Submitted by Jeff Purtle on Sat, 06/11/2016 - 10:21

The year 1887 presented a favorable prospect to me; I had by this time thoroughly made up my mind as to what my life work was to be. As will be remembered, I had made several attempts in commercial lines without finding anything that suited me, to say nothing of the fact that this sort of work did not seem over-plentiful at the time. On the other hand, at the period of which I write, I appeared to be able to find any amount of work in the music field - in fact, jobs were practically thrown at me, I would have been foolish to let these opportunities slip by without taking advantage of them, and decided that, no matter what objections were raised by my family, I would definitely follow music as a life profession.

I had by this time realized through past experiences and associations with other musicians, that everything does not turn out the way we expect, and that we cannot force the world to run in just the manner that we would like it to run. Having noticed a lack of proper ambition in most of the musicians I had met, these seeming to be quite content to live on a theater salary and displaying nothing of the progressive spirit, I argued that the more I improved in music, the better position, quite naturally, I would eventually occupy. And of course, no one can improve without study and practice.


In looking back over these years of which I write, and comparing my experiences with those of other musicians, I am astonished at the number of men content in securing some steady engagement in a theatre, and who, while they are thus employed, never seem to realize that in certain months of the year these theatres close, or every once in a while change hands (this meaning, oftentimes, two weeks' notice), and that when they are not working their expenses go on just the same - a case of "all going out and nothing coming in." It would pay these men to equip themselves with a proper knowledge of music from various angles so that they might be in a position to earn money during their layoff periods. Of course, the more branches of music that they familiarized themselves with, the more their income would be stabilized and increased in proportion.

A musician's "stock in trade" is knowledge, the product of study and practice, which he is able to sell according to its extent and quality. He advertises his talent through the good and efficient work he accomplishes. If his stock becomes low (i.e. if he does not constantly improve the range of his knowledge), in the course of time he becomes a dependent upon other musicians of a charitable and liberal bent. I have known many musicians of the type of which I speak who have had a steady theatre job for five or ten years, and even more, and, being quite content with these engagements and what they have brought in, have never realized that the older they grew, the more incompetent they became; less able, except they had kept up with the times, to meet the competition presented by the younger men, who, quite naturally, are pushing themselves forward all the time, even to the point of trying to force the old men out. The salvation of this type of musician lies in the liberal leader who will keep his old men out of charity, when he could better his orchestra by replacing them with bright and intelligent "young blood."


Such matters impressed me greatly the more I observed the things happening around me every day, and I determined to make my "hay" while the sun shone, especially now that I had the engagement at the Academy of Music in Rochester, New York, which more than paid my expenses. I decided that I must work hard at home to become a better musician, so that later on, if an opportunity presented itself whereby I might double my salary, I would be in a position to grasp it, and not lose out by being told I was incomptent, or if I had secured the position, be discharged for the same reason - either of which circumstances would have been a terrible humiliation to me.

Living about two miles from the theatre where I played, I would walk to and from there twice a day. The exercise was beneficial, and gave me a good opportunity to think out all the problems that were occupying my mind at that time. In addition, I began to practice single tonguing with each step, articulating four times to the step, finding this to be excellent practice for acquiring precision and rhythm; before long I had my tongue under perfect control. I discovered that to walk and tongue the syllable "t" four times to each step, walking thirty-two steps in one breath, helped me in the matter of endurance. Try this some time, you cornetists, and students of the instrument.

Playing two shows a day and going home after the matinee, made nearly two hours of daily practice for proper and decisive attack, and when I had learned to control single tonguing to a point where the muscles of the tongue did not tire, I then tried triple tonguing in the some manner - "tu-tu-ku" - two triplets to the step. This was difficult at the start as the third syllable "ku" was not as distinct as the "tu," so I made up my mind that if I expected to triple-tongue perfectly, I must acquire the same proficiency with "ku" as with "tu".

Finding that - "kuk" was more decisive than "ku", I commenced using this syllable four times to the step, but was compelled to walk much slower at first in order to articulate evenly; and my, how I seemed to stutter. All this required some patience and much effort, as I could only walk a few steps in one breath and keep the articulation regular and even. But before long I mastered it completely, which proves what practice will accomplish. Then, having conquered both the "tu" and "ku" separately, I tried triple-tonguing again with the result that it became even and distinct in every syllable. This method of practice was the foundation of my correct tonguing, which has stood by me to this day. How easy my scale exercises became now, and how well I could control all kinds of difficult articulations! So often, in later life, have I suggested this method of practice to my pupils, for their own benefit, and how few have ever taken advantage of this great essential of correct cornet playing!

The more I improved in my playing, the greater interest I took in my work; consequently all my spare time was now taken up with proper study. Then my theatre engagement (playing two shows a day, one hour in a brass band outside and three hours inside for each performance, utilizing eight hours daily, besides Monday morning rehearsals for the show and Saturday mornings for the band) left little time for home practice, as many will infer. But I managed to get in at least three hours of good solid practice and study every day, besides the other work, and this kept me healthy and content, knowing and feeling that I was becoming a better player all the time. My desire, now, was greater than ever to be a real cornetist, because of the encouragement offered by my progress.


With all this work (or play!) I still found enough time to arrange music. Each week there was some act appearing at the theatre that needed new orchestrations for its songs and dances, and I had gained much experience from my theatre playing (viola inside, and cornet outside) that made this arranging an easy matter. Besides, it added a few dollars to my pocket book. "Every little bit, added to what you've got makes a little bit more!" This extra money, however, went towards new music. I began to purchase all kinds of instruction books, and new cornet solos with band arrangements, which were needed, as I played a different cornet solo outside each week. All this took money, but my "stock in trade" was increasing, as my repertoire became enlarged, which was necessary should I ever apply for a soloist engagement where different solos were required daily; to be prepared is half the battle! There are many excellent soloists whose repertoires are limited to about ten heavy numbers and even the arrangements of these few pieces are quite incomplete and in a horrible condition to be accompanied properly. Yet they except soloist's prices when soliciting summer engagements in this capacity.

The winter wore away all too quickly for me, I was so interested in working up a firm foundation in case I might have a better chance later.

I might mention here that brothers Ed and Ern had followed me from Indianapolis to Rochester, and we were all together once more. Ed secured a position as first violin at the theatre with me, but Em's ambition quite outshone mine, for he had developed into a splendid trombone player, playing on his slide trombone all the cornet solos I had practiced. I used to marvel at how he could execute so rapidly on that instrument, and with as much perfection as a cornetist on his. He had the nerve to make a trip to New York and apply to the great Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore for a job in his famous band, and, fortunately for him, he secured it, all through his perseverance and ability to satisfy this wonderful bandmaster. Naturally, I was proud of him, and once more my aspirations turned towards this famous organization. I thought that if my brother should succeed and make a hit, in time his influence might help me to get in Gilmore's Band. Ern was only twenty-one years of age at that time, and it seemed remarkable to me that he had already climbed so high in the performers' world as to be associated with the very best players in the country, for Gilmore was noted for engaging the greatest artists in the world, and naturally I classed Ern amongst them. His success encouraged me doubly, and I worked harder than ever.

As the spring approached I was playing quite well, happy all the time. My solo playing was being talked about around town, and one day a leader came to me offering an engagement to play viola at Ontario Beach for the summer, and to act as cornet soloist in addition. As I was to play my solos with an orchestra, this necessitated my procuring orchestral arrangements for all my numbers. I purchased quite a few, and had to arrange some that were not available in this form. More expense, just then, but my "stock" was increasing, becoming more valuable to me than money.

It often amuses me when I hear musicians kicking about buying new music, hating to spend a few dollars on what would later repay them a hundred fold; so few men can see beyond their noses. Even the price of a magazine, such as this for which I am writing, is objected to by many, although it is the broadening influence exercised by reading that we are helped to keep up with the procession and prevented from staying too long in one rut, that hopeless condition well-exemplified by a certain type of theatre musician previously referred to.

I commenced playing Sundays at Ontario Beach before the theatre closed for the season, and by the time summer had come was well broken in for the work, as I had been playing viola all winter. My associations were pleasant and interesting; the musicians were good players and splendid fellows. My reputation increased as a soloist, by reason of the fact that there were visitors from everywhere who spent the summer at this resort, besides the excursionists from Canada, the steamers bringing many of these from across Lake Ontario, and I met many old friends who came over from Toronto, and who congratulated me upon the improvement in my cornet playing since leaving their city a few years before.

This engagement lasted until the theatre opened in September, and the regular cornet player not being re-engaged (Hiram Batchelor), I was to take his place, playing cornet instead of viola for the season. This pleased me and put new life into me, for I must have made much improvement during the past winter on the cornet to satisfy the leader, Dave Morgan, who was a "grouch" but still a good fellow.

The first week we opened I had the surprise of my life in the form of an offer to become solo cornetist of the Citizens' Band of Toronto, directed by my old friend Mr. John Bayley, who was appointed director of this new Regimental Band, and supported by the citizens of Toronto. I was to receive a regular yearly salary as a retaining fee, all outside engagements of regimental duties being extra pay, with plenty of time for teaching and for playing other engagements that did not interfere with the band. The reputation gained me by my solos at Ontario Beach had reached Toronto, hence this offer, which I accepted, giving notice to Dave Morgan, my theatre leader, who became quite angry at my leaving him so early in the season. But I promised to remain with him until a suitable substitute could be procured, and this delayed me a week or two. I was fortunate in securing a good man from Boston, Freeman by name, who proved satisfactory to Morgan. Then I said "good-bye" to all the boys, and started once more for Toronto, returning there this time as cornet soloist, and under salary. Just think! This was practically the same band I had joined in 1883, starting as the twelfth cornet, working my way up to first cornet, and in four years had improved my playing to the extent that I was engaged for really the best position of its kind in Canada.

Nobody ever encouraged me to practice.

Nobody ever pushed me ahead.

Nobody ever taught me how to play.

Nobody ever told me that I played well.

I had to do all things by myself, even in the face of all kinds of opposition. The only encouragement I ever received for my efforts was the fact that, somehow, I seemed to be useful to the different leaders who employed men, and I always held a position until a better engagement turned up.

I am not making these assertions from a conceited standpoint, but simply to prove that every cornet player, or in fact any instrumentalist, has an equal chance to become successful if he perseveres properly, discovering his own mistakes and weaknesses, correcting them immediately, and setting the highest point of excellence as his goal.

In many ways it was a wise move on my part to accept this offer from Toronto, for my father had purchased a large farm of forty acres in Reading, near Boston, Mass., to establish a school for organists, building himself the largest organ at that time in the country, and I would be without a paternal home if I remained in Rochester. Besides, the new position in Toronto placed me in a different environment in the musical field, giving me more prestige and a better chance to improve my musical studies and to demonstrate just how much my "stock in trade" might be worth should I place it upon the market. Also, Toronto was like an old home where I was well known.

The future looked bright and I had increased confidence in myself as a soloist, with opportunities I had often dreamed of.