I went to band practice early that evening to meet the men I had known before, also to become acquainted with the new members. When eight o'clock arrived, Mr. Bayley ordered me to occupy the second chair beside the solo cornetist, although already occupying the chair was a player who was told to sit back. This caused some little surprisel, and all eyes were turned first on me and then on the bandmaster, the men wondering why this change was ordered, for they all knew that when I left the band a year before I simply was one of the second cornet players.
The rehearsal started and I forgot everything but the music, and knew I was playing it well. This attracted Mr. Bayley's attention and later on he had me play one of the solos occurring in a big selection. After I had finished he paid me quite a compliment before the sixty players by stating the possibilities obtainable even in a short time by diligent practice in a proper way. I made a hit with the men, too, and at intermission they all crowded round me, asking what I had been doing to make such an improvment in so short a time; that is, all except the player whom I had displaced by occupying his chair. I could see that he was hurt and felt sore, so after the rehearsal was over I went to Mr. Bayley and talked with him about it. I told the bandmaster I was perfectly willing to sit in the third chair. In fact preferred to do so rather than discourage the fellow and hurt his feelings; further, that the way in which all had warmly demonstrated their notice of the improvement in my playing was sufficient glory for me, and that I did not care to advance at another's expense. Well, my playing that evening created some talk which went all over town, even reaching the ears of my employers son (an officer in the regiment) who spoke to me about it the next day.
I now began working hard in the store, feeling happy in the thought that after all it was possible to "serve two masters," music and business. The more I played with the band, the more my local reputation as a cornet player began to spread. I received an offer of a job for the Queen's Birthday on May twenty-four (a holiday in Canada) to play solo cornet with a country band that was to compete in a contest on that day. I was to receive $5.00 and expenses, Think! A half-month's salary all in one day! I of corse accepted the engagement and left town after business hours that night. I rehearsed with the band until late at night, then arose early in the morning and drove to where the contest was to take place.
It was an exciting day for me, as there were many bands competing and the contest lasted all day. In the evening a concert was given by the three leading bands, with a prize offered for the best cornet soloist. Our band won second prize, although fully believing it would receive first and counting on me to pull them through. However, they were a dandy lot of good-natured fellows from a small village (some farmers and some business men) with all out for a good time, so they never questioned the decision of he judges. I remember, too, that they posted my name for the cornet solo prize without notifying me. At the concert each winning band played a number, and then was presented with the prize it had won by the judge. He spoke encouragingly to each organization, stating that the three bands were so good it was difficult to decide which was the best, and each should have received the first prize.
Then came the cornet contest. For the first time I was told that my name had been posted, and it quite frightened me! My heart seemed to stop beating for a second, although the night before I had rehearsed a solo with the band in case of an emergency. Strange to say, there was no other entrant to compete for the beautiful cup which had been placed on exhibition, and naturally there could be no contest without another entry. Quick as thought a brother of the leader of the band in which I was playing entered his name as a contestant, so that someone might win the cup. He said afterwards he wanted the honor to go to his brother's band and knew that I would win it.
Harry King was the players name, and he was only a boy in knickerbockers. He played valve trombone in the band very well at that time, and since then has developed into one of the best baritones I ever heard. I was chosen to play first, during which time King went off to borrow a cornet and play a few notes in order to get his lip in proper shape for the change from a trombone to cornet. It was a nervy thing to do, but the boy wanted me to win that cup and that was the only way to do it, I had often played in church and Sunday school, also at small entertainments, but this was the first time I had ever played an ambitious solo before a large audience. It was a big thing for me, not so much the thought of winning a prize as standing up before so many people. I began to get thirsty and dry in the mouth, my heart seemed to beat twice as fast, and when standing to play, my legs trembled so that I nearly fell down. I simply was terribly nervous, that's all! I probably suffered more than my looks portrayed, yet nowithstanding all this torture I really wanted to play that solo. What an awful handicap is nervousness! I wonder if any of the readers of this article have ever failed to experience this horribly sickening sensation?
However, I bowed and smiled, but what a smile! It stayed, and I'm sure made me look silly. The muscles of my face seemed to have grown set and rigid and I could not get them back. Upon striking the first note I had to push it will all the power possible; my lips became swollen, my mouth dry and tongue thick. The solo was Levy's Whirlwind Polka, much too difficult for me anyway, but I worried through it while wishing every minute that someone would shoot me and end my misery. I would have fallen over had it not been for the thought that if I gave up and failed, the humiliation would be so great that I might go out and kill myself. I thought everyone in that great audience was a critic who would mark down each mistake I made to taunt me with it afterwards, whereas in reality I now believe that not half a dozen had ever heard the solo before.
It is astonishing how many thoughts go through the mind of a person while playing a solo before an audience. One thinks of everything but the most important, and that is the music that is being played and how to play it. I am confident that there are many who have felt exactly as I did when playing their first solo, and it is generous not to find too much fault when the player is doing his best under such trying conditions. He needs all the encouragement possible to make a success of it, and hearty applaus at the end of each solo strain will put new life into the player, often causing him to play better than he ever thought possible. I was told afterwards that the solo was played wonderfully well. When it was finished Harry King stepped on the stage like a little major, and played the Last Rose of Summer. He played in a bold, dashing manner, although having had only about five minutes to form his lips to the cornet, and that took grit! I never have forgotten this incident, for we won the cup for the Streetsville Band!