After our week's engagement with the Knight's Templar Commanders at the Triennial Conclave held in St. Louis, Missouri, we returned home to Indianapolis and commenced drilling in good shape for the big State Contest that was to be held in Evansville, Indiana. We went into rehearsal every day until each member of the "When Band" could play his part in the three selected numbers from memory. Also we devoted more attention to the matter of teamwork, each man "feeling" the others, so to speak - something of course, essential to good band work, or, in fact, to any sort of work where more than one player is involved.
THE CONTEST AT EVANSVILLE
On October 10th, 1886, we left Indianapolis early in the morning and arrived at Evansville in time for the introductory parade in which all the competing bands took part. The following day began with the contest, with every band from all over the State each playing three selections. There were competent judges placed in a tent out of sight, as was customary, and the bandmasters drew lots for the order in which their organizations were to play. When our turn came, although we were quite excited, as was to be expected, still we were confident and played our numbers better than at rehearsals, with the result that we were awarded first prize.
Then, in the afternoon, came the cornet contest, and my application having been duly sent in, I was chosen to play first. The fact that we had won first prize in the band contest of the morning gave me more confidence and courage than usual, and then, too, the boys in our band "rooted" strongly for me, which added to my courage. The solo I had chosen was "The Whirlwind Polka" by Levy, the same that I had played in Canada the previous year at the time I won the cup. After finishing the long cadenza at the beginning of the piece, I was somewhat in a trance, although not nearly so nervous as on the previous occasion when I had played the number. My technique had improved, and I was not any longer the least bit afraid of the high notes. The tip I had received from Will Manson concerning "brilliancy" also had its effect. Nevertheless I was glad when it was all over. Although the boys complimented me upon my efforts, I realized that my playing was far from being satisfactory to myself, and I could do much better if only given another chance. I had not played nearly as well as I would have been able to play had I been in my room all alone.
After my solo, I left the bandstand and walked to the rear of the great audience in order that I might listen to the other contestants. The next soloist in line to play then stood up. I think his choice was "The Lizzie Polka," by John Hartman, and there is no question but that he played well. I knew every note of the solo and I had to admit that his style was splendid; quite brilliant, as should be that of a virtuoso. I felt that he surely must win the prize. This thought affected me to such an extent that I did not want to hear the finish of his selection, but went some distance off into the woods (the fair grounds where we played were on the outskirts of the city) feeling the most disconsolate boy in the world. I knew our band boys were set on my carrying away the prize and should I lose it I never could face them again. From the way the other fellow played, at any rate as far as I had listened, I knew that his performance was far superior to mine.
I must have been out there fully an hour meditating on how I could get back to Indianapolis all alone, feeling discouraged, broken-hearted, when one of our boys found me after looking everywhere. and told me to hurry back to the bandstand as the judges were waiting to present me with the first prize! Imagine my surprise (and secret delight) upon hearing this good news, although I felt sorry for the other fellow who really had played well. A few moments ago I had been contemplating suicide in its less painful forms. I could not understand my good fortune. I cannot remember the name of the player who lost to me and I have never heard of him since - I believe he came from Brazil, Indiana. I was told later that although he began his solo in a fine manner, playing well throughout until nearing the end, he eventually caved in and made a bad finish.
OVERWHELMED BY APPLAUSE
On reaching the bandstand I was greeted with a degree of applause which almost staggered me - I had to be led up to the judges. One of these made a nice speech, complimenting me on my playing and stating that I had won first prize. Turning around, he introduced me to dear old Henry Distin, the celebrated instrument maker who, coming forward and shaking me by the hand then presented me with the award, a baby cornet, one of his own make - the smallest B flat cornet ever made measuring only six and one half inchs long and five inches high, with an oval bell, and gold-plated and elaborately engraved. Mr. Distin, enthused over my playing as being remarkable for a boy, and asked me to play some suitable song on the small instrument. Again completely staggered and unable to open my mouth in response, I took the cornet and endeavored to play on it. I was astonished at the power possessed by the miniature instrument; it made a hit with everyone, both audience and bandsmen. It was the only one of its kind ever made, and I still have it by me, a carefully cherished possession.
The big contest being over, all the boys gathered around me, making a lot of fuss over my success, and I was really proud that our band had taken both first prizes in the 1886 competition. We left for home the next morning and upon reaching Indianapolis marched all the way from the depot to the band room as winners of the State Championship, being cheered all along the streets by the people, who took a great interest in our success. Our popularity in town increased after the reputation we had made at Evansille, with the result that some concerts given by us netted a good sum of money.
ONLY SCHOOL BAND CONTESTS NOW
What a pity there are now no such band competitions in the country. We do have, however, the annual band contests for school bands - first the State, then by the winners of these, the National Contest. These affairs, part of the splendid movement of instrumental music in the schools, instill ambition into the student. This is true of all contests; the trying out of the competency of the different bands creates more ambition for all who take up wind instruments for a pastime, there being something to work for more than a weekly concert paid for by subscriptions. That is why I say it is a pity that band competitions in the general field are no more, at least in America.
Being away from my parents was causing me many an hour of loneliness, and I began to wish for all the comforts of home and a motherly caress. My father and mother were writing encouragingly of what my prospects might be if I should come to Rochester, N.Y. (where they were living) and take up some sensible occupation. They were still against my following music as a profession. Of course, I had tried business once before and had made a failure of it for the reason that I, myself, was not interested: Now that I was improving in my music I had hoped that they might be satisfied with my success. But mother wanted me home, I imagine, and, secretly, I wanted her. However, I contented myself with my daily practice and began to study music properly from a theoretical standpoint - so as to be a good musician as well as a good player.
Every person who plays a musical instrument for professional remuneration should understand first of all the rudiments of music, then study Harmony, Composition, and Instrumentation, so as to be able to arrange music for both band and orchestra besides composing now and then. These things all help in the end to the making of a fair living in case something should happen that would make it impossible for one to play. The study of music is interesting if started properly; even an hour a day will work wonders and possibly provide protection for one's old age.