At various times since beginning this serial, its writer has been the recipient of not a few letters from new subscribers to the Jacob's Orchestra and Band Monthlies who quite evidently had seen only a current installment of the series. In consequence of not having read any of the previous chapters, they did not realize that the number which was being read by them was only a single chapter in a series of progressive chapters, each succeeding one dealing in turn with successive phases of my career in music dating from the time when as a boy I began the study of the cornet.
For the benefit of these correspondents, and other new readers of the magazine, I will break the thread of my story long enough to explain that in this current chapter and preceding ones, I am supposed to be only a fourteen-year-old boy cornet blower, not at all approaching any future status I might ever possess as a grown player, the last being a point in progression that will not be reached until some few chapters farther on in the series. Therefore, in all the previous installments I figure merely as a beginning, or (as implied by the name of the entire series) simply a "pilgrim"; a boy blower of the cornet, yet full and bubbling over with enthusiasm for the instrument - just a boy who at that time never anticipated becoming anything more than what his love for the cornet might make him. With this brief explanation I will again pick up the thread and come back to a resumption of the story.
RESUMPTION OF THE STORY
The time of this present chapter is in the spring of 1883, when I am convalescing from a severe illness which had set me so far back in my cornet practice that it became necessary for me to begin all over again and pick up the playing of the instrument practically from its first starting. The cornet that had been loaned to me by the Queen's Own Regiment Band, and which I had been using while playing with that organization as a boy amateur, had been called in, of course, during my long illness and as personally I never had owned a cornet, this naturally left me without an instrument on which to practice, so I did not quite see how I was to make a new start. For a time I practiced on an old alto horn to build up the strength that had left my lungs and although it helped materially in regaining control of deep breathing it did not greatly help in building up my all but lost cornet embouchure; but it was the best I could do under the existing circumstances.
I finally prevailed upon my good mother to intercede with my brother Ed and persuade him to allow me to use his cornet, which then was not being used as he had been engaged to play violin in the Grand Opera House Orchestra during all that season. His permission being granted, I commenced all over from the very beginning, considering myself a mighty lucky boy to be practicing on such a jim-dandy cornet. I first began to rebuild my embouchure by playing very easy exercises in the middle and lower registers, determined to recover all that I had lost through my severe sickness, although at first it was up-hill work.
Prior to my sickness I had become not a little experienced in routine work (lacking, of course, trained endurance), so it was mighty discouraging to again take up and play all the elementary exercises like a beginner who never had touched the cornet. However, realizing that it must be done, whether liked or not, I stuck to it even in my immature and boyish mind I could see that it was not unlike the case of a man with a broken leg, who cannot walk again with security until the bone is properly knitted and the muscles have regained their accustomed strength.
RETURN TO HEALTH
No one excepting myself ever will fully know the many obstacles I had to overcome in the early part of my career, but the love of the cornet kept me plugging away in spite of all the barriers that constantly seemed to buck and block me at every turn. But Ed's cornet (a beautiful, silver-plated instrument which I kept in almost as perfect a condition as when new) seemed to inspire me with an added impetus to work, and as I became stronger and better able to practice, my patience and perseverance were regarded by eventually winning; I even astonished myself by the progress made within only a few weeks. Moreover, the pride in playing on such a "swell" instrument seemed to give me new aspirations and high ambitions. Following my full recovery, I returned to school for the balance of that term, and after its close I started out to find work and earn money to buy a cornet of my own, though Ed repeatedly told me that I might use his instrument continually as he had taken up the violin for good. Through the influence of one of the deacons in the church where my father was organist, I secured a position in the office of a wholesale drug establishment at four dollars a week. This seemed a munificent amount of money which, if judiciously saved, would enable me to buy an instrument within six months, but I worked hard to earn it. My new position was supposed to be that of an assistant bookkeeper, yet all that I did for some weeks through every day, was to address thousands of advertising circulars and make out shipping invoices.
In the meantime, and through the influence of some of the managers he had met and made friends with at the Opera House my brother Ed had fallen into a fine berth as orchestra leader of a road show with the Baker and Farron Company (old-timers among my readers will recall the firm). And so it was that, about the time when I went to work as a bookkeeper, Ed, a full-fledged leader, was busy selecting men for his orchestra; some of them had to double, playing brass in the day-parade band and strings in the orchestra at night. By the first of July all the men had been selected, and Ed found himself the director of a first-class band and orchestra that consisted wholly of experienced Toronto musicians. My brother Ernest was a member of the organization, doubling on trombone and violin.
Ed's contract called for a summer engagement in Buffalo before starting out on the road, but on the very day when, with his players, he was to leave for that city, one of the men, Johnny Anderson (a cornet player who rated as one of the best in Toronto), claimed he could not leave town for the summer and backed out. This placed Ed in a pretty pickle, which rather upset him, for the "turn-down" came on Saturday and he was scheduled to open in Buffalo on the following day (Sunday). I, of course, knew nothing of the trouble in which my brother found himself, and not having to be at the office on that day (Saturday) my entire interest was centered in sailing, a summer pastime to which I was particularly partial.
I went down, got out the boat for a sail on the bay, and congratulating myself on having a perfect day with a spanking sailing breeze, was about to put off, when, like a wild man, who should come rushing and tearing down to the boat but Ed. He seemed about ready to burst or fall in an apoplectic fit from pent-up excitement as he announced the looming fiasco, and wound up by telling me that I simply must go to Buffalo as his cornet player.
Even though Ed could not find another cornetist in town willing to leave town and travel for the season, I was greatly elated in thinking that he considered me good enough to fill the position.
Well, that ended all sailing for me on that day! Even if my parents should consent that I might leave home and go with Ed, which seemed doubtful, there were preparations to be made and time was short. I told Ed for one thing that it would be necessary for me to give notice to my employers, but he promised to take care of that, saying he would telegraph them I was unavoidably called to Buffalo. I did not like the arrangement, however, and insisted upon their having a more personal notification. I was only fifteen years old, and in my boyish mind it was a great temptation to forget everything and go with Ed, but on second thought I decided it was better to play fair with the firm, and within a few hours they were notified.
To this day I cannot quite comprehend how it was that, at my age, father and mother allowed me to drop everything so summarily and start out with Ed, even taking into consideration the points he so strongly stressed that if I failed him his engagement in Buffalo could not be opened on time, that in consequence his contract might become void, and that as a result he might find himself out of an engagement for the entire season. My parents did consent, however, and as a boy of fifteen I started out with my bother Ed to fill my first engagement.
A PAID PROFESSIONAL PERFORMER
We left Toronto at midnight and arrived at Buffalo early on Sunday morning - an easy trip today, but in those days a tedious one, sitting up all night without sound sleep, as for me, the night ride did not drag greatly for I had new thoughts and was as ambitious as my companions. The anticipation of playing cornet in a professional orchestra with older musicians not only thrilled me, but seemed to arouse within me the spirit of manhood, and from that time on I began to mature mentally. We three brothers comprised the youth of the company, Ernest, the trombonist, was only a young man; Ed, quite young for a director, was eighteen, while of course I was the youngest. The other players were men quite old enough to have been my father, and all of them passed away years ago, but before their passing (and after I had become known as a cornet player with Gilmore's Band) I met them many times and we talked about the days when I was the "kid of the orchestra."
As previously stated, our engagement was with the Baker and Farron Company, who operated a Summer Garden in Buffalo, where we played from eight to twelve every night. At first it was a wonderful and broadening experience: Ed's orchestra played all kinds of music and my salary often dollars a week looked like a "young fortune" to me. But all this changed, for under the cold comfort of continual boarding-house living the glamour of the new life soon wore off, and I began to think what it meant to a boy; to be constantly in the midst of home comforts and the affection of parents. I tried not to dwell gloomily on these thoughts, but they would not be quieted.
When the excitement and newness of my position had worn entirely off, and as I became more and more impressed with the difference between the environments of a strange place and those under which I had lived and been brought up, genuine homesickness began to creep in. One night when my thoughts and feelings had become all but unbearable, I told Ed how horribly homesick I actually was, and added that if he didn't get a substitute for me soon I would throw myself into the lake. Don't smile. Remember that I was a musically sensitive boy of only fifteen who never before had been out of his home surroundings.
I so thoroughly enjoyed playing the cornet at night that I forgot everything gloomy, but with the whole day to myself I had nothing to do but think! After playing for a month, Ed wrote Duncan McNabb (a cornet player in Toronto) who came on to replace me, and I returned - home! Upon arriving there I cried quietly to myself for sheer happiness in knowing that I was back again where there was nothing but love and kindness. I at once began practicing harder than ever, but with a new experience behind the practice, and, upon resuming my school work in the following fall, I devoted myself more seriously to study, with a new appreciation of what a good education means to a boy.