In my earlier years, further than listening to my brother Ed when he practiced with his cornet I did not give much serious attention to music. As is the case with most boys, when out of school my time was taken up mostly with baseball or other athletic outdoor sports, yet through the foresight of my father those youthful years were not without their music. Our father always insisted upon us boys attending the high-class concerts and hearing the best music whenever possible, as he deemed such practice to be one of the essentials that was necessary for the foundation of a sound musical education. Thus it happened that although only a boy, and in spite of the outdoor amusements common to actively healthy boy life, rarely ever was there an opportunity missed to attend some fine concert and listen to good singing and playing.
Symphony orchestras were mighty scarce in those days, and I can remember of hearing but two organizations of symphonic nature; one was the Philharmonic Orchestra of New York City, and the other a fine body under the direction of Carl Zerrahn. However, there were several good concert companies to be heard at that time, also a big concert band conducted by Patrick S. Gilmore - the man whose pioneer work in the band held open the way for modern orchestra band work. Those concerts always roused me to a high pitch of enthusiasm, but it was only when I heard Gilmore's Band play for the first time that every part of my being vibrated through and through! Even now it would be impossible for me to explain the feeling roused within me by the playing of his band, neither at that time could I understand why its playing should so thrill me and stir my deeper emotions. Gilmore's Band was then only in its infancy and not widely known, but it became broadly known when in 1879 he took the aggregation to Europe. For that ambitious tour the indefatigable leader gathered together all the greatest instrumental artists and soloists it was possible to secure in this country.
ERNEST TAKES UP THE TUBA
But to come back to my brother Ed and his young orchestra: Ed needed a bass player to help out his instrumentation, but there was no boy available who possessed or could play a string bass. This put an idea into the head of my brother Ernest, who figured it out for himself that if he could learn to play an old F tuba that father had stored in the house along with other instruments of the "ancient and honorable" class, perhaps Ed would permit him to become a member of his orchestra. My father had quite a colection of old fashioned, out-of-date brass instruments that had been handed down to him from his father, who used to play tuba in the old town band of Dedham, Massachusetts. In this collection I remember seeing an old-keyed bugle, a rotary-valved posthorn made of German silver, a brass cornopean, a baritone ophicleide, and an old F tuba with a rotary change to E flat.
So Ernest dug out the old tuba, went at it in a way that did not belie his first name, and without any help started to learn the scales. As I have stated before, father was not enthusiastic over having any of his boys learn a brass instrument, consequently Ernest received neither help nor hints from him, yet managed to gain some control of the valves and tone. He procured the bass part of a simple number which he practiced for hours, repeating it rhythmically over and over through many, many hours; even today I can hear his practicing distinctly, running: do-do, fa-fa, sol-sol, do-do-do! By perseverance and diligence he finally reached a point where he was accepted as a member of Ed's orchestra, and for the second time I was proud to have a brother who could play a brass instrument.
I now secretly began to wonder whether it ever would become possible for me to be taken into that orchestra, and so expended a great deal of thought (also secretly) as to the ways and means of becoming able to play some instrument that might be needed. I finally went up to the attic where the old instruments were stored, took down the ophicleide, and tried it to see if I possibly could produce a tone. For the benefit of those of my readers who may not know what an orphicleide is (or rather was, as it is now an obsolete instrument which has not been used in any kind of playing ensemble for many years) I will explain, basing on the one I tackled as a fair example. It belonged to the keyed-bugle family of instruments, was made of brass (with keys like those of a saxophone) had a cup mouthpiece similar to those of a modern euphonium or baritone, and all in all had the appearance of a funnel-shaped tuba. Some of the "clappers" were as large in diameter as a teacup, and when fingered made as much noise as a whole drumsection because the pads were old and worn out-in short the entire instrument was in a state of decrepitude from not having been played upon for more than two generations.
I did not realize all this, however, my whole realization was centered around the point that I wanted to play some sort of an instrument in Ed's orchestra, so with that as the objective (and, like Ernest, also without help) I worked hard to produce tones and hold them steady, besides learning the fingering. After a time my lips became so swollen and sore I could hardly talk, but I stuck to it and after about five attempts finally succeeded in making the tones - horrible and unearthly sounds perhaps to others, but to me they were tones. This success filled me with elation so great that I felt that then and there I was fully competent to play in the orchestra, but that evaporated quite quickly when I was tried. Perhaps (although a bit doubtful) my feelings can be imagined when after all my hard work and striving I was turned down flat with the word "rotten!" Being only the "kid" brother, I really was not given a show, but was permitted to sit up nights and listen to the orchestra play once a week, and that helped some.
THE CALL TO CANADA
We had lived for two years in Somerville, Massachusetts, when in 1880 father received a call from Toronto (Canada) to become organist at the Jarvis Street Baptist Church, and the Clarke family moved to that city. I was then twelve years old, but (further than my first " ophicleidal" attempt) had never shown any decided inclination towards music, although distinctly susceptible to its influence. My schooling occupied the most of my time as our mother insisted that all of her boys should have a good education as basis for a successful career, yet I found time to hear many good concerts given by great artists that visited the city.
In Toronto brother Ernest became ambitious, and as he now did fairly well on the old F tuba, thought it about time to affiliate with some band. He applied for membership in the band of the Queen's Own Rifles Regiment and was accepted, but his old tuba being ages out of date, the bandmaster supplied him with a tenor horn which in time he mastered fairly well. After a while Ed joined the same band as a cornetist, playing on the same stand with the cornet soloist; and then brother Will also became a member playing a valve trombone. I was mighty proud over having three brothers belong to this big regimental band of about sixty men and when they were called out for regimental duties my pride found vent in marching along beside them (on the sidewalk) covering many a mile without sense of fatigue. It was the same pride which made me take delight in keeping my brothers' uniforms, accoutrements
and instruments (excepting Ed's cornet) constantly brushed and polished to a spick-and-span degree in appearance, while at the same time always wishing for that day to come when I too should be eligible to membership in the band.
THE MUSIC GERM AT WORK
Wishing is not attaining, however, and never having learned to actually play a wind instrument of any kind I could not quite see just how the coveted membership was to be secured, so contented myself with listening to my brothers as they practiced on their instruments at home in different rooms. From hearing Ed play them hour after hour, day in and day out, I soon came to know by ear every exercise in Arban's Cornet Method. Ed, by the way, was the possessor of a silver cornet of which he was very proud and which he revered highly, as formerly it had belonged to and was used by the noted cornetist, "Mat" Arbuckle. Although I greatly admired this instrument I never was allowed to touch it under any conditions but no one ever knew how much in secret I envied Ed in both his playing and possession of that cornet. It now is evident that the "playing germ" was then generating insidiously within me, but I did not realize it until later.
In the following year of 1881 a great band came to Toronto to fulfill a week's engagement, playing concerts in the Horticultural pavilion, at that time the best concert hall in the city. The visiting aggregation was the famous Reeves' American Band of Providence, R.I., its director, David Wallace Reeves, being an able cornetist who was noted for his remarkable triple tongue execution. My father allowed me to attend some of the concerts, and there I listened entranced by what in my mind at the time was the greatest band ever heard by me. I sat in a front seat enraptured and enthralled with the playing of that band. After a few ensembled numbers there came a cornet solo which made me sit up and take notice. Again words fail me in trying to describe my feelings! Never before had I heard anything like it, and even at this present moment it stands out in memory as being the greatest of all incidents in my boyhood life! The cornet soloist was Bowen R. Church, then a young dashing chap and a very remarkable player. His brilliant playing roused the audience to intense enthusiasm, and I went home and dreamed of my first real "hero" in the music profession. The dormant germ had been galvanized into activity!
I can now realize, as my thoughts turn backward while writing this page, that it was the superb playing of Bowen Church which first inspired me and brought with it the realization that a cornet was the instrument for which I really cared and craved. Yet even so I never dreamed it as being at all possible for me to approach anywhere near his proficiency on the instrument. It seems strange, too, that many years after the Toronto episode, I should become the head of the American band, yet following the decease of Bandmaster "Wally' Reeves I occupied that position in 1902; neither did I then think that Bowen R. Church (now also deceased) and myself would become the best friends which we were for many years.
To become an instrumentalist one first must have an instrument. As I already have said, Ed never would allow me to touch his cornet, while as for attempting to blow it - well the result may be imagined! So for the second time I made an invasion upon the already twice invaded "collection," this time dragging forth the old brass cornopean. Upon taking the thing from its wooden box I discovered that about half of the joints and tubing were loose, and it likewise needed but little blowing to disclose that the intrument was very leaky, so the first thing I did was to plaster up the tubing with beeswax and try to make it half-way playable. Of course, this, as well as any blowing, had to be done secretly when nobody was about, yet I managed to make enough progress to satisfy myself that possibly some time I might qualify as a player on a real instrument.