Edwin Franko Goldman was a bandleader and composer whose Goldman Band was generally acknowledged to be the best of its kind in the country during its heyday.
Goldman's musical career was scarcely an accident. His middle name indicates his relationship to the famous Franko family, the five musical children of which toured Europe and America as child prodigies in the late 1860s. One of these children was Selma Franko, Goldman's mother.
Goldman began the study of the trumpet at the age of 9 and by the time he was 17 was installed as first trumpeter of the Metropolitan Opera. The year before, he'd declined the offer of a similar position with the Boston Symphony Orchestra because it would have forced him to withdraw from the musicians union.
His 10 years at the Metropolitan coincided with the golden age of Toscanini, Mahler, Motti, Damrosch, Hertz and Mancinelli at that institution. He remembered Toscanini's first rehearsal at the Met.
"It was a great experience. Toscanini's first words to the orchestra were, 'I do not speak your language, but we will get along.' Then the fight started! But he never bothered anyone who played properly. When I finally left the Met to organize a band, Toscanini was enthusiastic over the idea. 'Bravo, bravo!' he exclaimed."
Between seasons at the Met, Goldman had played in band concerts in the parks and it seemed to him that the field was an unexplored one that offered big opportunities.
"But at first it was terrible after Toscanini and the Met. The musicians didn't want to rehearse — just like some bands today. I used to hang my head. But I kept asking myself: 'Why shouldn't a band play as artistically as an orchestra, with the same finesse? It wound sound the same, but the performance should be as good.'"
Goldman got over the preliminary hurdle by engaging the best players he could find. Years later, he had the satisfaction of seeing the young men he had trained in his band holding positions in all the top symphony orchestras.
After six years in Central Park, Goldman's new standard of band performance began to attract attention. Among the regulars at his concerts were Daniel and Florence Guggenheim, who eventually assumed the financial responsibility for them. After their deaths, the work was continued by the Guggenheim Foundation, which donated more than $4 million toward the free concerts that attracted 20,000 or more listeners every night during the summer.
There were other problems at the beginning as well. "What right has a band to exist?" Goldman pondered. "It has no repertoire of its own. At best it can only play transcriptions of orchestral music.
"So I wrote to all the great composers of the day asking them to write original music for band. Strauss, Ravel, Respighi — I missed no one. But they laughed at me. They refused to take me seriously. I kept after them for over 40 years, and the result is that today there is scarcely a prominent composer who has not written something for band."
In a 1955 interview with The Times, Goldman beamed when he mentioned Milhaud's "Suite Francaise," which was originally intended for band. "Now all the orchestras play it, and it is something of a triumph that the orchestras at last have to play a transcription of a band piece," he said.
To develop the repertoire further, Goldman began to offer a $500 commission each year to an American composer for a band composition.
He also found time to write several books and to compose no less than 106 marches.
He thought every city should have a community band to afford an outlet for young people to keep up their music after leaving school. He found that the Midwest had great community bands and complained that most university bands devoted more time to maneuvering than to music.
The year before his death, Goldman proudly boasted that he had never in his life missed a concert for which he was scheduled — and he conducted more than 8,000 of them. He traveled constantly as the friend and counselor of school bands across the nation and in the service of innumerable government commissions.