As before stated, I now was devoting my entire time to music, and realizing that it was foolish to practice all the time on the cornet only, at my father's suggestion I took up the study of viola. He said that if I could learn to play it well enough we would form a family string quartet, Ed and Ern playing first and second violins, myself the viola, and himself the 'cello. He had learned to play this instrument fairly well in his youth, and was sure that with a little practice he easily could get back into playing form. I immediately planned out a schedule for myself to play four full hours on the cornet each forenoon, with four on the viola every afternoon. The latter instrument did not prove so very difficult for me, as all that it required was reading a new clef (the alto) and a little longer stretch with the fingers. By careful study and diligent practice the work was soon accomplished and I was ready for the quartet.
One never-to-be-forgotten Sunday afternoon, about a month from the time when the project originally was started, we made our first full try-out on one of Mozart's beautiful string-quartet compositions. Everybody became so deeply absorbed, and the time passed so pleasantly, that nobody gave any thought about supper, although we were called several times. Father suddenly remembering that he was supposed to play the organ at evening church service, finally jumped up and left precipitately without stopping to eat. The rest of us then came down to earth long enough to eat.
PATIENCE, PERSEVERANCE AND PERSISTENCE
This experience, new to me, was so fascinating and so increased my love for good music, that I became more determined to follow out my previously planned schedule for routine work and study in a systematic manner. In detail my schedule was as follows: The cornet in the forenoon, with one hour on scales, one hour on slurring, one hour on tonguing, and one hour on miscellaneous work: i.e., a little of each of the preceding combined with playing songs and easy solos. I kept this up all that winter, getting up early and working from eight in the morning to twelve noon. The afternoon was devoted to the viola, carrying out the same general system in scale playing, finger exercises, bowing, and playing parts from the different string quartets. My improvement on both instruments astonished even myself.
I GET TIPS FROM ROGERS
Occasionally I would go over to Rogers' home to play cornet duets with him and talk music. In addition to his wonderful cornet playing he also was a remarkably fine violinist, having studied at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music under the celebrated teacher, Schradieck. I gained many pointers from Rogers on cornet playing without taking regular lessons. He said that he did not teach, but would be only too glad to help me if I thought I could learn anything from him. Maybe I didn't, eh?
I was ready to take advantage of every opportunity to perfect myself in music, and not a day passed that I did not learn something new. I persistently asked questions, no matter how silly they may have sounded, for I desired to find out and know things. Nor was I ever quite satisfied with the explanations given, but would argue on both sides until I was fully and firmly convinced that I was on the right track and would not be compelled to undo any of the foundation work I was building up for my future.
Those hours of perseverance and struggle in trying to learn have repaid me a thousand fold, for without perfection in my work I never could have made the success of my later life. And yet in those days it merely was pleasure to strive and do my work well, and never at any time did it seem arduous or laborious.
Now that we three brothers (Ed, Ern and myself) were in the "music game," so to speak, playing small engagements here and there for whatever the job at hand might pay, (in those days there was no union to fix and govern prices), of course we played whenever and wherever there was a chance to make a dollar. Often times, however, we did not receive any remuneration, but our inherent love of music and its playing kept us sufficiently interested in our work to hold together. The main idea with us was to be "playing all the time," anywhere or somewhere, but we never played for nothing if someone in connection with the job was receiving pay.
The rehearsals of our family string quartet (Ed, first violin; Ern, second violin; Dad, 'cello and myself viola) taught us real music, for we played the works of all the old masters. Such atmosphere and environment formed the best possible education for a boy who had decided to follow music as a profession, and my aspirations soon began to climb. I wanted to not only make a fair cornet player, but a good "all-round" musician, and so began to study the tonal qualities, compass, and fingering of all the other instruments which go to make up band and orchestra ensembles. I now could read music in all clefs, and often tried to write for the different instruments by making a regular score, using some simple song as a guide for the orchestration.
ARRANGING AS AN AID TO STUDY
Naturally my work with the viola enabled me to write in the alto clef, but I soon realized that as the cornet was built in B flat, all parts for that instrument must either be written or transposed a tone above the piano part. This soon became intensely interesting to me, and I would try to hear in my mind the sound of what I was arranging, to catch the sounds without actually playing the parts. It was similar to painting a picture and correctly blending the colors, only that as yet I had to learn to simplify parts for the ordinary players and still not write melody for all the instruments. This not only trained my mind, but seemed to help me play the cornet better, and through it I learned to study my music mentally before ever attempting to play it; likewise, I found that it enabled me to read all music more readily, and to execute with greater fluency.
Playing in our string quartet gave me the idea of forming a brass quartet, so one day when visiting my boyfriend, Walter Rogers, I broached the subject to him. He readily responded to the idea, and told me that if we would organize such an ensemble he would be only too glad to make one of the quartet. I went home and brought up the matter of a brass quartet with my brothers. It appealed to Ed, who said that all we needed to carry out the plan was someone to play alto horn. Ed had not touched his cornet (or any wind instrument) for a very long time because of devoting his entire time to studying and playing the violin, but said that as there was a good alto instrument in the house he would tackle it. This made the brass quartet complete, with Rogers playing first cornet, myself second cornet, Ed the resurrected alto, and Ern trombone.
Then came the question as to where and how we should get published music for our combination. I spoke with Rogers about it and asked if he knew where we could obtain music. He at once dug through his own collection of music and brought to light a few manuscripts. They were original compositions for brass quartets of the same combination we had organized which he had written some few years before while attending the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. The next day I went to a music store and bought up all the brass-quartet music they had in stock, then set a date in the following week for the first tryout of our brass experiment. Rogers came over to our house, where a very pleasant afternoon was spent playing all the music-numbers we had. These, of course, included Rogers' own compositions, which really were the best of all, and the effect of our playing together was mighty good for a first trial.
BRASS QUARTET BECOMES CHURCH CHOIR
After we had become used to playing together, with each one trying to hear the parts of the others while listening to his own part (true ensemble work), a suggestion came up that it would be better for all to phrase alike, and that it would sound more musical if all breathed alike and at the same time. After much study and constant practice, the quartet had improved to such an extent that one day Dad came into the room where we were practicing and complimented us on our playing. At that time he was organist in the Plymouth Congregational Church, and having built for that church the largest organ in Indianapolis, gave many daily public recitals on the "King of Instruments."
One day while the quartet was rehearsing as usual, Dad again came into the room and informed us that because of a "strike" in his choir (numbering about thirty-five voices) he had decided to dispense with the singing body at the following Sunday service. We did not quite see the connection until he suggested that our quartet should take the place of the choir, stating that it not only would be a distinctive novelty but settle all further talk among the congregation concerning the "strike." It seemed that the cause of the trouble was the old one of "jealousy"; there were several soprano singers in the vocal body, and each one wanted to be the soloist. As it was a volunteer choir all the members had their individual friends and adherents in the church body as personal supporters. Things were coming rapidly to a head when Dad assumed the initiative and took the matter into his own hands. He simply selected as soprano soloist the singer whom he considered most ably fitted to fill the part. Then the cloud burst and disclosed the jealousies that eventually broke up everything.
We accepted Dad's suggestion and as this would be the first public appearance of the Schubert Brass Quartet (our new name) we began rehearsing in earnest twice daily until the eventful day came. When on that Sunday morning we took our seats before the assembled congregation a murmur went through the church, emanating mainly from the choir members who were present in the hope of seeing a complete failure of the entire service. Naturally, we fellows of the quartet were a little nervous, but we played the opening number in a quiet, reverent and impressive manner that pleased the congregation and compelled its attention. At the close of the service the quartet was permanently engaged as a musical attraction for the balance of the year.
Of course our quartet repertoire was extremely limited as to sacred selections, so at once I started a search through the stores for more music of that nature, something that proved exceedingly difficult to secure for a brass quartet. I spent many hours in looking through different publications, but wholly without success. Almost everything was on the secular order, which naturally was entirely out of keeping with, and utterly inappropriate for a church service. Then I hit on the happy scheme of purchasing part-songs for mixed voices. These I arranged for our brass voices, and here again my music education was greatly advanced. Our quartet became so popular that the church auditorium was filled every Sunday, but no one ever thought of asking about the choir, which simply had pushed itself out of singing existence.
MAKING MONEY THROUGH MUSIC
Towards the close of that year (1884) roller skating sprang up as a popular craze, and a fine and commodious rink was built on Pennsylvania Street. Of course a band was vitally essential, and one day I was offered an engagement at $14.00 a week to play nights at the rink. With the permission of my parents (although they did not want me to become a paid musician) I accepted the offer and found myself with steady employment at a stipulated wage, which, even if not much, was a tangible something. The band was a small one of only six pieces, with an instrumentation of two cornets, two altos, a baritone and tuba (no drums).
It was hard work to play three hours steadily (in a combination so small there was no rest for anyone) yet to me it was professional work. It was my first regular band engagement, and playing it all that winter I easily can recall its personnel. It was Jim Hall, second alto; Coney Schellschmidt, baritone, and George Mills, tuba. Some of these men are yet living. I met two of them only recently, and we talked over the "old times" with many a hearty laugh at incidents which had transpired. I most assuredly was kept pretty busy. Yet even so, I found time to arrange a lot of waltzes, marches, etc, for that six-mouthpiece band, and the experience I gained from reducing larger orchestrations to meet the requirements of our small combination stood me in good stead and repaid my work a thousand-fold during my later life.
I recollect that there was to be a Grand Fancy Costume Carnival at the rink, and that the management requested the band to head the Grand March on skates. I could do any "stunt" on ice skates, but as I had never tried roller skating I was told to come over in the afternoon and practice, so as to be in shape for the Carnival at night. It was very simple when just skating up and down the floor, but becoming too ambitious I started trying to skate on one foot, cut the figure eight, and do other fancy skating which had been so easy for me on the ice. I forgot there were wheels under me, however, and in trying to do the "outside-edge" I slipped and came down to the floor in an awful tumble which seemed to shake the building. I tried to get on my feet, but could not move because of the terrific pain in my knee, and had to be taken home in a cab. The knee, which was badly dislocated, laid me up for some time, and I never have tried roller skating since.