Playing trumpet more or less saved the life of Ryan Anthony, the principal trumpeter for the Dallas Symphony. It helped warn him something was wrong; it turned out that something was cancer. KERA’s Jerome Weeks reports, Monday through Wednesday, nearly 20 of the country’s finest trumpeters will be in Dallas for a three-day cancer research benefit created by Anthony called Cancer Blows.
The Dallas Symphony is rehearsing Samuel Barber’s violin concerto, Leonard Foster conducting the orchestra’s concertmaster Alexander Kerr. It’s a famously difficult, beautiful piece for the violin but right now, in the second movement of the work, the trumpets add a gorgeous little touch. Beneath the soulful violin, horns provide brief bursts of mellow energy that quickly fade, drifting away. The trumpets will come back in the famous finale: The violin is the frantic engine of the movement’s moto perpetuo, but the trumpets, the bassoons, the whole orchestra seems to urge the violinist on, pushing the accelerator to the floor.
One of those trumpeters is Ryan Anthony, principal trumpet for the DSO, former child prodigy, former member of the famous Canadian Brass. For all that, he’s lucky to be playing in this rehearsal. In fact, he’s lucky to be alive. Two and a half years ago, playing the trumpet began to hurt.
“Every time I would take a really deep breath or playing something where it would take a lot of pressure,” he recalls,”I would feel these shooting pains. So I thought I’d broken a rib somehow.” The pains would go away, but then they’d come back harder, more often, more quickly.
Doctors took dozens of x-rays and blood tests. He had no broken bones, no torn muscles or tendons, no signs of lung cancer. There was this other cancer, but it was a near-impossibility. So they didn’t test for it. Less than 1 percent of multiple myeloma cases are people younger than 40. Anthony was 42.
“But we kept asking,” he says, “and they finally said, ‘Well, OK, we’ll test just so you can know it’s not cancer.’ And it came back positive.”
Multiple myeloma is a bone marrow cancer. The white blood cells turn into lesions in the bones, and Anthony had lesions from his skull to his feet. Not long ago – before stem-cell implants – he would have been given two-to-three years to live.
What did he feel when they said he had cancer — an incurable cancer?
He takes a deep breath. “Just disbelief. You know, it’s just kind of hard to realize that’s what it is. And at the time it was diagnosed, it was severe enough, I mean, literally, we started treatments that day.”
The doctors at Baylor’s Cancer Center used chemotherapy basically to wipe out Anthony’s immune system. Then they used stem cell implants to build him a new one. While he was going through all this, Anthony was visited by friends and colleagues, fellow trumpet players. Gathered like that, the idea often came up: Whatever happens, we all ought to get together again for a big concert.
But whose idea was it to call it ‘Cancer Blows’?
Anthony laughs. ” You know what, the name is actually my wife’s, she came up with it. And we laughed and that was sort of the running joke.”
Cancer Blows became more than a single benefit concert Wednesday at the Meyerson featuring Doc Severinsen and Cuban jazz great Arturo Sandoval. Nearly 20 trumpeters are coming to town including players with the New York Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony. So they naturally started coming up with workshops and master classes and a smaller concert Monday night at the City Performance Hall.
Tom Booth plays fourth trumpet in the DSO. He was one of Anthony’s colleagues who filled in for him while he was undergoing the chemo and implants. Booth says, Anthony surprised them.
“He came back much faster than anybody expected, and came back sounding fabulous. You forget that he’s playing the trumpet sometimes. It’s just a great voice. It’s just pure music.”
It wasn’t simply co-workers and musician-friends who helped. Now in remission, Anthony gets a little choked up when he recalls his Sunnyvale neighbors holding a blood drive for him. In Wednesday’s concert, he’s reserved two solos for himself. One of them has a special meaning. It’s called Gabriel’s Oboe. It’s the main theme from composer Ennio Morricone’s Oscar-nominated score for the 1986 movie, The Mission — and it’s become a tremendously popular piece, not just for the oboe. It’s been transcribed for the human voice, for guitar, for cellos, for multiple horns. But the trumpet and orchestral version that Anthony plays has a particularly melancholy grandeur to it.
“It’s become one of my favorite tunes the past few years,” and playing it Wednesday, he says, “that’ll be a moment, if nothing else, to thank all those who’ve been so supportive.”