The plan I had formed to become attached to the Queen's Own Regimental Band, and thereby "attach" myself to a good cornet at the expense of the Canadian Government, was a simple yet feasible one. My father (at that time organist at the Jarvis Street Baptist Church) had an excellent choir, one of its members being a tenor singer named Dave Young who also was first trombonist and quartermaster sergeant in the Q.O.R. Band. In my boyish mind I had figured it out that, if I could make a favorable impression upon this singer, his influence as first trombone player and quartermaster sergeant possibly might gain for me the coveted position.
The more I thought about the plan, the stronger become its obsession, and one Saturday night I mustered sufficient courage to try to put it into execution by going to the choir rehearsal with my father and having a talk with the singer sergeant.
We (my father and myself) walked to the rehearsal, but I took good care not to drop any hint of my reasons for going. He seemed to be somewhat surprised at my suddenly awakened interest in church choir work, however, and suggested that perhaps when I had grown a little older I might find it enjoyable to join and sing in his choir.
"KNOCKING OFF" AN OPPORTUNITY
It seemed to me that the choir rehearsal would never end, but, of course, it did, and when it was over I hung to the heels of Sergeant Young until he was ready to depart. Just as he was putting on his overcoat preparatory to leaving, I hurriedly put the fateful question as to whether there was any opportunity for me to play cornet in his band and then waited breathlessly for the answer. It is doubtful if anyone can imagine my feelings when very good naturally he replied: "Why not come to band practice on Monday night? I will introduce you to the band master and ascertain if he is in need of another cornet." I thanked the man and asked him what time I should be there. He told me to come early, and added that as quartermaster sergeant, having charge of all band accessories, he would look up an instrument for me.
I walked back home with my father that night, but cannot recall one word that he said. My feet were on the earth, but my head was in the clouds, yet even in the exuberance of my feelings I was careful not to mention my talk with the sergeant. I knew, of course, that membership in the regimental band meant an enlistment, and also knew that my father would oppose any idea of a boy of my age entering the army, although my older brothers had been members of the same band but now were out of it. I slept but little, if any, that night, but tossed around in the bed until Sunday morning while fervently wishing the day would come, pass quickly and bring Monday. On Sunday morning I went to church with my father and after the service waited around to see Sergeant Young again. In my boyish anxiety I thought that possibly he might have forgotten what he had said to me on Saturday night, and wanted to remind him of it by saying that I would be there early. As a matter of fact, so great was my eagerness to get into the "Queen's Own" that right then I would have gone to the band room and waited for Monday night to come if he had told me to do so.
I was in a fever of excitement all day Monday, and because of my mind being wholly fixed upon the coming night with what it might or might not bring forth, I made so many misses in my lessons that it was necessary for me to remain after school hours and make them up. All through the day, too, I was filled with fears - that perhaps there might not be any opening for another cornet; that perhaps all the cornets belonging to the band might be in use, and other fears which now appear foolish. But more than anything else, in a sense I was afraid to meet the bandmaster, who had the reputation of being a strict disciplinarian and never overlooking faulty playing when it came to rendering band music.
Then came another fear in the thought of an obstacle which might confront me - getting away from home that night! Having to remain after school hours to make up imperfect lessons might easily furnish a reason for mother to keep me in the house for more study, as one of her mottoes was: "Be perfect in all you undertake." My mind certainly did work fast while on my way home from school. As soon as the house was reached I went in with a rush, found my mother, and, throwing my arms about her (I was much taller than she even then), poured out my excuses; and pleas with boyish fervor, almost in one breath I told that my late arrival home was because of having missed lessons that had to be made up, that I had been invited by Sergeant Young to come and hear band practice that night, that the lessons were missed in the excitement of thinking all day about the invitation and please might I go to hear the practice.
I never had told an outright falsehood to my parents, for they always had taught me to be straightforward in everything, so I felt a little guilty at not having been more fully open and above-board with them concerning my ambitions to secure a real cornet and belong to a real band. To my great satisfaction I was given permission to attend the practice, because Dave Young was favorite with my father and was known to be a good man.
THE MOMENTOUS TRY-OUT
I left home early after a hastily eaten supper, and arriving at the band room about seven o'clock found Sergeant Young all alone and running through his inventories. He was quite pleased to see me and found a Courtois cornet, which he handed me to try, I took the instrument but was afraid to try it, so simply held on to it and felt proud even to have it in my hands. The sergeant told me to sit down and wait until the bandmaster came, and with my heart in my throat I sat trembling in a dark corner while watching the bandsmen arrive one by one. The room very soon began to fill up, as there were some sixty-five members in the band - all volunteers who worked at various trades and professions during the day, taking up music as a recreation. Besides this band belonging to a crack regiment, it was considered an honor to belong to such an organization.
Knowing that I was an unusually good-sized boy for my age, it surely was not egotism for me to feel quite a little elated in thinking that I was able to wear a uniform equally as well as the men. However, the feeling of elation vanished almost before it was realized and I was nearly scared blue when the bandmaster entered, which he did just at that moment. As soon as he had removed his overcoat, Sergeant Young went to the bandmaster and told him that he had a young man present who wished to join the band if there was room for another cornet player. After I had been presented to the bandmaster and was introduced as the young son of Dr. William H. Clarke, the organist, my father's reputation proved sufficient guarantee of my musical ability.
A GREAT BANDMASTER
Just a passing word regarding this bandmaster, John Bayley, who was known as a finished musician of high order; he was a remarkable organist, a wonderful piano accompanist and one of the best clarinetists I have ever heard in my life - in short, a man experienced in every branch of music. In later life I often have remarked to him that at least one-half of my success was due to my early days of playing under him, plus the coaching he gave me on the various arias which occur in the cornet parts of published operatic selections.
Following the introduction, I was assigned a place in the last seat of the cornet section of twelve, where I sat down and waited for the signal to commence our playing. When we did begin I found that my mouth had become so dry it was impossible for me even to start a tone, and considered myself the luckiest fellow in the world at not having been called upon to play before the men as a trial. However, being the son of a great organist saved me from a public dilemma; but had it been otherwise I probably should have fainted with fright, and more than likely would have been sent home minus the cornet with which I had been supplied.
When the band finally began fully to play, I entirely forgot my part in listening to the effect produced by sixty-five men playing, and even though not heard from myself, I again was highly elated at being one of them. I also learned much from that first rehearsal, for Mr. Bayley was indeed strict and would "call" any man who played unmusically even though it was in a volunteer band. It proved a great lesson for me, and among other things I learned to be exceedingly careful in my playing.
After a time, and as I grew accustomed to my new environment, I became more normal, and forgetting my self-consciousness tried to play a few notes, but only when the band was playing forte, being careful not to play in the softer passages. Instead, I simply held the cornet to my lips (moving my fingers but not blowing) and pretended to be playing with the others. I always had been sensitive as a boy, and if Mr. Bayley had talked to me as he did to some of the others when they made mistakes it would have broken my spirit. As it was, I learned to either play soft or leave out my part, for the remaining eleven cornetists easily could do the work without aid from me.
MY BEGINNING AS A BANDSMAN
After the rehearsal was finished Sergeant Young called me aside and proceeded to equip me with all the accoutrements necessary for regimental band work, and then gave me instructions to call at the armory on the following Wednesday and be "sworn in" as a soldier of the Queen of England. I carried the cornet home, together with the regimental regalia, and do not imagine there ever was a prouder boy than I in all the world at that time.
That was my beginning as a bandsman, and although I was only the twelfth cornet player in a band of sixty-five it did not matter a bit to me so long as I was a real member. We played the best of music under the direction of Mr. Bayley, although every man was an amateur, so to speak, and played only for the pleasure he derived from it. We held three rehearsals weekly - Monday, Wednesday and Friday- and I was a bit sorry they did not include Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. I never had enough playing myself, and even in those days did not tire. I always was sorry when band practice was over.
On the following Wednesday I went to the armory and took the "oath of allegiance" binding me to Queen Victoria for service, whom I served honorably for about nine years (three years for three times). Later on I received my discharge with honors, and am very proud of my discharge papers which I hold to this day. I now began to practice the cornet with enthusiastic zest, as I had my own cornet with which I could do as I pleased, but was mighty careful never to get any dents in it. It was plain brass and I kept it shining like new. Now that my boyish ambition had been satisfied I began to take an increased interest in cornet playing but purely as a pastime, and never realizing that I ever would amount to anything more than a twelfth cornet player.