Submitted by Jeff Purtle on Fri, 06/10/2016 - 20:21

I want my readers to realize that at the time when the events occurred of a big fellow for my age, was just boy, natural boy-full of fun, never too serious and yet with ambitions far beyond those of the average lad. I was fond of all outdoor sports, good at all of them and in demand every Saturday and on all holidays to play in the games. My good mother, however, always seemed able to find some sort of "jobs" for me to do on Saturday mornings (such as sawing and splitting wood, cutting the grass, cleaning out the cellar), so the boys who wanted me in their games used to come over to my house and help on the work so that I could get through early. I often used the "Tom Sawyer' methods, and I'll bet that some of those boys worked harder to help me cut than they ever did for their mothers.

I did all my music exercises in spare moments, on rainy days and at any odd intervals, when I was not too busy doing something else, being anything but methodical in those days and played music simply as a pastime, and even then only such exercises as I like best. I was not old enough to realize and appreciate the value of regular drilling on scales and exercises and never dreamed of being a musician. I kept out in the open all that I possibly could, running a mile or two before breakfast every morning. This not only kept me in fine trim for all sports, but looking back now upon my youthful days I consider that my present good health is due to my early exercising in such manner. Longevity is principally due to just such exercising when a boy (if not too strenuous), giving a foundation for the resistance and stamina necessary to withstand the physical wear and tear of the work required of men in later life.

But to resume.

Although very strict with me, I was greatly helped and encouraged in my cornet work by my brother Ed and having by this time made actual progress in my playing he told me that on a certain night I might sit in his orchestra which had been engaged for the opening of a new restaurant. I played and I felt very proud when Ed paid me and began to practice the cornet harder than ever. In the meantime, Ed had improved so much on the violin that he was engaged to play with the Grand Opera House Orchestra the season.

He gave up his cornet playing for the time being, which, of course, gave me more chance to play his instrument. He also resigned from the Queen's Own Regiment Band, as his time was entirely taken up by the theatre work.


During the season of 1881 the Philharmonic Society gave a performance of Gounod's oratorio of The Redemption. This necessitated extra trumpet players for the massive "Unfold Ye Portals," chorus, and having heard that I played the cornet a little, Dr. Torrington, the director, selected me as one of the extra trumpeters. One night, in order to show me what I had to do in this number, he called me to a chorus rehearsal only; handing me a trumpet part, he showed me how to count the measures before I come in and began to play. The part looked simple, and the thing seemed easy enough, so I felt confident that I could show them all what I could do, although I did feel rather nervous with those six hundred members of the chorus before me. Well, the time came when the measures were all property counted and the director gave me the signal to play. At full forte I played the notes as they were written and Great Scott! What a frightful discord I made. I could not understand what was the matter, but it broke up the entire chorus. Dr. Torrington come over to see what was wrong. I told him I had played the notes all right, and that the part must be wrong. He said: "This part is marked trumpet in D. - "Yes, but what does that mean?" I asked.

Then he explained, that, as I was using a cornet in B flat, I must transpose. That was the first time I ever had heard of such a thing as transposition, and it was another new thing to learn. He was very patient, however, and explained that to play the part so that it would fit the music properly, I must play it three notes higher, or read the part in the key of C and play it in the key of E, four sharps. I was not all familiar with the key of four sharps, in fact don't think I ever had played an exercise in that key, so he suggested that I use the "a" shank, read the part in C and play it in F, one flat, four tones higher, or as we say, a fourth higher.

This was difficult for me, especially as the eyes of the entire chorus were focused on me and all were smiling at my seeming ignorance. So, being only a bashful fourteen-year-old boy I lost my nerve and could not play a single tone - my lips swelling, mouth getting dry and tongue refusing to work. How I wished that the engagement never had been offered me, and that I had stuck to the second violin part. However, I had to play the part just the same and after the number had been played again and again and I found that by playing the notes a fourth higher they fitted in all right, I forgot that the chorus was looking at me and did fairly well for the first time. You can bet I took the part home with me, studied the notes all out, and to take no chances wrote out a new part a fourth higher. At the next rehearsal I was complimented on the results I had achieved.

We had many rehearsals of the oratorio before it was performed and I felt quite sure of myself. When the night came, I was stationed in one of the balconies of the Music Hall with three other trumpeters at the end of the hall opposite, as the parts answered each other, so to speak. It was sometime before my number was due, and I became so interested in the entire grand production that I forgot to come in at the proper time. I was so enthused listening to the great chorus, the augmented orchestra of sixty payers, the organ and the great soloists from Boston and New York, that I was held spellbound. Then someone reminded me of my importance in the concert and I plunged in without counting the measures, but from having rehearsed it so many times I knew it by heart and did my best, I missed a lot of notes, however, because I became so excited that my breathing was quickened and that took away all my power. I felt so ashamed that I wanted to sneak home and be alone, but just the same I crouched down in my chair and listened to the end of the concert.


At the close of the concert I went to the dressing room and received my pay for the performance, which had included about fifteen rehearsals. Of course, I took the money, although I felt I had not half earned it. But, excepting myself, no one seemed to think I had played badly, and even Dr. Torrington himself congratulated me. This amount of three dollars, which at the time seemed a fortune to me, I placed aside with my other earnings towards purchasing a new cornet for myself some day.

The pay received for playing at this concert encouraged me to earn more money, so all through that winter whenever there was a snowstorm I went from house to house shoveling snow from the sidewalks of the neighbors, and made from fifteen to twenty-five cents here and there according to the frontage of the different properties. I always was an impulsive boy who was greatly inclined to be impatient, and soon began to figure up the cost of a first-class cornet. I realized that even with what I had accumulated in the way of money it would take some years to make enough money for the cornet I wanted, and as I wished a good one or none I began to give up the idea of owning my own instrument.

It was about this time that my brother Ernest developed a craze for the slide trombone, a rare instrument in those days. The valve trombone was then being used exclusively in all bands and orchestras (except in the orchestras of the theatres), and there were but two slide players in town. Ern gave up his baritone and purchased a slide instrument from his earnings in the business where he was working. I suppose that he did very well for a boy, but it was awful to hear him practice, picking out the positions on his instrument the best that he could without a teacher. He seemed to think that because he played fairly well, it was unnecessary to again take up the scales and practice them on the trombone, so he simply practiced playing trombone parts out of the band books. That is the trouble with so many of us when young. We neglect to study the real foundation playing of our instruments, such as the major and minor scales, try to play music far beyond our capabilities and then wonder why our progress is so slow. However, I guess that every player commences the same way at first - not taking his instrument seriously, but playing it as a recreation.


In spite of my resolutions to dismiss from mind all ideas of ever being able to buy a cornet until I was much older, nevertheless the yearning to own one was ever present and would not be dismissed; I wanted to own my cornet, and so have an instrument which could be used whenever I pleased without having to ask permission from someone every time I desired to practice. With only the small amount of money I thus far had saved, however, the prospect of purchasing my own cornet was indeed remote. Nevertheless I constantly pondered over it and tried to reason out someway by which I might obtain my Ownindividual cornet, and at length a happy idea popped into my mind. Knowing that the Government supplied instruments to such members of its Regimental Band that did not own them, and also knowing that if only a little older I possibly could enlist and be supplied with an instrument, I determined to try and break into that band.

Having marched many a mile alongside this band when it was on parade and drills I had no doubt as to my physical endurance, and being of good height and well but for a boy of my age, I knew that I could wear the uniform acceptably; therefore, if I could convince the officers of the regiment that I was not under the age limit, there perhaps might be chance for me to make the band goal. The more I thought it over the bolder I became, but how was I to get enough influence with the bandmaster, who was not only a fine musician, but a first-class drillmaster, for him to consider a boy? I dared not ask my older brothers for assistance, as I was only the "kid brother" who so often was told that "you play rotten". I also knew that my father would object so it was out of the question to confide in anyone. I could not get the idea out of my mind that the thing might be accomplished if I went about it the right way, and at length I hit upon a possible course to pursue. The more I thought about it, the more feasible my plan seemed to become, so one night I mustered sufficient courage to try it out.