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 beone 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 become broadly known when in 1879 he took the aggregation to Europe. For that ambitios tour the indefatigable leader gathered together all the greatest instrumental artists and soloists it was possible to secure in this country.
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 orphicleide, 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 in 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 orphicleide, 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 Ernst, 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 many about five attempts finally succeeded in making the tones - horrible and unearthly sounds perhaps to ohers, 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.