By the turn of the century, the Dad, aged sixteen, had decided that he would leave for America. Or, rather, he was gravely urged to leave because he had broken a tooth of the royalist Mayor with his clarinet in the course of a village May-Day celebration. He journeyed to Naples and from there travelled by passenger boat to New York, carrying a satchel in which his clarinet was carefully sandwiched. Passing through Ellis Island, he descended upon Manhattan and walked to Mulberry Street where he found lodgings with an Italian family. He needed paying work right away and was found a pick and shovel job. This lasted for one excruciating and disgusting day. He examined the blisters on his fine hands, looked hard at the laborers around him, and quit.
He asked his way to the hangout of musicians, met some of them and began to play in bands. He spent a pleasant season at Asbury Park on the Atlantic Ocean. He met a bandmaster who was preparing to tour the country and signed on. Since he was well- taught and careful and scrupulous with money, as in all things, he became the band manager as well as a musician, and from there went on to conduct rehearsals and began to carry a baton.
Ultimately he arrived in Chicago, for in those days there was a natural current of culture and business that wafted in an arc down from New York City, across the South and up the Mississippi Valley to Chicago, and then, if you were not captured by its magnetic field, you turned back East to New York. He liked Chicago and stayed on there. He would travel with a band to the nearer South and then make a smaller circle around Chicago that took in such places as Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha in Wisconsin, Joliet and Kankakee in Illinois, Michigan City and Benton Harbor in the East.
A carefree young cornetist named Joe Lupo introduced him to his sister Kate and the rest of the family. Joe's girl friend was Anna Klein who became a pal of Kate and Lil, and of the Dad, by then called Fred, Alfred, Al, and Joe. He fancied Kate, and began a courtship that went on for years, posting letters to her from places like Nashville, Paducah, Memphis, Biloxi, Mobile and St. Louis.
His letters were in an elegant and quite consistent handwriting, rarely with a foreign usage, unlike his speech that never lost its accent. This would be in keeping with the rigidity of his character, which had originally been based upon another language and could not go beyond correct grammar into a remolding of the tongue and lips, particularly when one's friends were usually Italian musicians speaking amongst themselves mostly in Italian. In announcing a soloist or a change in programme or in addressing the Babe's School Principal, he would speak guardedly without noticeable accent; otherwise he indulged himself with the long "a" whenever two consonants got too close together "for' a comfort." His linguistic humor utilized sarcasm and droll stories, but he was not adverse to joking about other people's accents; on three different occasions (widely spaced to be sure) he recounted to the boys how Joe D'Arpa, a trumpeter of magic brilliance with a comic mustache and a sweet apologetic temper, said, "I am bare-assed" meaning "embarrassed." (The Babe, along with most young ones, found humor, like gods, wanting after thirty. Uncle Bill, for instance, rarely missed tuning in to "Amos 'n Andy," but faltered when rehashing their latest shenanigans.)
Back in Chicago, the young musician would parade up the streets at fiestas and funerals wagging his clarinet and tossing his black mane. Katie might even watch for him from her balcony, for the Near North Side Italian section was centered around Milton Avenue where she lived. Alfred and Catherine had a full-blown wedding at St. Philip's Church on the twenty-third of October, 1916. Peter Cavallo, Dean of Chicago Bandmasters, showed up at the head of a large band, that being his wedding gift. It was a surprise. The musicians came filing in from the apses, by prearrangement, settled down in the benches, and struck up the music. An elaborate and uneventful wedding reception followed at the Masonic Hall on Chicago Avenue. The groom escorted the bride home to Hill Street at a decent hour. Kate's mother and aunt arrived the morning after to see whether all was going well and to check, jus post primo noctu, the bed-sheets for bloodstains, useful evidence for the defense in the event that the groom ("as fine a man as he was") were inclined at some future date (God knows for what reason!) to cast doubts upon her virginity. They all laughed during this permissible intermission from prudery, and made a breakfast of leftover wedding cookies and coffee.
Grandpa Lupo had left his village on the mountains East of Palermo, Villalba, sometime in the 1870's, and boarded a boat for New Orleans, taking along his bride, a slender, silent, devout, arabesque, traditional girl, quite contrasting with himself, who was of large physique and boisterous character. They brought forth a son, and several years later, the Grandpa moved with wife and son North in Louisiana, working the cane fields, where, finding that well-paid hard work was not the Southern genre, granted an oppressed caste of black servitors, he walked North to Chicago, leading his son by the hand and carrying his pregnant wife when she fell sick along the way.
In Chicago he got a job as laborer for the City government, and soon became a foreman of gangs laying the endless drains that snaked out in all directions as the City expanded. He set up his family in a flat on Illinois Street where Kate, Lil and Joe were born. He bought a frame house on Milton Avenue, a mile North and a mile West, and when he retired set up a general store below, then a poolroom for a time, then just a storeroom for whatever he thought of bringing in, the stage at which the Babe saw it, with its billiard tables still in place. (The Babe could not learn to play billiards because the Dad had designated a special category of wastrels as "bums who hang around poolrooms.")
The family dwelled above, and in the pleasant evenings of the year might sit out on the balcony that the Old Man had built to look upon the street. It was somewhat like the setting of a movie Western. Parades of the Fourth of July and of other civic occasions, religious processions, and funerals passed by. The street was busy with wagons and people by day and evening, and as the second generation grew up there, the toughs and gangsters had to pass by, too, and more than one shoot-out occurred. Few girls could tell the story that Katie had to tell, of her little sister Lillie and a playmate running across the street and into an exchange of shots between gunmen, in which the playmate was killed. (On the same day of the next year, the man who pulled the trigger was killed, presumably in accord with the legendary Sicilian way of taking vengeance: cold.)
In back of the two-story frame house was a second smaller one. Joe brought Anna Klein there to live when they got married. It was secluded and thus charming to the Babe, who had a predilection for nooks and crannies. It had a humble elegance, as is exhibited in the photo of a similar house in our picture section below, but these were all to be destroyed as slums not many years later.
The Dad's travels through the Southern States were only occasionally and cryptically mentioned -- he discussed every subject in several sentences, allowed a couple of questions, and that was it. What he said of them was in line with the experience of intelligent strangers generally, race relations in the South in the aftermath of "Reconstruction" being notably malignant. In a town in Mississippi (it could have been Jackson, and Eudora Welty could have been brought to the bandstand to listen), in the course of taking tickets for the concert about to begin, he inquired of a white gentleman after the ticket of his black "wife," who had preceded him leading a child, which confusion of identities produced an altercation that threatened larger issue, the Dad being a stickler for tickets, wife or no wife, and knowing that blacks enjoyed concert music as well as the next person. The issue was evaded only when the local impresario spirited the Dad out of town.
The Dad had other pills to swallow, or as they say soothingly of many evils, "lessons to learn," such sexual racist hang-ups being universal, rather than of a particular crank, as when he and another lad, tailing two attractive black girls at Paducah, Kentucky, were told in no uncertain fashion, though in a friendly way, by the girls themselves that black girls and white boys did not go around together and if they were caught spooning in that neck of the woods they would be lynched.
Being in some matters adaptable, the Dad did not find the South quite inhospitable, and, tucked away with his letters were ones fashioned in the hand of what cheap writers called a Southern Belle, complete with a photograph of such a sweet-faced, long-dressed-in- white young woman, clinging languidly to the post of a proverbial swing on the proverbial veranda and, unless there is here another confusion of identities, the bit of foliage cutting over a corner of the picture is of a magnolia tree.
For the most part the Dad was all business and believed in his business, and the business was to bring "good music" by way of a small concert band of fifteen to thirty musicians who could render expertly opera, overtures, waltzes, and symphonic selections which these benighted folk would never had heard otherwise, isolated as they were by bad communications, retarded schools, poverty, self- imposed reactionaryism against the pragmatic North, contemptible and condemning; nor was there the phonograph or the radio or more than the beginning of movies; nor the survival of a musical tradition except in the black bands that were developing in New Orleans and spreading slowly up the Mississippi Valley and which were in fact the illegitimate children of the classical band with their horns, percussions, reeds, and frequent marching rhythms.
Selections about the courtesans of Paris, "La Traviata," "La Boheme," "Carmen," yes; selections from the brothels of Memphis and Mobile, no. And all the better that foreigners, or musicians pretending to be foreigners, were the culture-bearing visitors, and not Yankees, whose every rendition sounded like "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." It was the time and setting of William Faulkner's childhood.
Unlike the South, Chicago's elite were rich and could afford to support the arts, and were usually swearing to get around to it. There, just as in the South, concert music was first provided by touring singers and ensembles. In 1850, at which time Abraham Lincoln was trying to build a law practice in Springfield, Dyhrenfurth assembled and conducted twenty-two musicians in a symphony concert, so advertised, at which no symphony was played, in the concert room of the Tremont House hotel. In 1853 Chicagoans heard their first symphony; it was Beethoven's Second. In the same year a child prodigy of twelve, Adelina Patti, came to sing at Tremont House, and began to earn a lifelong popularity as "Chicago's Own" because she came again and again. Far away in Switzerland, a Saxon fugitive anarchist and composer hunted by creditors, Richard Wagner, failing at his musical career, was turning over in his mind the idea of emigrating to Chicago, where many Germans were going. Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria made him a better offer, and, as they say, the rest is history.
In 1865 Crosby's Opera House opened after multiple disasters that made a fine opera bouffe out of its pre-history. It soon burned down, in the Chicago Fire. Thereafter, the rich came forward and guided by a good architect and a commercial shrewdness, put up the Auditorium building, where an excellent hall nestled among business offices.
The large thrust towards indigenous classical musical performance came from the City's German population. Indeed, whatever credit might accrue to Chicago for the conscientious development of literature, the arts, publishing, education, and music -- not to mention agitation for political reform and workers' rights -- was largely owing to the Germans who moved into the city in the second half of the century. But if the Germans could move in culturally, they could also move out culturally, dismayed and intimidated by the ruffianism of society and politics, and by serving as the butt of anti- German chauvinism during the First World War. It was then, when the United States entered the War against Germany, that Frederick Stock, who had led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to ever-higher levels of world respect over many years, felt he must resign as Conductor. (He returned to the podium after the War.)
The Chicago musical scene was hardly richer than that of a town one-fiftieth the size in Europe, and other American cities were superior. The acerbic publicist, H.L. Mencken, must have meant home-born and home-bred conductors when he wrote, around that time, that "the leading American musical director, if he went to Leipzig, would be put to polishing trombones and copying drum parts."
One sees the origin of classical band concerts back in the Nineteenth Century, even some titles and arrangements reappearing over time. The Waukesha Freeman in 1914 was reporting that Lombardi's Royal Italian Band was to give a concert at Cutler Park on August 10. Maestro Lombardi was a stocky, mustachioed rooster with flying black locks, and his musicians were only fifteen in number, including the Dad, young and handsome among them. And you may not doubt it, these few could blow a ship out of the water and land it amidst the Elysian Fields!
The program leads off with a new march called "Waukesha," composed by A. de Grazia, and proceeds with Rossini, Verdi, Donizetti, Balfe, Wagner, Rollinson (a "fantasia"), Paderewski, and Tobani ("A Grand American Fantasia"). A. de Grazia was also the Manager of the Band.
The Dad once told the Babe that when he the Dad was a child he came to hate, despite its classical setting, his little home town, couched in the hills between Mt. Etna and Syracuse. Of what value were its ancient records, such as carried his family back to the Thirteenth Century, in the face of its poverty and the petty ways of its people. His father had been off to the wars of the Italian Liberation for twelve years, against the Pope and the Austro- Hungarian Empire, and had returned with the Medal of Honor whose stipend could not even buy bread for his family. His few acres of land grew meager crops. His blacksmith shop had few horses to shoe and little iron to bend. He believed in Garibaldi and the Republic, and held the monarch, whose person he had helped to save, in contempt.
The Dad had been a handsome and bright child, favored and informally taught by the priests of the Capuchin Monastery, who were still then and for many years afterwards sending missionaries to the Amazon Basin and to the Orient as they had been doing since the Seventeenth Century. He attended the grammar school of the state. He also was taught music as a child and performed in the Vizzini-Licodia band on the E-Flat Clarinet, a diminutive instrument, prerogative of small hands. It became clear in time that, although he might adapt nicely to the Church, his was a secular spirit, dominated by the myths of secular revolution.
His native mythos coming out of Europe rested on a quadruple foundation. First came the Greek foundations of the village of Licodia-Eubea, of settlers from the Island of Eubea across the channel from Attica in Greece in the Seventh Century before Christ, whose fine ceramic vases were being dug up in his day and deposited in the Museum of Syracuse, a few miles away.
His disposition to favor strongly law and order came bundled up with other glories of the ancient Roman Republic, conveyed to the boys in the fashion of Macauley's Lays of Ancient Rome. The favorites were Fabius the diplomat who stuck his hand into the fire to impress his hosts with Rome's steadfastness, and that Cornelia who when asked of her jewels asserted proudly that her boys were her jewels.
He was also captivated by the achievements of the medieval Normans, brought to a peak by the universal culture hero, Frederick II, King of Sicily and Holy Roman Emperor, Stupor Mundi, loathed by the Popes and their ultimate weapon, the Angevin French, who hunted down mercilessly his descendants and who themselves, after a generation of harshly exploiting the land, were exterminated to the number of one hundred thousand in the month of April 1282 by one of the rare successful popular uprisings of history, the mildly denominated "Sicilian Vespers."
Giuseppe Verdi's "Overture to the Sicilian Vespers," found its way into a disproportionate number of Maestro de Grazia's band concerts, and we may suppose that many a small town and city audience in America provided audiences for the music, its nostalgic title inclining them to fancies of a quiet evening under Mediterranean palms.
The fourth component of his mythos was the Italian Risorgimento, the struggle to unite Italy, also a secular ambition, combining the philosophy and culture of the Enlightenment with the sentiments of a new nationalism, against which the Papacy set itself. The disappointment here was in the secular pretensions of the Popes to the Romagna and the failure to establish a republican form of government in Italy.
This would seem to be a lot of historical baggage to be carried across the sea along with his few possessions, but it packed in neatly with his musical romanticism. Most immigrants carried a nut of history with them and this they would be just as happy to be rid of. He held on while most were rejecting history, suppressing it even to the extent of true amnesia, so far as they were able and permitted to do so.
When we consider that from the Scots-Irish, English, Spanish, Dutch, French, Swedes and what-not of the beginning, and continuing over a period of three hundred years, more than half of all the millions who arrived in America came as indentured servants, penal convicts, slaves, fugitives from starvation, military service or other laws, or were sent here with free tickets by better-placed natives, or were "simple" illegal immigrants, we can understand how powerful and widespread must have been their personal interest in suppressing history. To this was added the primal need of all countries, including especially the U.S.A., for an exclusive collective memory.
If they lacked formal education, immigrants were even more prone to deny their history, for, if they were to express themselves, their versions of history would be hooted down by most teachers of American history, who had two hundred years to come up with a satisfactory version, a consensus, to be indoctrinated into everybody: it was a theory of spontaneous generation: people grew out of boats or primeval forest mulch; the Babe could hardly remember where, if anyone asked, the Pilgrims, of all people, sailed from, but the significant fact is that the Pilgrims had already lost their cultural moorings.
In recent years we have rewritten much of American history so that it is more true, more respectable, more universal. But there is still a long way to go before the new history permeates the old text- books and the minds of the American people.
The Father of the Babe gives further illustration of what is meant here. All that we have said about the Dad's mythos is derivable from sources other than the Babe, during whose childhood -- these fifteen years of which we tell -- it was formed from mere scraps of ideas, significant to be sure, but certainly never codified in the mind of his Father. The Dad sensed no mission to indoctrinate his sons about Europe, and the sons were anyhow indifferent to the subject. We have pieced together his ideas from rare remarks, which if you add them up as part of all of the fifteen years of communication between father and son, would not amount to more than ten hours out of approximately 12,090 hours, plus the time the Babe spent reflecting upon them. (I estimate an average of 15 hours of father-son contact time per week for fifteen and a half years.)
And then see what happens to the mythos. In strongly individualistic and determined characters, it becomes submerged, sooner or later. On his last voyage to Italy, abruptly undertaken upon the news of his father's death, the Dad had brought with him three large books to study, but left them there and these were discovered in the house of his sister, a nun and school-teacher, sixty years afterwards. One was a grammar of the English language, a second was a textbook on the Constitution and Government of the United States, and the third was devoted to the Arts of Camping and Outdoor Life.
He became an American citizen. It is doubtful that he missed voting in any election for the rest of his life, and he came of age when American constitutions were splurging on elections. The Dad was taken in by Teddy Roosevelt's larruping of the monopolists and Malefactors of Great Wealth, by his rambunctiousness and virtuosity, by his adoration of the Great Outdoors. T.R.'s social warmth fetched the Babe, too, born in the year of his death. The Bull Moose movement of T.R. suited father and son and there was nothing untoward in the Father's belonging to the Royal Fraternal Order of Moose at forty years, and the child's acquisition of a typically midwestern ideology at the age of four. Until the beginning of the New Deal in 1933, the Dad felt no sympathy with the southern reactionaries and Irish Catholic machines that dominated the Democratic Party. He regarded the Democrats as a fringe movement, not central to the Puritan consensus and dream of America.
He was a Republican until 1934 and then switched to the Democrats because F.D.R. was supporting the arts, and the arts were supporting the Dad. He read the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Daily News every day, with some skepticism, during all of the Babe's 15.7 years. He usually supported the cantankerous and isolationist policies of the Tribune.
His wife read the News and liked to recount to the family the latest development in the fictional serialized life of a pleasant married couple, Helen and Warren; in retrospect, one can detect here the origins of her life-long addiction to Soap Operas as the medium developed.
The Babe read the comics, the sports section, and little by little crept into more of the pages, without ever achieving the financial pages and the classified ads, or at least not by the age of seven.
The Babe had by then voted for President, at the age of just under five to be exact. His Father took him along to the neighborhood polling place, whose precinct officials were well known to him, picked up an extra ballot that was laying there and gave it to the Babe, who, to everyone's amusement, went into the polling booth, marked it (secretly) for Calvin Coolidge ("Keep Cool with Coolidge") and, folding his ballot, dropped it into the slot of the ballot-box. "After all, what's a vote or two among friends?" If this may seem incredible, remember that it was Chicago in 1924, when polling procedures were flexible; they had been roundly denounced over the years by some of the world's greatest muck-rakers and political scientists.
The Dad became a Republican Precinct Captain for a short time, and ran unsuccessfully for a Party office, Senatorial Committeeman. He foresaw defeat because his opponent was a black from an enclave of the Near North Side that had been expanding in recent years, whose surname was English, which gave him a heavy "pseudo-ethnic" vote from the voters of the Gold Coast area along the Lake. Few bothered to know the candidates carried at the bottom of the ballot.
Even so, the Babe noticed the stiff pride that kept the Dad from campaigning in politics, from casting himself into the hurly-burly of jovial and argumentative encounters with all types of people. He printed some little calling cards, containing his photograph and a reminder that he was running for office and had lived in the area for a long time, and that was about all that he did. He sent the Babe one early evening to distribute his cards at an Italo-American lodge meeting, probably of the infamous Unione Siciliano, at Phoenix Hall on Division Street. As the Babe moved into the crowd after ascending the stairs, he was stopped roughly by a man and asked where he thought he was going. "In there," shouted the Babe, pulling at the cards that he had stuffed into his rear pockets, "See, to give out my Father's cards." The man looked and laughed, speaking loudly to the others, "I thought he was pulling a gun on me," and they too laughed, and the boy was let through, his expression now one of disgust and contempt.
Until the Babe was ten, the Dad's day went something like this: he would arise before seven, letting Katie go on sleeping. He would don casual dress, put on work gloves, and build a fire in the stove if the morning were cold, or stoke the fire if the fire had been kept alive during the night. He would shovel the ashes of the day before into a bucket for a boy to carry down, unless he felt like carrying them down himself into the alley, or thought some cinders might well be spread in front of the house if the pavement was icy. Next he would go around the corner to buy the morning Tribune at a small notions shop, and pause at Mueller's Bakery for half-a-dozen fry cakes, freshly baked, long ones and fat-bellied custard or jelly-filled ones.
He walked rapidly, very straight, head jutting up slightly, and mounted the stairs rapidly on return, with a distinctive sliding step that a boy found hard to imitate when trying to frighten a brother from some mischief or from listening to the radio when he ought to have been practicing his music.
Then he would put up a large pot of water for coffee on the big black stove and, when it boiled, poured it over the freshly ground coffee at the bottom of the large white enamelled cone-shaped pot. He would also be making a pot of cereal -- Farina, Quaker Oats, Wheatena. He would sit down to eat, by which time others were up and joining him. He had read the headlines and put the newspaper aside until after breakfast when he would take it into his room and read it through.
If he were to have an informal day, he would shave himself with a straight razor by the kitchen sink, carrying his shaving mug, razor, and strop back and forth between kitchen and bathroom. If he were to have an evening engagement, he would go out again later on to a barber shop for a close shave and hair trim; his beard was not obvious or heavy, but he would be as smoothly shaven as possible. He wore a starched detachable collar (like Herbert Hoover) and a subdued necktie, with a strong preference for a dark suit and hand- fashioned black bow tie. In summer he wore straw sailors, never a panama, in winters a derby, until these were pushed off the market by the fedora with a puckered crown. He had a large head, 7 3/4", and had trouble finding hats. He shopped for his clothes in the Loop, usually at Marshall Field; as Katie would say, "Al is easy on his clothing, not the boys, God knows." She was cautious about including his stuff in her fervid pursuit of "bargains." She doted on the Montgomery Ward Catalogue but paid no attention to it's men's furnishings, for they were regarded as "corny," though "good enough for the boys."
The Dad did not want to carry a wallet; without credit cards, or licenses, or health insurance card, or checkbook (that he kept in his desk drawer for mail transactions), only cash, his calling cards and a little diary needed to be carried, the cash in his side pocket, the others in his vest. A vest, after all, is a superior wallet. The cash was for paying off musicians who had worked for him, for buying mouthpieces, reeds, music scores, perhaps a bottle of good wine from some not-so-furtive well-recommended vendor, fresh broccoli from an encounter with a peddlar, or he might be wanting to take a cab, and there was always a chance of an emergency.
Back in his studio, the Dad would read the newspaper or Literary Digest, do some clerical work, read and arrange music, and make phone calls, mostly for engagements in the offing and for hiring. He would often play for a few minutes on the clarinet or saxophone, usually the same test runs, that the Babe came to know as his theme-song, and as later the Babe came to develop for his own warm-up. He would scrape a reed with a razor blade to make it exactly as flexible as was required for blowing both piano and forte and for jumping intervals.
In the pre-dawn of his earliest memory was the Babe's sense of the polished ebony wood clarinet with its dull-gleaming silver keys like fancy buttoned-up winter underwear or a thin glistening Christmas tree. Ageless the instrument seemed as it emerged and was replaced, with deliberate care, in its plush case, like a heavy necklace in a jewel box. It had helped to christen baby Peter, give a splendid birthday to Nancy Tedesco, marry Lucy and James, celebrate the fiesta of the Assumption, lend its voice to the Pilgrim's chorus of Tannhaeuser at the Park, flash through the ever-accelerating mazurka, mourn La Traviata at the Opera of the Auditorium Building, and lead the coffin of Anthony Mancuso to the grave. Here, in the Dad's studio, it stretched itself voluptuously, sounding it's scales to every toe and hair's end, while almost unnoticeable were the movement of fingers, keys and breath that filled so full of sound the room. He did not play the clarinet so much outside the house any more, but the faithful thing received dutifully its exercise.
A small lunch, taken early, sufficed for the Dad. He never ate out, claiming that restaurants of all kinds (except the Ericksons') were pest holes, which, if not true, did have an effect of putting a burden of ever-greater culinary achievement upon Kate. (He did not, by the way, call her anything but "Dear," which she reciprocated, not often calling him Al. They kissed on departure and return. They tried the same with the boys, but these, ashamed of intimacies, gradually discontinued the practice.)
He walked then downtown, two miles away, unless the heat or cold suggested a trolley car, to the Hall and Club of the Musicians' Union. At the Hall he would receive and send messages, hire musicians and discuss engagements, and exchange news and gossip. He might go out to Carl Bauman's music store to examine and purchase music. He would browse there much as a bibliophile would in a bookstore. He was fond of Carl and Carl's son. At the Hall some of the musicians would sit around talking and playing cards; pinochle was their favorite game. He seldom joined the games there, but enjoyed rather to get together with a group in the basement of tuba- player Mannino's home on Oak Street; Mannino made good "pure" wine and would set up a glass for the men while the pinochle deck was being shuffled.
At other times he rehearsed a band in the afternoon, but in any case he would telephone the Mom to ask how things were, whether she wanted anything picked up at a store, and to specify a time of arrival. He would usually arrive home at six o'clock.
If he were coming by street-car, Kate would get rid of the boys who might be hanging around the kitchen hungry, saying "Go meet your Father, he's coming soon." They would then go pushing and shoving down the stairs, veer right on plunging out the door and go to the corner at Orleans Street to wait for him. You could see the car come swaying on the single track far down the street, and hear its knocking against the rails and the banging on its bell from almost as far away.
It was a quiet corner, with St. Joseph's Church across Hill Street, Seward Park at the diagonal, and the fire station of the Insurance Underwriters Association across from them. They stood by an empty lot and a few feet from a solitary fire alarm box. While waiting they talked and argued as usual. One time of a somber fall evening they would be wondering whether the Dad would strike them with his clarinet box if they pretended to be assailants rushing at him from
out of the shadows.
Or, again, of what would happen if they should turn in a false alarm on the fire alarm box, something the Babe actually did one afternoon, after which he ran to hide here and there in the neighborhood, listening for the fire engines that he expected to come roaring up from all directions, and looking about him scared, but seeing none, yet afraid to return home for fear he would be observed by a detective ("Look out for a small boy in a wool cap, brown knickers, red sweater, and wearing Keds. Wanted for turning in a false alarm at Hill and Orleans. Bring to Chicago Avenue Police Station for questioning") who would knock on the door and demand to put him under arrest. Ultimately, after consultation with Bro Bus and other knowing peers, it was decided that he probably should have opened the box and pulled a second lever.
When the Dad did descend from the trolley car, they pranced around him like kid goats, escorting him home. Dinner was ready.
Afterwards he would read the evening newspaper and listen to the radio and work on his music and make phone calls. He would retire by eleven o'clock, insisting beforehand that everyone be in bed with lights out before him. Or instead, he would change clothing and go out on a job, or, rarely, go to visit friends or to a meeting. On occasion he would attend an opera or concert, with a free ticket. Tickets were floating about the house: the Babe, with an eye for circus tickets, would scan them and put them aside. But the Dad shunned movies, espousing instead concert halls, museums, and zoos. He had never viewed a baseball game. He exalted the Lake, the parks and the countryside.
He was a stalwart "Union man," and helped build Chicago Local #10, the nation's strongest, seat of the "Czar of the music industry," Jimmy Petrillo, who played a cornet-piano duet with President Harry Truman one time, to the edification of music lovers everywhere.
As a musician, teacher, and conductor, the Dad prospered for two decades. For his band, he employed a nucleus of a dozen trusted musicians, filling out the remainder from several score musicians whose talent he knew well, mostly Italian, some German, and the rest a rainbow of nationalities. He rehearsed, calling and muttering in Italian and English.
The Babe on occasion sat by, watching with some curiosity, picking up some of the jargon of music, the gestures of conducting, and the procedures. The program depended upon the type of audience, its background, sophistication, ethnicity, age, and the kind of hall or open air setting in which they would be played, with some attention, too, to the inclinations of the musicians and the Dad himself, to try something new, to exercise their virtuosity and so forth.
The smaller the aggregation, the more difficult and special the music that could be performed, little or no rehearsing being permitted on many occasions. The old-timers, in their forties, could handle flawlessly a large repertoire and the conductor could have full confidence in them. A larger concert band, with well over fifteen instruments, might generate problems at tricky and delicate passages. Copies of music were rare and were seen by the musicians at rehearsals, or perhaps only a few minutes before the concert would begin.
It could happen in the open air, of a hot Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Park, from where a little while before there had been only a number of individual musicians converging by foot from the trolley stops and parking lots, unpacking their instruments, tootling a few notes, checking through their music. Two light claps of the Director's hands, complete tense silence for seconds, band and audience alike freezing, and the miracle would begin, often a march, one of John Philip Souza, deserving of his fame, to "warm everybody up," and then the greater music, Wagner's "Overture to the Flying Dutchman," for example, and so on through a dozen works, ending with the Star-Spangled Banner an hour and a half later, at which the crowd stood to its feet and could thereupon disperse.
Within half an hour, the musicians would have folded their stands, packed their instruments, handed over their music to the librarian, exchanged a few pleasantries with the maestro, greeted friends from the audience, and gone their way. Vanished all but a man romping with his dog on the green between the podium and the sea of empty chairs. Yet more than once, maybe ordinarily, the music hung in the air around for a while; the Babe didn't feel it to be just "air;" it was air that had been processed and charged.
As will be explained later, the fate of all types of professional musicians in America was progressively forbidding. Their economic situation was already grim when the Great Depression overtook the economy and practically finished them off as a viable element thereof. Out of a hundred thousand of them, probably no more than several thousands survived on their music. The competition among musicians for work was furious.
In the minutes of a summer 1933 meeting of the Board of Directors of their Union, we find, for instance, typical clashes between leniency and rule enforcement. Permission is granted the Methodist Church for its combined orchestras (of non-union musicians) to give a concert at the World's Fair; also a granting of a lower scale of wages to the Club Royale Café; a confession by Mr. Ernest Schreyer of having received and paid to his band less than the union scale at the Portage Park Theatre; and a complicated fiasco at Old Heidelberg Restaurant at the World's Fair involving a double offense of a Mr. George Blandon for rehearsing musicians and then not hiring them and for withholding his library of music after promising it, for which he was now expelled from the Union. Only four musicians were newly admitted to membership; one of them is carried as Sebastian A. de Grazia, Bro Bus, who was just turning the age of sixteen, the minimum for membership, and has been practicing diligently on the clarinet, in hopes of finding jobs not only at piano playing but also as a clarinetist in whatever band-playing the Dad's patronage might afford. It cost $100 to join the Union, payable in installments, so he put down $35. The Babe's trumpet awaited its turn, but meanwhile he was beginning to look around for chances to scab.
The Dad's patronage was small enough, and the machinations for work took up more energy than the employment itself. At that very time a brouhaha had erupted. President Petrillo had persuaded the Chicago City Council's Finance Committee to vote funds for forty- four band concerts at the Municipal Pier. When by August the concerts had not materialized, he accosted the Mayor. The Mayor told him that five hundred bandmasters had requested assignment and "an absolutely impossible situation had thereby been created," so he had cancelled the concerts. (Actually it was typically lazy and irresponsible behavior on the part of the City Government.) The summer season being half gone, Jimmy was able to retrieve only half the concerts and these on the condition that he handle the allocations. He had the Union's Board appoint a committee of seven musicians not connected with bands but reflecting in each of the seven members a different ethnic group, which committee was to allocate one concert each to twenty-two persons.
The Dad was given his concert assignment, then picked up a couple more from other leaders who were actually incompetent to conduct, exchanged positions as a player with several other leaders who were qualified to play in his band, and managed to slot Bro Bus in several concerts; besides he possessed one of the best libraries of concert music for bands, and could charge for its rental and a librarian's fee, as well as playing as an instrumentalist. He parlayed thus his single concert into a well-paid month of activity. Too bad you are not a Union member, he told the Babe, I could give you some work. But the Babe was also too young to join up.
After all of this, the Dad's Concert on September 3 called out a nice progression of works. It began with Wagner's "Processional" from "Tannhaeuser," and went on to Rossini's "Overture to Stabat Mater," Lacombe's "La Feria Suite," Donizetti's "Sextet from Lucia," Verdi's "Trio from Attila," and selections from Ponchielli's "La Gioconda." After the intermission came Tchaikovsky's "Marche Slave," the Overture to Verdi's "La Forza del Destino," a transfiguration of Southern melodies by Hansen, selections from Gounod's "Faust," and Victor Herbert's "Serenade." Plus, of course, the "Star-Spangled Banner" to end the concert, with a special verse to be sung that rang out the glories of Chicago.
The Dad was especially fond of the boys of the band at St. Mary's Training School for orphans at Desplaines. Like Vivaldi, who wrote his music for orphan girls of the Pieta Seminary of Venice to perform, the Dad found them an affectionate and disciplined group that he quickly fashioned into the Gold Medal Band in its class at the Tribune's Chicagoland Music Festival. The Babe, as he watched them rehearse, felt a respect for their sobriety and application. Somehow he intuited the melancholy pessimism of the orphaned, akin to the mood of infantrymen at the Front. He assured them while they were listening to other bands in the contest that these sounded like howling coyotes, about as extreme and romantic a metaphor as he could reach for, strained to be sure, since the other bands were not all that bad and they all knew it. He was awkwardly seeking a way to cheer them up.
Hundreds of high school and colleges created bands all around the United States in the middle of the Nineteen-Thirties. Not even the Great Depression could halt the development, no more than it could block the progress of jazz. Professional musicians nearly starved, but a hundred thousand young Americans tooted ever more competently.
Only when the Federal Government entered the music business with the Federal Music Project did the Dad begin to get the back-up he required to develop concert band music. As Conductor, he had a full-time librarian, administrators including a paymaster and personnel clerk, an Assistant-Conductor, and, best of all, regular periods of rehearsal. Besides the Illinois Concert Band, he would on occasion conduct the Illinois Symphony Orchestra, and in addition was responsible for organizing and directing a second concert band centered in Joliet, Illinois.
At this time he achieved authorization for what he regarded as an ideal concert band of fifty musicians. it had the following instrumentation:
2 oboes (1 doubling on English horn)
1 E-Flat clarinet
14 B-Flat clarinets
1 alto clarinet
1 bass clarinet
1 alto saxophone
1 tenor saxophone
1 baritone saxophone
4 cornets (possibly 2 flugelhorn)
4 French horns
2 string basses
2 snare drums (1 to play chimes, tambourine, etc.)
1 bass drum
You can notice here the expansion of the clarinets as violin substitutes, the introduction of the first string instrument in the form of bass violins, the introduction of saxophones, and the de-emphasis of the marching band's trumpet section. Practically every substantial composition played by the concert band had to be (and still is) an adaptation of music written for symphony orchestra, that is, essentially for strings.
There is nothing written in the skies commanding that great music be written only for strings. Yet such was the situation, and the band could never sound as it might theoretically sound. Furthermore, the band was asked to perform a civilizing function and a popular function, while the symphonic orchestra was let to play the great classical music for an elite. There never was, nor did there come to be an economic base for realizing the aesthetic potential of the concert band.
When the Federal Band played at Holstein Park once, for example, under the Dad's direction, the music put forth presented very well the combination of ingredients that could do most for the people of that heavily Polish and Slavic area. Souza's "Semper Fidelis" was followed by Rossini's "Overture to William Tell" (the two words "by request" in the program indicating that the Dad, knowing everyone to be familiar with the theme of the Lone Ranger radio serial, was confessing to its triteness while insisting upon its appropriateness.) Then came Przybylski's "Polska Powstaje," Balfe's "Bohemian Girl," Paderewski's "Minuet" and "Melodyje," an orchestration of nine Polish Songs, preceded by its overture, a selection of popular hits of the day ("for the children" reads the program, another "concession" apologizing to the serious listeners), Borodin's "Russian Fantasy," a second medley this time of popular Polish songs and finally "The Star-Spangled Banner."
It was perhaps a fine method for pulling together the diverse elements of the country, harmoniously, with mainly cross-national aesthetic prejudices to contend with, without economically disrupting legislation, without resort to civil or foreign war, without force, even without forethought. The concert band's repertoire, however, did not begin to reflect the full potentiality of the medium. As the music system operates, composers determine the ensembles of instruments. So do the concert-going, music supporting elite, who determine the composers. And popular tastes, too, determine the instruments, which began to run toward the dance band and jazz. The professional concert band became a threatened species, shortly after it evolved.