At the time when I left Toronto (Canada) for Indianapolis with our family, my oldest brother, Will, remained, as he was holding a fine business position. One day, not long after my engagement in the theatre orchestra, a letter came from Will in which he stated there was a vacancy in his department which perhaps "Bert" (myself) might like to fill, going into the business and learning it from top to bottom as he himself had done. His proposition was discussed by my parents, then I was approached to find out what were my feelings in the matter. With all my hard struggles to improve myself on the cornet and become a good player running through my mind, and with all my dreaming ambitions and aspirations looming before me, it perhaps may be imagined just how the suggestion did not appeal to me. From the very start Dad had opposed my desire to become a musician, explaining many times over that a business career was far better than a berth in the music profession. He now backed that up with the proposal from my brother, saying that it was the finest opportunity in the world for me to work up into something fixed and definite: something that in the long run would pay me better than working with musicians, who very seldom rose above their own environment or ever made much money outside of their regular jobs.
I SUCCUMB TO MY FATHER'S LOGIC
I was then a boy not quite eighteen years of age and his arguments, which really were quite reasonable and logical, began to impress me favorably, particularly when he cited instances of many successful business men who had started from the bottom and risen to high positions as wealthy and influential citizens. What I did not particularly relish, however, was the idea of living away from home, especially at so great a distance as Toronto. Then came the memories of my school days in that city, and the old pleasant associations with many boy friends began to present renewed attractions. Thus, with the thought that I could return to them as a cornetist of greater experience and much improved playing ability, began to have a favorable effect on my mind. It was because of such thoughts, coupled with my good father's sensible suggestions, that at length I was persuaded to accept the proposition, although it nearly broke my heart to abandon the music ambitions so long cherished and laboriously built up. Possibly this was tempered a bit by a secret idea of again joining the Queen's Own Band, this time as a better cornet player.
In every boy's life there comes a crisis which upsets and changes all his plans. The change had come to me, and as I thought it meant the real beginning of my life among men, I began training my notions along different lines, fired with a determination to do my best. Perhaps the hardest thing of all was that I must resign my position in the theatre, for I not only loved to play in the orchestra but liked to watch the different shows that came each week. I fought these things all out with myself, however, and prepared to enter into the change in a manner that should show my determination to make good in the enterprise, as well as prove the great respect for my father's judgment.
The stiffest blow, that was almost a knockout, was the matter of salary. I was to start on ten dollars a month in the commercial as against fifteen dollars a week in the musical. Perhaps as a crumb of comfort, I was told that, in many cases, boys of my age worked all of the first year for nothing just to learn a business. That might have been so, yet I wondered how I should manage to live away from home on such a beggarly pittance!
I left Indianapolis for Toronto in April of 1885 to commence what I considered was to be a new life and a new career, filled with keen ambition and high hopes for the future.
I TAKE STOCK
The trip from Indianapolis to Toronto was a long and lonesome ride, but it gave me ample opportunity for thought, to "size myself up" and begin to think as a man, and plan for something very different from what as a boy I always had looked forward to as my future. First came the question of living. How was I to live on ten dollars a month, when through the goodness of my parents I had been used to having every home comfort and indulgence? Of course I had saved a few dollars from my earnings during the postwinter, and depended somewhat upon chances of playing nights, this not only to keep up my practice of the cornet, but to earn money.
My intentions were to re-enlist in the Queen's Own Band, which usually had steady engagements, especially during the summer months at Hanlan's Point on the Island. For the latter only a small band of twenty-five to thirty men was used, but I felt confident that my wider experience and increased ability would place me among the selected few, as there were only three cornets used in the band. These jobs paid one dollar an engagement, a small amount, but it would help out considerably when added to my "ten" a month. I could begin to see now how it might be possible after all to exist on a meager salary without having my parents contribute to my maintenance, something which pride forbade me to accept, much less ask for. Then again, I argued that while it would not interfere with the business I was again to learn, playing the cornet would be a relief and recreation, that it would be a source of pleasure and contentment for me to utilize my evenings in this way. Thus my thoughts kept me from being homesick and downhearted because of leaving my parents for good, or so I then supposed.
My brother Will met me on the arrival of the train in Toronto, and taking me at once to the store where I was to begin my new business life, introduced me to Mr. John Kay, the "Governor," who started me into work even before I had found a place to board. Will had a boathouse at the bay, however, and said that I could live there upstairs and so save room rent. This was a blessing as far as economics were concerned, but otherwise when comfort was considered. There was neither cooking stove nor heating apparatus; the room was not even plastered or sheathed, the ice had not yet broken up in the bay, and the cracks in boards made it just about as chilly in - as out-of-doors. I stayed there just the same, however and cooked meals on an oil stove like a genuine camper-out, while waiting for summer time.
The work in the store was quite interesting for the first week; as it was such an absolute change from the bit of professional life I had experienced; in fancy I could see myself before long at the head of this large business establishment, earning all kinds of money and carrying out my father's advice when he induced me to accept this position by outlining the possibility a successful business man had to attain prosperity. The next week my enthusiasm cooled down a little, as the old desire to play cornet returned and I realized there was no chance for practice except at night, when I would be all tired out and not feeling very ambitious. I also realized that if my practice was neglected my playing would suffer, and I wanted to show the men in the band how I had improved in my playing since leaving Toronto the previous year.
On the following Sunday I called upon Mr. Bayley, the bandmaster, and explaining my presence in the city expressed my desire to again join the band. His reply being favorable I mustered enough courage to tell him how I had improved during the last year, and that I now wished to play first instead of second cornet. He was quite amazed at my presumption, and told me to bring my cornet and prove my ability. I was quite scared, but my pride and ambition pushed me on. After the "try-out" he seemed satisfied that I might make good, and directed me to appear at the regular band rehearsal on the following night and to sit beside the solo cornetist. This elated me greatly and I felt so happy that all the next day my mind was on the rehearsal in the coming evening. In consequence of this my business work suffered so sadly that I was called down several times for carelessness and stupidity. But what boy wouldn't be excited when every fiber in his body was vibrating with the very thought of playing once more in a big band!
AN UNEXPECTED HONOR
I went to band practice early that evening to meet the men I had known before, also to become acquainted with the new members. When eight o'clock arrived, Mr. Bayley ordered me to occupy the second chair beside the solo cornetist, although already occupying the chair was a player who was told to sit back. This caused some little surprise, and all eyes were turned first on me and then on the bandmaster, the men wondering why this change was ordered, for they all knew that when I left the band a year before I simply was one of the second cornet players.
The rehearsal started and I forgot everything but the music, and knew I was playing it well. This attracted Mr. Bayley's attention and later on he had me play one of the solos occurring in a big selection. After I had finished he paid me quite a compliment before the sixty players by stating the possibilities obtainable even in a short time by diligent practice in a proper way. I made a hit with the men, too, and at intermission they all crowded round me, asking what I had been doing to make such an improvment in so short a time; that is, all except the player whom I had displaced by occupying his chair. I could see that he was hurt and felt sore, so after the rehearsal was over I went to Mr. Bayley and talked with him about it. I told the bandmaster I was perfectly willing to sit in the third chair. In fact preferred to do so rather than discourage the fellow and hurt his feelings; further, that the way in which all had warmly demonstrated their notice of the improvement in my playing was sufficient glory for me, and that I did not care to advance at another's expense. Well, my playing that evening created some talk which went all over town, even reaching the ears of my employer's son (an officer in the regiment) who spoke to me about it the next day.
I now began working hard in the store, feeling happy in the thought that after all it was possible to "serve two masters," music and business. The more I played with the band, the more my local reputation as a cornet player began to spread. I received an offer of a job for the Queen's Birthday on May twenty-four (a holiday in Canada) to play solo cornet with a country band that was to compete in a contest on that day. I was to receive $5.00 and expenses. Think! A half-month's salary all in one day! I of course accepted the engagement and left town after business hours that night. I rehearsed with the band until late at night, then arose early in the morning and drove to where the contest was to take place.
It was an exciting day for me, as there were many bands competing and the contest lasted all day. In the evening a concert was given by the three leading bands, with a prize offered for the best cornet soloist. Our band won second prize, although fully believing it would receive first and counting on me to pull them through. However, they were a dandy lot of good-natured fellows from a small village (with some farmers and some business men) all out for a good time, so they never questioned the decision of the judges. I remember, too, that they posted my name for the cornet solo prize without notifying me. At the concert each winning band played a number, and then was presented with the prize it had won by the judge. He spoke encouragingly to each organization, stating that the three bands were so good it was difficult to decide which was the best, and each should have received the first prize.
Then came the cornet contest. For the first time I was told that my name had been posted, and it quite frightened me! My heart seemed to stop beating for a second, although the night before I had rehearsed a solo with the band in case of an emergency. Strange to say, there was no other entrant to compete for the beautiful cup which had been placed on exhibition, and naturally there could be no contest without another entry. Quick as thought a brother of the leader of the band in which I was playing entered his name as a contestant, so that someone might win the cup. He said afterwards he wanted the honor to go to his brother's band and knew that I would win it.
Harry King was the player's name, and he was only a boy in knickerbockers. He played valve trombone in the band very well at that time, and since then has developed into one of the best baritones I have ever heard. I was chosen to play first, during which time King went off to borrow a cornet and play a few notes in order to get his lip in proper shape for the change from trombone to cornet. It was a nervy thing to do, but the boy wanted me to win that cup and that was the only way to do it, I had often played in church and Sunday school, also at small entertainments, but this was the first time I had ever played an ambitious solo before a large audience. It was a big thing for me, not so much the thought of winning a prize as standing up before so many people. I began to get thirsty and dry in the mouth, my heart seemed to beat twice as fast, and when standing to play, my legs trembled so that I nearly fell down. I simply was terribly nervous, that's all! I probably suffered more than my looks portrayed, yet notwithstanding all this torture I really wanted to play that solo. What an awful handicap is nervousness! I wonder if any of the readers of this article have ever failed to experience this horribly sickening sensation?
However, I bowed and smiled, but what a smile! It stayed, and I'm sure made me look silly. The muscles of my face seemed to have grown set and rigid and I could not get them back. Upon striking the first note I had to push it will all the power possible; my lips became swollen, my mouth dry and tongue thick. The solo was Levy's Whirlwind Polka, much too difficult for me anyway, but I worried through it while wishing every minute that someone would shoot me and end my misery. I would have fallen over had it not been for the thought that if I gave up and failed, the humiliation would be so great that I might go out and kill myself. I thought everyone in that great audience was a critic who would mark down each mistake I made to taunt me with it afterwards, whereas in reality I now believe that not half a dozen had ever heard the solo before.
It is astonishing how many thoughts go through the mind of a person while playing a solo before an audience. One thinks of everything but the most important, and that is the music that is being played and how to play it. I am confident that there are many who have felt exactly as I did when playing their first solo, and it is generous not to find too much fault when the player is doing his best under such trying conditions. He needs all the encouragement possible to make a success of it, and hearty applause at the end of each solo strain will put new life into the player, often causing him to play better than he ever thought possible. I was told afterwards that the solo was played wonderfully well. When it was finished Harry King stepped on the stage like a little major, and played the Last Rose of Summer. He played in a bold, dashing manner, although having had only about five minutes to form his lips to the cornet, and that took grit! I never have forgotten this incident, for we won the cup for the Streetsville Band!