The outbreak of the Northwest Rebellion in 1885 made that year one to be remembered in Canada, practically all regiments in the Dominion having been mobilized preparatory to being sent out to the disturbed section to quell rioting. The Queen's Own Regiment of Toronto (with which when going back to the city to study business I once more attached myself by again joining the band) was one of the first to be called out by the Government and ordered to report early one morning at the armory, in full uniform. Of course, that meant a trip for the band, and in order to accompany it I had to absent myself from the store of John Kay & Co., where I was employed. That was not a hardship by any means, and as was only natural for a boy of my age, I found myself all but bubbling over with excitement in imagining I was already a soldier of war and wondering when "we" should start for the "front".
WE DO NOT GO TO WAR
We hung around the armory all that morning and afternoon while waiting for orders. Towards night the Adjutant of the regiment came and inspected the musicians, reporting to the Colonel in command after the inspection that his band of sixty-five pieces and bugle corps would head the "Queen's Own," and in that respect the services of the band would not be required - the excuse given being that "bandsmen always were in the way during a battle, besides eating too much!" Flimsy, for who ever heard of bandsmen in the lost connection?
I do not now recollect whether I was disappointed or pleased at the military dictum. Of course, I would like to have had the adventure with chances for playing the cornet every day, yet even now I am not sure that, had the band gone, there would have been much playing done. Anyway, and numbering a thousand strong, the regiment left Toronto with the bugle corps at its head, while the band remained at home to play concerts at Hanlon's Point on the Island every night during the entire summer. These concerts netted me a dollar for each one played, and with the six dollars a week so earned (concerts were not played on Sundays) added to my monthly salary of ten dollars at the store, I managed to live a little better and really was quite happy.
Interest in business for me was now rapidly waning, as all my old fever for music began to assert itself in fuller force. I would spend the larger part of my leisure time at the store in writing and working out cornet solos which crept into my mind, for this purpose drawing out music staves on wrapping paper in order to avoid the expense of buying regularly ruled manuscript paper. This, of course, was all done secretly, yet whenever any customer came into my department I honestly would endeavor to sell the firm's goods. Nevertheless, my mind no longer centered on the mercantile as a career.
My supposed working in secret finally came to the attention of the head salesman, who reported my negligence to the "Governor" (John Kay), with a result that very frequently I received a vigorous "calling-down" for my shortcomings. It also came to the notice of Will, my brother, who not only "lectured" me, but tried his best to impress upon me that I must do more and better work for the firm or else "get fired." I picked up for a time, trying earnestly to improve in business matters, but soon came the full realization that business was nothing more than an interminable grind after all, and not nearly so independent a life as that of the regular musician.
Matters continued to run along smoothly during the summer months, however, and by dint of rising early enough each morning I managed to gain a full hour of practice on scales before it was time to go to the store. Together with working all day until six o'clock and then playing every night at the Island, it may be imagined that but little time was left for me to "loaf' around the street corners and cultivate undesirable acquaintances.
Band playing, as already stated, was not allowed on Sundays in Toronto, everybody being supposed to find sufficient recreation for the Sabbath Day in attending church. About this time, however, and along towards the close of summer, there was organized a new orchestra that rehearsed Sunday afternoons under the direction of Thomas Claxton, the proprietor of a big music store in Toronto. One day Mr. Claxton asked me to join his organization. As there was no concert playing at the Island on Sundays, and my time, therefore being wholly unoccupied on that day, I gladly accepted and played second cornet. It was a good orchestra, numbering about thirty men, each one of them playing at the various local theatres. I realized that besides affording me an excellent opportunity for practice, playing in this ensemble would add to my band experience that of doing orchestral work. My Sunday afternoons were now completely occupied.
"TRYING IT ON THE DOG"
After rehearsing a few weeks, Mr. Claxton asked if we were willing to donate our services to the Hospital for the insane, by playing a concert for the inmates on a certain Friday night and as the concerts at the Island were finished for the season we unanimously agreed to do this. I was asked to play a cornet solo, which I thought would give me a glorious chance to "spring" the first solo I had ever composed, arranging it for the orchestra during spare moments at the store, unbeknown to anyone. It had gone fairly well at the rehearsal, and being highly complimented for my efforts I began to feel a bit swelled up, the same as all young beginners when someone tells them they are "good."
I was greatly elated over my first venture and looked forward to the night of the concert as the time when I would show people that besides being a good player I was a composer as well. Well, the great night came. I felt in pretty good form, remembering that I had won the cup in a cornet contest at the band tournament in the previous May, and this thought gave me more courage to try again and not give way to foolish nerves and feel frightened to death. But all that changed when standing before those poor imbeciles at the Hospital.
The concert hall of the Institution was crowded with thousands of inmates, and I became almost paralyzed with fear. I could not collect my thoughts or myself, and fervently wished that the stage might sink or open to swallow me up. However, I managed to produce a few tones, and worried through my new solo with great suffering. When I had finished the applause was wonderfully vociferous, the demented ones in the audience making all sorts of demonstrations when allowed to. They did not know any better and evidently were having a good time with me. Anyway, it braced me up to play an encore, which was received in the same boisterous manner.
Naturally, I felt humiliated by such a performance and went home broken hearted. I sat up all that night wondering if it ever would be possible for me to play a solo the same as all the great soloists I had heard, without any apparent showing of that terrible nervousness. It was then I realized that to become a good soloist I must conquer self, never be self conscious, keeping my mind on what I was playing instead of what the audience might say or think if I missed a note or two.
THE QUESTION OF LIVING
As the summer passed and fall approached, I began to consider how I would live when the cold weather set in. The boathouse I occupied certainly was not a place for cold weather, and the small income from playing at the Island having ceased with the concerts, my salary at the store would not be sufficient for outside board and lodging. At several places where I had inquired as to the cost of living, none were under three dollars a week, and at that rate I could see myself losing out when paying twelve a month for board and getting only ten dollars a month from working.
Having been employed at the store six months, I considered it about time to ask for a raise in salary, which I did, and was told I was not worth anymore. I knew this was right, but I also knew that I could not live on that amount very long, and so explained to the firm. The reply was that my parents should help me out; but I was too proud to ask help from home, although I could have obtained all the money I needed from my father.
Those indeed were hard times for me, but I did my best, trying to work out plans for the future. I was promised a job to play in the skating rink during the winter at one dollar a night, but there would not be any chance before the real cold weather set in, as there was no artificial ice in those days; besides, the band only played on nights when the ice was real good, I had managed to save a few dollars during the summer, which would not last more than a month or two when I began to pay board and lodging, even at only three dollars a week. However, I still kept practicing my cornet with the same determination as ever, while wondering how I was going to live. Yet I never became discouraged.