Upon my calling at Mr. Gilmore's and waiting in his library for about half an hour, he appeared and greeted me so affably, a characteristic that made him such a lovable man to all, that I really forgot my excitement for the moment. He talked quite a while about conditions in Canada, asking after his old friend, Dr. Torrington, and then requested me to take out my cornet and play something for him. Before starting, he advised me to "warm up a bit", and this gave me more confidence, but I could not think of a single piece to play. He noticed my hesitation and began to encourage me, saying that he realized just how I felt. His manner was so delightful that I forgot my self-consciousness and commenced to play one of my most difficult solos; I think it was Levy's Whirlwind Polka. After starting, I felt all right, keeping my mind wholly upon every note. I certainly worked hard, knowing that I must make good if I expected to land the engagement.
MR. GILMORE SAYS, "GO ON"
When I had finished this number in a creditable manner, Mr. Gilmore simply nodded his head and said "go on". I then played a difficult "air varie", finishing on a very high note, top F, that was not in the music. His exclaiming "bravo!" encouraged me to play another solo with more execution, or technique. I was then told to rest, during which time he asked me some questions regarding what experience I had had in the band field, also what music I had been used to playing. I told him that my education in playing had been under the direction of Dr. Torrington and Mr. John Bayley, who were efficient musicians, as he well knew, and that I had been well drilled in all the standard overtures, oratories, symphonies and operatic selections. He next asked me if I could play some simple ballads, suggesting The Last Rose of Summer, which I knew and interpreted to his astonishment and satisfaction.
By this time I had begun to get a bit exhausted, having used up all my strength in the numbers I had already played, and I hoped he would let me go, telling me whether or not I was capable of becoming a member of his band. But he did not once talk business, and I could vision myself returning to Toronto without any success. This caused me to feel discouraged and sorry that I had spent so much time and money coming to New York, although, as a matter of fact, the experience was already well worth ten times the amount.
THE FINAL TEST
Then suddenly he asked if I knew the popular soprano aria from Robert the Devil, by Meyerbeer. I answered, "Yes." "All right, play it," he said. So I carefully blew all the water out of my cornet, and at the same time braced myself for this number, as I knew it required more endurance than any polka to interpret properly. Taking a little time in starting, I felt my confidence return, as I had been coached many times in this aria by my old bandmaster, who had explained its words and sentiment as well as its dramatic meaning in the opera; I really felt quite sure of myself. I certainly did my best, and played the entire aria faultlessly, thinking of each phrase as it was taught me, and putting all my knowledge of music into the rendition.
After I had finished, Mr. Gilmore came over to me, patted me on the back, and told me that he had been looking for a great cornet player who could play musically, with the endurance I had displayed this afternoon and at last he had found one! I nearly fell over on hearing this expression of enthusiasm regarding my playing, and had to sit down. All the playing I had just done had completely exhausted me, and his encouragement, coming on top of it all, actually knocked my legs from under me.
It was then that business was talked, I was asked if I was in anyway bound by contract in Toronto, or, if so, could I be released honorably. In answer I said that the Heintzman Piano Company, of whose band I was leader, would not stand in my way should I be fortunate enough to secure the position of cornet soloist in Gilmore's Band. Mr. Gilmore was too square a man to take away any player from an organization, unless it could be done ethically, and I always admired him for this characteristic.
The position I had long sought was now offered me. I was told to report in New York early in April for rehearsals, these taking place before the regular Spring Tour through the New England States, which was succeeded by a month at Madison Square Garden, the entire summer at Manhattan Beach, with six weeks at St. Louis Exposition, and later a Fall Tour, returning to New York for Christmas. Imagine my happiness now, to have secured the highest position of any cornetist in the world. I could hardly believe it after all the worrying I had gone through during the whole morning. And yet, was it not just what I had been after all my life?
I LEAVE, TREADING ON AIR
Mr. Gilmore dismissed me cordially, thanking me for the treat I had given him, and impressed upon me the importance of being at rehearsals promptly in April. He also told me that in order to play in his band I must join the New York Musical Union, an act compulsory for every member, that I was to provide myself with a Gilmore uniform and the necessities for traveling, as well as all my solos with full band arrangements. As I left his home, my feet seemed so light that they hardly touched the ground. I was simply in a trance! It was a great satisfaction to me, also, to realize that all my struggles in the past were rewarded, and that my perseverance was not in vain. I was then in my twenty-fourth year, and seemed really too young to have accomplished my heart's desire so soon. A reaction soon set in, and I began to realize that the effort made in playing before Mr. Gilmore had been a strain. My lungs ached, my lips were sore, and my nervous system suffered most of all. For several days the effects of this strain held me, yet I was repaid for it all in the end.
Brother, Ernest was quite as pleased over my success as I. Now we both would be together again, this time as members of the greatest band in the world. Ern had not heard me play for years, and was himself astonished at my improvement as he was that I had gained the position he so wanted me to occupy.
I returned home to Toronto the following day, my thoughts full of the future, making up my mind now that I had a real start. I would show Mr. Gilmore how I could improve with the experience I would obtain after playing with him a while, and how I would be able to make myself useful to him in many ways.
Upon reaching Toronto, I explained my good fortune to my employers, who in the most encouraging terms congratulated me upon my securing the desired position, and were perfectly willing to release me from my obligations saying that while they were sorry to lose me, they were proud that a Toronto boy had won the highest position within the grasp of a cornetist. I wired Mr. Gilmore in regard to this release so that he would be sure of me for his tour.
I had nearly two months before me to get a substitute for my position as bandmaster. and I wished to leave my band in good hands. Fortunately, as the position was a good one, I found no trouble in securing a man from New York, Mr. Thomas Baugh, who was well known to all the boys, and a first-class musician in every way. So the Heintzman Band continued to keep up its reputation, and everybody was satisfied.
My practice during these few weeks was done with more thought and carefulness than ever, especially on the point of endurance, a thing very necessary with Gilmore; for I would have to play first cornet in the band, and solos at every concert, the whole requiring more energy than any one realizes until one has done this kind of work.
The citizens of Toronto were very proud that one of their boys had won the distinction of appearing in this world-famed organization, which was equally as popular in Toronto as it was in New York, and, to show their appreciation of my past efforts, on the eve of my departure for New York, offered me a testimonial concert, in which all the professional celebrities in the neighborhood of Toronto took part, thus giving me the most wonderful send-off I have ever experienced. The proceeds were handed to me as a token of esteem and admiration for the musical work I had been doing for the past five years.
Having reached the pinnacle of my ambition, I made up my mind that I must work all the harder to hold it, and add new laurels through perseverance and ambition; this I have always tried to do.
And now, this little story of mine must end, and I honestly hope that my readers have not tired reading of my A Cornet-Playing Pilgrim's Progress experiences from boyhood, up, and also that many will derive some benefit in their work from these chapters and be helped to better things. It is all up to the individual himself. He must persevere, and whatever he wants in this life, he must go after himself. People who lean on others to push them ahead cannot succeed; they, themselves, must develop a stronger manhood. It must be remembered, that all have an equal chance to rise to success, provided they have the initial talent, and work properly and conscientiously. There is no luck in cornet playing, at least I have never found it so. One, of course, must have self-confidence; the least doubt of oneself of any kind will bring failure. I was cornet soloist with Gilmore at the age of twenty-four, held the same position with Sousa at twenty-five and did not really know how to play the cornet correctly until I was thirty-five! Since then it has never been a task to play my chosen instrument all day long.