In the fall of 1886, after my summer with the "When Band" of Indianapolis, of which I told last month, I resumed my old position as viola player in the orchestra of English's Opera House. Complications arose when the theatrical business soon showed no indications of coming up to the expectations of the management and it was hinted that there was going to be a cut in the orchestra. Even in those days the first economy in an opera house commenced with the music, reduction in the number of musicians. In this case, of course, we knew the instruments to be dispensed with, namely, the second violin and viola, which were to be supplanted by a pianist.
A STRIKE IS CALLED
Meetings were held by the members to decide what would be done were this to take place. All agreed that if the two instruments, violin and viola, were replaced by piano, the entire orchestra would "strike." This the men felt no qualms about, as they all felt sure that their positions could not be filled. About two weeks later, the order was issued from the front of the house that the above two instruments would not be needed for the rest of the season, starting the following week.
Next Monday morning we all appeared at rehearsal as usual, and shortly afterward the manager came down the aisle with the piano player. His discharging the two string players, my brother Ed and myself, precipitated the action we had decided upon two weeks before. The entire orchestra arose and said that they would all quit unless we two were kept to play the whole season. The manager became quite incensed at being dictated to, and said, "Well, you can all leave if you feel that way about the matter." The entire orchestra packed up and walked out. The men went to the bandroom, and talked the matter over, feeling confident that their places could not be filled, as good, experienced musicians were mighty scarce in the city at this time, and every player in the orchestra was the best that could be procured. It was necessary to maintain this standard, as the shows booked were of the highest order.
Word was left at the theatre that if the manager reconsidered his words and the complete orchestra was wanted, we would come over immediately, and finish the rehearsal. We waited all morning in the bandroom, but no answer came. We wondered what the show would do without any music. The leader, when questioned about it by one of the men who went to his home, refused any answer or satisfaction.
In those days there was no Union to arbitrate or protect us against such occurrences, so we had to submit to the inevitable. At night the entire orchestra attended the show to see how it could possibly be given without any music. Imagine our surprise when the orchestra bell rang and we saw one man after another entering the pit; all of the young men strangers to us. Upon investigation, we learned that the leader had used a number of his pupils as substitutes for our men. He just had to do this, or lose his job. I felt sorry to think that, on account of my brother and myself, all the other men had lost a season's engagement. On the whole, it was a good experience for me, showing very clearly that there is no one, no matter how good, who cannot be replaced, and I decided then never to be too independent unless I had something better ahead to step into.
This calamity forced us to create some kind of business, because all the men depended upon the musical profession for a livelihood. To start action, we rehearsed together every day and advertised for engagements, hustling like real business men. The manager of the When Clothing Company appeared on the scene, and made us a proposal to take the orchestra on tour as an advertisement for the store, playing all the small towns in the central and southern part of Indiana. As we were all members of the "When Band" we were well known, having made quite a reputation through out the State with work at the Band Contest.
MR. BRUSH TO THE RESCUE
The When Clothing Company store manager was John T. Brush, who later on became manager of a celebrated major league baseball club and was known all over the country. He was a fine man, as many people will remember. Mr. Brush furnished us with a complete set of Swiss bells at his expense, and we began practicing with the new outfit. This innovation created a new impetus for us, and our little organization was christened "The Alliance Orchestra and Swiss Bell Ringers." Our rehearsals with the new outfit resulted in a splendid rendition of several well-known selections for Swiss bells, and together with our orchestra numbers and a reader or comedian (who was our drummer, Pink Hall), we made up a fine program for an evening's entertainment.
A number of towns were booked, and we started out with zest, thoroughly convinced that our venture would prove a success as well as a money-maker for the When Clothing Company. All of us doubling on brass, we played half an hour outside the theatres before each concert, and also serenaded the newspapers in the different towns. These customs now, evidently, are of the post.
Our season lasted for several weeks, during which time we found that, as our little band certainly played well, the crowds were greatest outside the theatre, but inside there were many vacant seats. We found ourselves in financial straits, for although each man was to receive equal pay after all expenses were paid, our receipts were hardly enough to pay for transportation, let alone our hotel bills. My salary for the entire time amounted to six dollars, and this I borrowed from Mr. Brush, one day, when he came on to see how we were doing.
After finishing this short, unsuccessful trip, we came back to Indianapolis, and the dissension among the orchestra members, petty jealousies and criticisms that the situation seemed to breed, cooled my ambition to become a professional musician. Prior to this I had seen only the sunny side of professional life, especially since I had never spent much time talking with the men, my practicing keeping me occupied in all my spare moments. Now there was a lack of money to pay my running expenses, and business was very poor, which I believed was due to our "strike" at the theatre.
I began to realize that if I ever expected to make anything out of my life as a businessman, it was high time to get started, for I was now nineteen years old. After my parents had moved to Rochester, New York, their letters again urged me to come home and get into some good business, and this, also, had some influence on me now. I made up my mind to take father's reiterated advice, and try for a connection in some business house. This time I left Indianapolis for good, and arrived home in Rochester early in December, 1886, prepared to give up music altogether. First of all, as the Y.M.C.A. had helped so many industrious boys, I joined the organization, placed my name on the register of applicants for any kind of employment to start at any salary, and waited. A couple of weeks passed, but still nothing turned up. Meanwhile, I canvassed the whole town, going from store to store, asking if a good healthy boy were needed, but with no better results. There did not seem to be a single vacancy in any line of business.
BUSINESS POSITIONS SCARCE
During this time I helped Father with his services by playing cornet on Sundays. I would get in the organ up among the pipes and play a sacred song accompanied by Dad. Many of the congregation thought it was some new stop in the organ, and a good deal of pleasant comment was heard when Dad informed them that the "new stop" was none other than one of his sons. Through his position as organist in a prominent church, my father was able to get in touch with some of the town's influential business men about some sort of work for me. However, even with this help, the only thing that presented itself was a chance to clerk in one of the largest banks - if I cared to wait until a vacancy occurred through death, or some such mischance.
It was very good to be back home again where everything was so comfortable, and with no responsibilities on my shoulders, although, after having tasted some success in cornet playing, it humiliated me to be dependent upon my parents and not be able to provide even some spending money for myself. I could not seem to understand why I did not obtain a semblance of job, after having tried so hard in every possible manner. These reverses made me determine to give up music as a career, and I regretfully cast aside all ideas of becoming the great player of my dreams. My success in winning the cornet contest a few months previous ought to have braced me up, but it did not. I was completely discouraged.
One evening, about seven o'clock, someone rang our front doorbell. I answered, and a man asked if there were not a "young man living here who played viola and cornet." When I told him that it was I, he rather took my breath away by saying, "Put your hat and coat on, and come down to the theatre tonight with your instruments." I was so astonished that I stood there, forgetting to ask him in. He left quickly, telling me to go to the Academy of Music as soon as possible.
All thoughts of abandoning music were promptly forgotten, and in my excitement I did not stop to wonder how anyone could know that I, a newcomer to Rochester, was a musician. The man had left so hurriedly that I was given no opportunity to tell him of my decision to give up professional playing. The thought occurred to me that perhaps, after all, I had better go to the leader and explain this to him, I hastened to the Academy, taking both instruments with me, however, in case there was no one to play the parts. On my way down, while in the street car, I thought things over and decided to do my best that night and, should my work prove satisfactory, try to make some money out of music, at least for incidentals.
A WORSE BARK THAN BITE
Arriving at the theatre, I heard a band playing on the outside balcony and it sounded very good to me. I listened until they had finished, then went to the stage door, made myself known, and met the orchestra leader, a big "bluffy" fellow. His opening shot was, "Why didn't you hurry down and play outside with us? Well, get your viola out and hike up in the pit and play the overture. Hurry, now!" Delivered in a brusque manner. I did not like the way he talked to me and almost decided to turn back, but was angry enough to stay and show him I could play. I remained, and played the entire show.
Once, when I had played a variety show in Indianapolis I had used bass rosin on the bow to make the tone of my viola louder, and this night I leaned over to the bass player during an interval and borrowed some. The tone of my viola, which was really excellent, cut through the rest of the team, so that even the orchestra members turned to look in my direction. I vented my feelings against the leader in this way, playing as "bluffy" as he had talked to me. Imagine my surprise when the leader came to me after the show was finished and engaged me for the rest of the season to play viola inside the theatre, and second cornet outside before each performance. Playing two shows a day netted me $14.00 a week. It was a Godsend!
As is so often the case, upon better acquaintance I found the leader, Dave Morgan, to be quite a decent fellow. He asked me how I produced such a big tone on my viola, and was interested to know that using bass rosin produced that result. Of course, I had a splendid instrument - one of the best violas I have ever seen or heard.
MY CAREER AS SOLOIST BEGINS
After playing at the Academy several weeks, I mentioned one day that it might be a novel little "stunt" for me to play a cornet solo when performing with the band outside. This band, which was composed of splendid musicians, was very popular, both afternoon and evening concerts drawing large audiences, and I was programmed for a solo the following week. I played seated with the orchestra in a balcony over the entrance about twenty feet above the street, and no one could see me. As it had always been a trial for me to play facing an audience, I acquired more confidence by being out of sight, and the solo "took." For the rest of the season I played this way each week, and due to the necessity of learning new pieces found my repertoire becoming more extensive. Thus really commenced my career as a soloist. My practice at this time consisted of a morning session with the cornet. Playing two shows a day, three hours each, I considered was enough time to spend on the viola, so I left that in the theatre.
This venture into music once more was a disappointment to my parents, but I felt that I must make a living some way, and music seemed to be thrust upon me continually. Also, the theatre engagement paid me better than a position as clerk with some business house would have.
My pleasure in the work was increased when, while playing in the balcony, I looked into the windows of the bank across the street and realized that there was a chance I might have been one of the young clerks bending over books keeping accounts, and waiting for a small raise in the ten-dollar-a-week salary on which they had started. And it was perhaps a youthful pride that made me feel whenever one glanced up at me that surely he would be delighted to change places. Although my job in the theatre was hard from a musician's standpoint, it was not so confining as working in a bank, and was more interesting.