The Craxton Family

Harold Craxton

My First Engagement

My first professional engagement was in 1902 with the Devonshire Park Symphony Orchestra which was organised and conducted for a summer season of eight weeks at Eastbourne by Norfolk Megone, who was permanent conductor of the Holborn Empire Music Hall. Megone found that eight weeks' symphonic relaxation was a good idea and so an orchestra was collected for its summer season. It was full of symphonic strength and contained many rank and file players from London orchestras. Some players came from café groups and others were quite distinguished musicians who found a seaside holiday welcome. The leader of the stirngs was Wynn Reeves and his colleague was Frank Bridge. Later both became well known in the highest musical circles, the former as a symphonic leader and Frank Bridge as a composer and the teacher of Benjamin Britten.

My job was to accompany the singer of the week, play harp parts on the piano and take charge of the library, etc. As a start-off I found the salary quite reasonable, for my landlady gave me full board and a nice room for 17/6d a week so I had enough left to be able to invite my mother down for two or three weeks and to buy my first Kodak camera. And that was financially worth it too: I took snaps of some of the orchestra and charged them 4d a print.

The work as a musical librarian caused me much worry. To a 17-year-old country boy there was all to learn. I knew about violins but to find them called 'Geige' puzzled me until I realised that that was the German way of describing them: a viola I had heard of but 'Bratsche' was to my mind a most ugly word. A bassoon I knew but never a 'Posaune' and 'Fagotto'. Drums I was aware of but why 'Gran Cassa' and 'Pauken'? I felt that these oddities should be put into a spare-parts folio for obscure instruments seldom used. I did some tidying up of the library with results that were almost chaotic. For instance, I found two sets of parts for the Grand March from 'Tannhäuser' and it seemed a good idea to have these in one folder. So I shuffled them together for the sake of tidiness and wear and tear, not knowing or noticing that in one of the sets of parts was a trumpet version in B flat major whilst in the other set were parts in the original B major. The symphony concert was to begin with this showy march but as the conductor raised his baton an animated conversation began between the various groups of instruments: 'Original?' 'No, transposed.' 'Transposed?' 'No, original.' Question and answer, confusion all around. The culprit was summoned and the correct parts supplied so that all the orchestra were in the original key instead of some being a semitone lower than the others. What fun if they had only begun! The way to chaos is paved with good intentions.

Harold Craxton