube comments, they were unusually cheerful. One of the self-identified middle school conductors caught my eye. “I have never seen a more accurate depiction of what goes through the head of an 11-year-old boy than this video when you give him eleven trombones,” they wrote. With minimal effort, I was able to find out that this person’s name is Curtis Wetzel (no relation, lol) and is a band director at East Troy Middle School in East Troy, Wisconsin (email signature also includes him and “Freelance Arranger and Sousaphonist On Call) ”). I reached out to him to ask what exactly caught the game in being pushed into a musical setting.
“I work with students who are just starting out with navigating music and how instruments work,” Wetzel told me via email. “This game seems to capture the peculiarities of using something outside of your body to create what you hear in your head… Just as your voice sounds very different from what you hear when you hear it on a recording. an instrument adds a lot more speed bumps and complications.”
Wetzel also said that YouTube videos of people starting out playing the Trombone Champ reminded him of how his students were facing a new instrument. “This is very How does this thing work, why does it work that way, why can’t I do this simple thing? A bit of laughter involved,” he told me. “In case you didn’t know, sound is produced by putting one’s lips into the instrument. Usually, students think of it as a fart sound and will make it sound like this in their first few months. Needless to say – I’m hooked on the big metal fart maker (playing the tuba)”