Last month I was left wondering how on earth I could manage to exist on the amount of money that I was able to earn from my position at John Kay & Co. Summer had passed and with it the extra income from playing with the band on the Island. I managed to keep up my courage, however, awaiting developments.
A SUDDEN CHANGE IN THE MUSIC TIDE
And then the totally unexpected happened! Just when I was at my wits' end, trying to figure out how to make both ends meet, I received a telegram from the orchestra leader at English's Opera in Indianapolis, Indiana, where my parents lived, offering me a season's job in that theatre at $15 a week! Oh Joy! Perhaps I did not become mighty independent all of a sudden, going again to the firm and demanding an increase in salary with the alternative that I would leave the business! My demands were refused for a second time, so I gave notice of immediate leaving, and wired my acceptance of the theatre job, stating I would be on hand for rehearsal the following Monday.
I never shall forget the kind treatment I received from the firm when I was handed my pay envelope on the day I left the store. There was something like $8.56 due me for the month, but when I opened the envelope and found that it contained $25, I spoke to the treasurer about the mistake that had been made. He referred me to Mr. John Kay, who said that he did not want me to leave without enough money to pay my fare home, which amounted to quite a little, as the distance was some six hundred miles. This money from the firm, with what I had saved for the past six months, made it possible for me to travel home, comfortably in a sleeper and with good meals en route, returning in proper style instead of buying a second-class ticket and sitting up all night in a day coach.
After resigning again from the Queen's Own Regiment and bidding all my friends "goodbye," I left Toronto for the second time. My career as a businessman had proved a failure, so with greater determination than ever to make a success of the profession I loved, once more I started in the music life, under the firm decision to stick to it for all time and under all conditions. My business experience had taught me a good lesson.
It was mighty good to get home again, after trying to exist on almost nothing for six months, with very few comforts, no petting or anyone to look after a boy the way a mother does. I had a splendid home with everything that I wanted, and never should have left it, if my father had not wanted me to follow business instead of music as a career. However, the experience in Toronto did not hurt me a bit, as I learned to appreciate the value of money. How I worked to earn it, learning to spend carefully only for bare necessities, and allowing myself no luxuries of any kind!
After my arrival in Indianapolis, I went to work in the theatre immediately, playing viola in the orchestra the entire season for $15 a week, instead of earning $ 10 a month working at the store of John Kay & Son. Brother Ed played violin and brother Ern the trombone in the same orchestra with me, so we three boys were together once more, all interested in music, and helping each other in our daily practice.
I BEGIN SERIOUSLY TO STUDY THE VIOLA
I began to practice the viola in a scholarly manner, devoting the entire mornings to technical studies, and my improvement within a few weeks was quite noticeable. My interest was spurred further when my playing of the exercises became more perfect. All this practice helped in acquiring a splendid tone, which is a necessity in viola parts, and especially in dramatic cue music.
My cornet was neglected some, I guess, although I did blow for a few moments each day to keep my lips in shape. There was no band business during the winter, and as there was a good cornet player in the orchestra (Joe Cameron), I was content to play and draw my fifteen-dollar weekly salary. There were some excellent shows that season, musical comedies, light operas, grand operas, and many dramatic companies of high class, and in many ways I certainly gained much experience from playing in the theatre. Besides, I was growing older and meeting a better class of people all the time. Many good musicians accompanied some of the opera companies, and I became acquainted with a number who gave me a great many pointers. Naturally, I fell in with the cornet players, who showed me how to overcome my many faults in cornet playing, and this encouraged me very much.
All in all, I worked very hard that winter on both "string and brass." Toward spring the "band fever" took hold of me once more, especially when I was asked to play cornet with the then celebrated "When Band," as it was called. The band was connected with the "When Clothing Store" of Indianapolis, for which it was used as an advertising medium.
Rehearsals were called once a week for the band, and nearly all the theatre orchestra members belonged to it. Joe Cameron was the leader, brother Ed was the solo cornet, and I played beside him. All the men were full of "ginger and pep," and possessing good teamwork, certainly played well together. As the summer approached, we booked many engagements. The theatre closed early for the season, and now we had to hustle for odd jobs to make a living. My parents moved to Rochester, New York, where Dad was engaged as organist in one of the largest of the churches. We three boys, who were left behind, took rooms in the "When Block" and lived together, practicing, and studying hard to succeed.
SUMMER BRINGS EXTRA WORK
There was a good deal of business for the band that summer, and I had quite a few extra jobs, playing cornet in one church Sunday mornings, and in another afternoons, both of which paid me about five dollars each Sunday. Playing the hymn tunes and leading the congregation in singing gave me excellent opportunity for practice, and I began to develop endurance without straining. I was able to play four consecutive verses of the different hymns without stopping, keeping up a powerful tone all the time. It was difficult at first, but with practice it became quite easy. I would argue with myself to this effect while playing: "If I make work of it and struggle along, then cornet playing will become a torture instead of a pleasure." By playing easily and carefully for the first two verses, I could finish the other two without fatigue. The only feature of this church playing I did not like was sitting in the choir and facing the congregation all the time, because if I should make the least break in my playing, someone would "snicker" and this would "get my goat." To eliminate such unpleasantness, I used to practice in my room, trying to play these Gospel Hymns ten times through without stopping; then it would become a joke to play only four verses in church. I always used a B flat cornet, and transposed all the music, playing one tone higher, which was far more satisfactory than using a C cornet.
During this period my viola practice was being sadly neglected, as I had little use for a string instrument, except on a few jobs where we had to double for dancing at picnics, after parading to the grounds. Consequently, all my spare time was taken up with the cornet. I stuck to it like a leech, working hard at my practice, even in hot weather. Our band was also practicing hard on one special program, getting in shape for the big State Band Competition that was held annually at Evansville, Indiana. There the principal bands throughout the State met to try out their musicianship and win money. This year there was also to be a contest for the championship of the State, which I was secretly planning to enter. I wanted to try for the first prize and also to see if I could control myself and not get nervous when standing up and playing alone before an audience. I certainly did practice and practice, striving to build up a proper embouchure in order to be able to finish a difficult solo with as much ease as I had started, and to be prepared for the encore.
There was one member of the band who was always finding fault with my playing. He often used to listen while I practiced, and afterwards would tell me how "rotten" I played. After he had kept this up for a few weeks I became angry, and told him to go away and not bother me. He paid no attention to what I said, but persisted in telling me the same thing, until one day I asked him just why he thought I was a "rotten player." After he listened to me play a few exercises, mighty difficult ones, too, I looked up at him and said, "Well, how did I play them?" He looked me squarely in the eye and calmly answered, "Why don't you play those exercises correctly? You made many slips and mistakes in each one, even if you did finish without becoming fatigued." Naturally, I had wanted him to compliment me. However, although I really thought I had played them fairly well, way down in the bottom of my heart I did realize that he spoke the truth. I had never given much attention to correcting the little slips that occurred so often in my practice, as my idea then was to play twenty-five or thirty pages daily, never considering whether mistakes were made, as long as I could play the desired number of pages without fatigue.
Then my friend-in-disguise left me all alone. I put down my cornet, and began to think. Yes, he was right! I did make a great many mistakes, most of them simple ones, but mistakes nevertheless. By not correcting these slips immediately, I was practicing for hours to play imperfectly, instead of practicing to play perfectly! I also found out that I was taking a breath whenever I felt like it, leaving out a note or two, and stopping rhythm to breathe, which, of course, was quite unnecessary. This habit also made it impossible for me to use a metronome while playing.
A NEW IDEA IS BORN
Stopping short in my tracks to think gave me an entirely new idea of correct cornet playing. I started to play over those same exercises, and in counting my mistakes I found so many that I turned to the first exercises in the book. After playing the first one, I found, much to my chagrin, that I had made many mistakes even in this simple exercise.
Then I turned to the study I had been playing for my fault-finding friend. It was No. 1 of Arban's Characteristic Studies, in the back part of this Method, the playing of which requires an elastic lip and much endurance, the first twelve measures must be played in two breaths. I worked an hour on this particular study, and found I had made a hundred mistakes each time I played it. When my lips gave out, I realized this study was far too difficult to use as a means of conquering myself, and learning when and how to breathe. It seemed that the more I played it, the more mistakes I made. Then I lost my temper. But, instead of laying the blame on myself as I should have done, I vented my injured feelings on my defenseless cornet and wanted to smash it on the floor. How foolish we are to blame our deficiencies on something else, rather than shoulder them ourselves! And the world is full of individuals who act over and over again the little drama just recounted, and who never really succeed at anything.
I sat still a few moments after my anger had passed away, leaving me rather ashamed and sorry, and said to myself: "Well, if I want to be a great cornet player, I must be perfecting the little things first, otherwise I can only reach a certain limit and stay there."
With a renewed joy in my work, and a head full of good resolutions, I turned to the front of Arban's Method and commenced playing the eleventh exercise, setting the metronome at 120 common time to see if I could play it through in one breath. I found it difficult at first, tried again, gained another measure, and so on, until I won out. In doing this, however I had made many mistakes. After I had learned how to take a full breath to start and conserve my wind at the beginning, I played more easily, and soon acquired the habit of filling my chest completely with wind before starting an exercise. It was fully six weeks before I could play the eleventh exercise perfectly in one breath, and with ease of performance. Finally, after I had played it ten times in ten breaths, I tried to play it twice in one breath, and in a few weeks managed to accomplish my aim. This practice was the foundation of my endurance, which has always been one of the means of my playing the cornet easily. With the surmounting of obstacles my love for the instrument grew, and I realized, as never before, that in order to become a successful player, such a regard for one's instrument is quite necessary.
Every cornet player in the world, I believe, has an equal chance to become great if each one strives to conquer himself, to overcome bad habits, and to become perfect in his practice.