A Tribute to Michael Gibbs: The Trumpet Maestro

by Madonna

Mosgiel, New Zealand – The world of music was graced by the brilliance of Michael Gibbs, a remarkable trumpet player who, from 1952 to 1994, enthralled audiences with his performances as a member of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. As he approached his 80th birthday, a desire arose to pen a poetic tribute to this celebrated musician.

In crafting this tribute, the poet drew inspiration from a French postcard adorning their noticeboard, titled “States and Empires of the Trade Winds.” This vivid imagery depicted trees, the boundless ocean, and faces, cheeks puffed up as if blowing with all their might. One couldn’t help but imagine a young Michael, lying in his cot, gazing up at this poster on his wall. Could it be that the sight of those faces, filled with vibrating air and life, prompted him to reach for the trumpet, an instrument that would become the vessel of his life’s melody?


The poem unfurls on the concert stage where Michael stands with his trumpet, a masterful musician in his element. The journey to this moment, however, isn’t the focal point; it’s the support of his father that shines. Amidst the dimness of the concert hall, a glow emerges – the radiance of his father’s cigarette. The ensuing cough, born from inhaling smoke and nicotine, is unmistakably his father’s. In this interplay of light and darkness, an essential contrast is brought to life.


The second stanza shifts the spotlight to Michael’s father, a coal miner whose life unfolded in the depths of the earth. The coal dust, a silent assailant, took its toll on his lungs, rendering his breathing laborious. Yet, when Michael’s trumpet filled the air with music, his father glimpsed the image of healthy, unfettered lungs. The simile, “your lungs flare like wings,” paints a picture of light and liberation, hinting at a departure.


The third stanza introduces a note of unease as it predicts gales in exposed places. Michael’s health was waning, and the stormy weather hints at the tempest that lies ahead.

The poem weaves a tapestry, evolving from the trumpet as a wind instrument to the metaphorical breath of life and the human lungs. It leads to a wind farm with renewable energy, hinting at hope, only to swing towards the ominous forecast of destructive gales.

The fourth stanza opens south of the divide, signifying Michael’s departure. He’s prepared, clutching his cherished trumpet and a suitcase. The image evokes memories of Michael’s travels with the NZSO, arriving at concerts across New Zealand and beyond, a vision of dedication to his art. Meeting him and his wife, Alison, post-concert in a café or hotel, the image of Michael in his tails and white shirt, his top lip bearing the indelible mark of his trumpet, is etched in memory.

The poem concludes on a somber note, with Michael’s trumpet playing resonating eternally. He returns to nature, his life’s work now an integral part of the orchestra of the wind. The wild totem represents the ancestral clan of the trade winds from the French postcard.

The poem’s layout mirrors the trumpet’s varying notes – extending and reducing, just as Michael played them. The reference to Gustav Mahler conducting a wind farm is the longest line, culminating in the shortest line of the wind.

Michael Gibbs was not only a virtuoso on the trumpet but also an exceptional teacher, offering invaluable guidance to his students. His wisdom echoed through his words: “Pretend to play in an orchestra, and everyone will think you’re brilliant.” But Michael never needed pretense; his brilliance was genuine, and his music will forever grace the hearts of those who had the privilege of hearing him play.


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