May 18, 1918
Page 45
Leaves from Diary of Guy Maier, Pianist, with Our Forces Overseas

Y. M. C. A. Secretary, Stationed at Great Rest Camp for Pershing’s Men at Aix-les-Bains, Records Activities—Music’s Rôle in Enlivening the Daily Round—Tussle with a Refractory French Harmonium

MARCH 17: A “perfect day,” like almost every day since Feb. 1. A full day, too. Wrote letters in the morning; played at church service at the Casino afterward, and had photographs taken. A fine dinner, ‘then a delightful French lesson, and a start with about seventy-five of the men for the famous “Hautecombe Abbey.”
Back home again, and a hasty supper. The evening service took place in the theater, and, as usual, I played. I was asked to play upon a curious looking French organ (or rather, harmonium) which had been placed in the orchestral pit for me. Ah! sad to relate, I met my Waterloo! The instrument insisted upon heaving and sighing, and made all sorts of impossible groans and wheezes when I “pumped” and played. I battled through “Onward Christian Soldiers,’ with it, and finally found that the reason for this extraordinary behavior lay in a very simple “stop” called “Expression” which I had pulled out. So after getting rid of the “Expression” I sailed away blithely into “Speed Away, Speed Away,” and also “Pull for the Shore, Sailor,” two songs which I detest. Alas, my happiness was short-lived! In trying to play the accompaniment for a quiet ‘cello solo, the organ insisted upon remaining “full”—that is, it continued to play as loudly as· possible, although I had carefully removed the “full” lever, and in fact had shoved in all the “stops,’’ which should have stopped everything, but didn’t. Well, then I tried the piano, and was so fussed that I played part of a solo for baritone in “five sharps” instead of no sharps, and the poor baritone and the audience had a terrible time of it. C’est la guerre!
After the service we had a hilarious St. Patrick’s Day party, and played all sorts of Irish games until midnight. It is really curious to see how these men in khaki, after all, are simple children, and are so easily amused and entertained. If only I had time to explain all the Irish stunts which we did. The boys were having such a good time that it was almost impossible to get them to leave the Casino—even at 12:30 a. m.
March 18: Another busy day. Arranged several “acts” for to-morrow and Wednesday night, and planned the whole week’s program. The “Craig Players” of Boston are very anxious to do a pantomime for us, but they haven’t the music. So they sang the “stuff” to me and I wrote it down, harmonized it and had it orchestrated. More ·rehearsals for “stunt night,” which comes later in the week, and also a rehearsal with the famous violinist who gives a concert here to-night, and for whom I am to play. French lesson, piano practice, evening concert, at which I played some solos, besides a “Sonata” and accompaniments for the violinist, “movies” and a social time (with the inevitable games; how the boys love them).
March 19: Great excitement! A fancy dress ball! It took a tremendous amount of work stirring up interest among the boys—because, you know, these dances and balls are purely “stag” affairs, as General Pershing has forbidden mixed dancing in the army. As soon as I had the fellows “going” they swept everything before them. They begged, borrowed or stole everything in Aix-les-Bains that could be considered a costume or a “disguise” of any sort. Of course, women’s costumes were at a premium, and it seemed as though every boy wanted to “dress up” in feminine attire. Such a fearful and wonderful sight—and really quite brilliant! Before the grand march we had two short performances in the theater by the Craig Players. The “wooing scenes” from Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew,’’ in which Mr. Craig enlisted some of the boys as actors, and a pantomime from the “Circus Girl,” both were screamingly funny.
An Impromptu “Jazz”
March 20: More strenuousness! Spent the day working at shows and acts for the rest of the week. Helped to “incite” the fellows to dance at the usual hour—4 p. m. Played at vesper service at 5. Had a mild professional vaudeville show in the evening. It “left out” early, as I asked the orchestra to go to the restaurant to play for a while, but they “struck,’’ stating that they had been worked to death to-day. So I organized an impromptu “jazz” band, beginning with a piano and a drum, both instruments being expert in this field. Then we secured a violin, and another violin, then a dinner gong, then a bass drum; the music, of course, never stopped for one instant, and anybody who “came in” dove right into the mass of sound. Then we brought another piano, which wasn’t in tune with the first, but that made no difference; then I appointed a director, and, really, you never heard such a tumult. But the rhythm was excellent, and we danced a long time.
March 31: I am really exhausted tonight. We decided to hold our “stunt night” in the theater, which meant that it would have to be very good. Spent all day rounding up the men and rehearsing everybody, and as a result the evening performance took upon itself an almost professional standard. Ran all sorts of errands during the day. Before the performance in the evening I distributed a couple of hundred whistles, bells, horns, rattlers and gongs to the audience, and you should have heard the racket! Never in my wildest dreams have I ever imagined anything to equal it. The men drove us nearly frantic. At the opening of the show I wanted to make a “speech” in order to tell them the program, and in order to announce, too, that for this evening’s jazz band I had secured about twenty instruments, which would be at their disposal after the performance. It took me at least fifteen minutes to say just that much, so· great was the racket. The program was a great success.


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