Trying to play the old, attic-resurrected cornopean was not an entire waste of time, nor wholly without compensation, inasmuch as I learned to finger two of the regular cornet scales, as well as the chromatic scale for about an octave, and, better than all, I really was blowing a brass instrument, although ancient, of the cornet type. But oh, what a tone! I drew only such woeful, wheezy noises from that old "band derelict" that it made me sore on both myself and the instrument. I stuck to it a while howeve, trying hard to play by ear some of the elementary exercises from the Arban Method that I heard my brother Ed practice hour after hour on his "real" cornet. Of course, I couldn't play any of the higher notes (middle C being about my limit), so had to struggle incontinently even to play these simple studies when they went above the middle C (as all of them did), while G on the top space was an impossible height for me to scale.
I certainly was "working my passage" when playing that cornopean, which was everything but a cornucopian (horn of plenty) when it came to tone. I actually had to hold the instrument together with my left hand when pressing it hard against my lips to get high tones, otherwise the thing would fall to pieces and then I would have to put the parts together again, stopping up the leaks with beeswax in order to keep the wind from escaping through the joints when I blew hard. I finally became mad and disgusted, buried the instrument in its old box and gave it all up. All my dreams of becoming a cornet player were shattered, and so I went back to my violin wholly, which I had been playing all along fairly well, as in those early days I seemed to possess some talent for that instrument of the stringed family.
They elected me as leader, perhaps because of my fathers popularity, as well as my ability in mastering the first violin parts in the J.W. Pepper amateur orchestra publications, which contained simplified parts for all instruments and were easy arrangements. We met for practice every Thursday night at some one of the homes of the boys, each taking turn as "host." I can remember that the older members of the family generally managed to be absent on "rehearsal" nights probably on account of the horrible noiss we made when trying to play. We did not mind their going, however, as that left us alone to work with "might and main" for two solid hours (from eight till ten), all of us taking great interest. After rehearsing for two, or three months, and showing some improvement each week, we decided that the time had come for us to be heard in public and announced our preparedness to play for church functions (sociables, festivals and such). We booked quite a number of these affairs during the winter months, gaining considerable of a reputation as a boys orchestra (our average age was thirteen years). As remuneration for our services we generally received supper and "thanks".
The opportunity now come for me to play with the Philharmonic Society Orchestra, an amateur organization of some fifty capable players and a connected chorus of about six hundred voices under the direction of Dr. F. H. Torrington. I was one of the second violinists in the orchestra and learned much in good music that proved valuable in later life. Dr. Torrington was a very able musician who at one time played in the Theodore Thomas Orchestra; also, an excellent organist, having played in the Metropolitan Church in Toronto. He was a remarkable interpreter of classical music, as well as a fine drill master for both orchestra and chorus - thorough in every detail, even to having the bowing marked so that all the violin players would bow exactly alike.
The Philharmonic was a very fine amateur orchestra, and the work was most interesting to me. I became more matured in my musical efforts through playing with men who knew the meaning of each selection, consequently I was very proud to be one of the members. When concerts were given great singers were engaged from New York and Boston as the soloists; also, many first-instrument men from the great orchestras were engaged to play bassoon, oboe, trumpet, horns and other important parts, thus augmenting the orchestra to seventy-five or more men and insuring a more perfect performance.
Perhaps my readers can realize what this experience meant to me, a boy of thirteen - playing the standard overtures and great symphonies, as well as the fascinating orchestrations of such oratorios as The Messiah (Handel), The Creation (Haydn), Samson (Handel), The Golden Legend (Sullivan), St. Paul (Mendelsson), The Redemption (Gounod) and others. The work was extremely difficult for a boy of my age and so I took my parts home for practice, working mighty hard on them in order to do better work at rehearsals and concerts. What with my hours all my spare time was devoted to the violin. Realizing the benefits that were to be derived from opportunities which seemed coming my way, I also began to learn a great lesson in life, namely, always know and feel just when to grasp an opportunity and then hold to it with tenacity.