Between 1916 and 1920 the principal means of getting around in Ft. Wayne was by walking or street cars. The street cars that came on Broadway had two sets of wheels, font and back whereas most of the other lines had only one set of trucks in the middle, causing them to bob up and down where there were humps in the street. I soon got used to the noise of the cars going by (our room was at the front of the house on the second floor) and rather enjoyed the flashes of bluish-green light at night when the trolley bounced off the wire. To save the nickel fare I often walked to town which took me about an hour. The shortest was to talk on Broadway clear to Calhoun, the main downtown street, but I soon discovered there were a couple of pretty girls on a residential street which ran straight east to Calhoun. The older was maybe 25 or 30 and worked at G.E. in the office where her father also had some important job. He was a German by the name of Holz and had the largest feet of any man I ever saw. The younger girl played the violin and was about my age. I was much too timid to make any attempt to meet them but because I passed their house so frequently when they would be sitting out on the porch I am sure they knew more or less who I was. Sometimes they would walk together in the evening during the summer and go by the Noble house when I was practicing the violin with my window open. If I saw them coming down the sidewalk I would play something difficult to impress them.
The large Methodist church in the downtown area, where the Nobles went, permitted a group of musicians to rehearse once a week in the church parlors. When Mrs. Noble learned that I played the violin she introduced me to the director of the group which was known as Slaughter's Orchestra. Slaughter was not the director; he was a church member who liked music and furnished the money to buy the scores and other things the orchestra needed. He usually came to listen to rehearsals. I doubt if he could play an instrument. The director's wife played the piano who filled in for any missing players. There were about fifty of us when everybody was there, the first large group I had ever played with. We played most of the simple, well-known classics such as "Poet and Peasant Overture" and "Light Cavalry" by von Suppe, the "Blue Danube" and other Strauss waltzes and arrangements from various operas. I don't remember that we tackled any symphonies, even those of Haydn but perhaps we did. It wasn't much of an orchestra but it was much better than the one I had played with in Paulding and my ability to sight read improved immensely.
There was one girl in the first violin section who was a very good player. She was taking lessons from a man by the name of Bailey and she thought I should be taking lessons myself. I agreed and started studying under a Frenchman, a bachelor of about 50 who lived in a run-down apartment at the north end of Calhoun Street near the Wabash depot. He was enthusiastic about Beethoven and often spent half of the lesson period talking about him and his music. I studied with him for a year or so without improving my technique very much and finally decided I would rather put the money I was spending for lessons in the bank. He offered to give me the lessons and let me pay for them when I had the money but I didn't want to go into debt and refused.
I attended every concert that came along, most of the time alone but once or twice I took Beatrice. The New York Metropolitan Opera had a production of Faust on a tour thru the Midwest in 1917 and I took her to that. She was beautiful in an orange satin dress (I think it was satin - it was shiny) and I had purchased a stiff derby hat for the occasion. Faust was my favorite opera but all I knew of it was the simplified piano score. I heard both Heifetz and Fritz Kreisler. The former was only a boy and had just come from Russia but he was a sensation all over the country. Lily Pons was just beginning her first tour of the U.S. I went to hear her alone as I was too poor to invite a girl and had to sit in the highest balcony. I even went to a negro church to hear a black violinist. He was good but he couldn't have appeared in a concert hall or even in a white church as everything was still tightly segregated in 1917 and 18. There were only a handful of white people there and not many negroes. I have never been particularly fond of the pipe organ, especially the type of playing made popular by organs in the movie houses, but I enjoyed very much an organ concert by a famous organist and composer from Paris. He played in the Congregational Church which had the best organ in Ft. Wayne. It was the first time I had heard Bach's organ music and its power and majesty knocked me off my feet. Bach, Beethoven and Brahms have been my favorite composers ever since with Tchaikovsky a close fourth.
It was during my first year in Ft. Wayne that I had the chance to hear a live symphony orchestra when the Minneapolis orchestra made a tour thru the Midwest. It was the real start of my musical education. I hadn't known exactly what a symphony was until then. The Chicago Symphony and the New York Philharmonic played in Ft. Wayne the following year and I took Raymond to hear them (he had come to Ft. Wayne to study business) thinking he would be as thrilled as I was. His only comment was that he thought they sounded like a big pipe organ.
Last modified on 14 June 2009 @ 10:09