The fall season of 1883 was now approaching, and with its approach came the usual forerunners or signs of the annual renewal of seasonal activity in professional music circles, but these no longer held a lure for me. My little taste of life away from home as a professional player in Buffalo with my brother Ed was only a slight one to be sure, yet somehow it seemed to have cooled my ardor for becoming a great cornet player, and the thought of being just an ordinary cornetist and living at home appealed to me more strongly than the first. Naturally, all boys of fifteen or sixteen years of age like to get away from home restrictions and have their own way; they like doing exactly as they please, with no one to interfere or find fault with them or to adjudge punishment for little things done or not done. The last is judged under a parental reasoning that no boy of that age ever can or will understand, and probably I was no exception to the rule.
I RE-ENTER SCHOOL
Playing with Ed's combination in Buffalo had given me a month of having my own way in everything, yet without much else to show a result than the horrible homesickness that had hastened me back. I missed having someone to pet me when feeling a bit out of sorts; to see that I was nicely tucked in bed nights, and in the morning at breakfast give me the affectionate words of greeting such as come only from our mothers. Through my short experience on the road I had learned to reason with myself in a way, therefore it did not require any great effort of will for me to decide not to go out again with the Baker and Farron Comedy Company in the coming season; instead I decided to stay at home and go to school. So when the term opened in September I re-entered school with the determination to learn something that should stand me in good stead for the future, and devoted myself to hard study with the hope of graduating as one of the best. I really did work hard, and my efforts were rewarded in the following summer by graduating as one of the three highest students.
I played the cornet occasionally throughout the winters of 1883 and 1884, still holding my position in the Queen's Own Regimental Band, attending rehearsals. In its small way my band work was thorough, and recognizing this along with my general improvement, Mr. Bayley (the bandmaster) shortly promoted me to the regular second cornet chair in the band, pushing me ahead of a few "seat-warmers". Thereafter, whenever the band played outside engagements calling for twenty or twenty-five men, I always was selected for the second cornet part: this gave me an opportunity to earn a little pocket money for myself, as these jobs paid from a dollar to a dollar and a half each.
I also resumed my church work, and began to play songs at the Sunday morning services as offertory solos, which seemed to please. It was not long before quite a few of the church people, as well as friends of my family, began telling me what a "splendid" cornet player I was, even at that age and time. Instead of allowing this well-meant yet unthinking flattery to turn my head, however, and knowing exactly how inefficient I actually was in comparison with cornet players I had heard, I paid no attention to what they said. Perhaps I may have done fairly well for a boy of only sixteen years, but as compared with men of real cornet experience I knew that I fell mighty far short of being in their class. However, these friends persisted in telling me that with my "talent" I should apply for solo cornet playing at local concerts, even though I received no remuneration for my services. As the writing of this little point brings to mind the many failures I have known in life who fell because of flattery, I take the liberty of interpolating a bit of genuine philosophy I read the other day, namely: "Talent is a great breeder of laziness, and laziness is one of the surest means of destruction!"
I graduated from school in June of 1884, and shortly afterwards my father had a call as organist to a large church in Indianapolis, Indiana. He accepted the offer, and in the following month the entire Clarke family again migrated, this time back to the very city whence it came only a few years before. We had lived in Toronto, Canada, only four years, but even as a boy I grew to love the city which really marked the beginning of my career in the music world. During these four years I had made many friends among boys of my own age, and it was with sincere regret that I was forced to leave.
The day before we left the city I called upon my two dear instructors, Mr. John Bayley (Bandmaster of the Queen's Own Regimental Band) and Dr. F.H. Torrington (Director of the Philharmonic Orchestra), and never shall I forget the kind words of encouragement and advice extended to me by both of these men. It was indeed with a sad heart that I went from Toronto to locate in Indianapolis where I knew scarcely anybody, particularly boy-friends, for I was only nine years old when we left this city before and went to Somerville, Massachusetts.
A NEW TECHNIQUE REVEALED
We had been in Indianapolis about a week, and were fairly well settled in our new home, when one night l went to the Park where a band was giving regular summer evening concerts, and incidentally received an "eye-opener' in cornet playing; judging by the spontaneous applause which followed each number, the band was exceedingly popular with the public, and as the organization played really good music finely rendered, I enjoyed the concert greatly. At about the middle of the program a young man not much older than myself stood up and without moving from his place began playing a cornet solo which at once so captivated my attention that I forced my way through the crowd in order to get nearer the bandstand and not miss a note. As the player continued with the introduction to the solo he astonished me with his clear, musical tone and playing poise, but when he came to a most difficult cadenza and played it faultlessly in a musically manner I held my breath in sheer astonishment. Never before had I heard a player with such perfect technique. It truly was remarkable!
The number, an extremely difficult cornet solo which demanded great endurance in playing was the Excelsior Polka by Frewin (I later purchased a copy for cornet and piano). At the ending of the solo the young player was given an ovation of tumultuous applause, in which I joined vigorously. The cornetist again arose, but this time stepped to the front of the platform, and to my wonderment played the entire solo through for the second time without seeming tired or making a slip. The remarkable thing about his performance was that he played so easily, gracefully; apparently with unconcern, and without any facial muscular contortions or movements. His face did not become purple, distorted, or show any signs of strain. I always had made such hard work in playing even a simple little polka which did not reach G on the first space above, that to watch him play with such perfect ease a number which seemed filled with top "C's" and then end it on the highest note, actually dumbfounded me. It was both a revelation and an inspiration!
After the close of the concert I inquired as to the player's identity, and learned that he was a Walter B. Rogers who came from the little town of Delphi, in Indiana. I also found out that he played at the Opera House when the season was done.
I TRY TO FATHOM THE SECRET
When I reached home that night my mind was so filled with the cornet solo and the way in which it was played that I could not sleep. Half the night I argued with myself as to how it was possible to play so difficult a solo with such ease and grace, and finally came to the conclusion that Mr. Rogers must have some new system of cornet playing. As I was all but crazy with a desire to find out how he had acquired such an embouchure and wonderful endurance, when I took up my cornet the next day for practice I tried to see if by any possible means I could produce those high notes without straining for them, but of course I completely failed. I blew hard and strained until I felt as if my eyes would pop out of their sockets, but without results. Then I reasoned that if one person could do a certain thing easily so could another, but the point was how to go about doing it.
A little later on I attended a second concert and tried to get close to the bandstand, but as the platform was elevated about twelve feet from the ground there was no chance to get near enough to observe closely the manner or method of Mr. Rogers' art. I waited a few weeks for a better opportunity of getting close enough to the man to try and find out his secret of natural cornet playing, and during the interval of waiting, tried all sorts of ways to play easily, but without avail; the more I experimented,the worse I played and the madder I became! At last the Opera House opened and I bought a ticket for the first show with a seat in the front row near the cornet player. From the time the orchestra entered to play the opening overture and up to the end of the show, whenever Mr. Rogers was playing I leaned forward in my seat and watched him as a revenue officer might watch a liquor "suspect". I can't remember anything about the show itself, for my thinking faculties were concentrated in trying to reason out how cornet playing could be made so easy as Mr. Rogers had proved by his own playing.
After the show was over I walked along to think about it, and finally determined to try to imitate this "wonder". The next morning after breakfast I took my cornet to my room and commenced to experiment, but the more I blew the harder it became for me. Then I stood before the mirror and tried to adjust the mouthpiece to my lips the same as I had observed Rogers do the night before, placing just a little of it on the upper lip with more on the lower lip and drawing the latter in slightly over the teeth, but not a tone came out of the cornet! I tried it again and again with no better results, and then I did actually get mad. I kept up this experimenting all that day, and the following night bought another front seat ticket for the same show. On this night Rogers played a cornet solo between the acts, not standing up before the audience but remaining seated. The selection was Hartman's Carnival of Venice, and - well, perhaps I did not watch him as he played it! The next morning I tried the same way of playing as on the previous day, only changing the position of the mouthpiece against my lips, and again struggled to produce tones. The only result being that I found myself worse off than before, and by the end of that week I could play neither in the old way nor in the new. This was so discouraging that I nearly arrived at a point of giving up the whole thing in disgust. Fortunately for me, however, I had been born with a goodly amount of perseverance and obstinacy in my make-up and stuck to the game - although not without admitting to myself that if it was necessary to play the cornet in the old way and suffer with the same strains and headaches as before, perhaps it might be as well (if not better) to discard playing altogether. However I kept at it for another three-week period of struggle.
One day I picked up the instrument for the usual practice and imagine if you can my surprise and almost bewilderment when the first tone I produced with ease was the formidable high C! It was almost startling, but I tried it once more and for the second time produced this heretofore all but impossible tone. Now the whole secret was out, only there really wasn't any secret about it! I had used only a little pressure of the mouthpiece on my lips and so allowed them to vibrate naturally, instead of pressing against them with so great force that all lip-vibration was stopped and tone would not come from the cornet. It then dawned upon my mind that, always when trying to reach a high note I had been pressing the mouthpiece so hard on the lips that it kept them from vibrating at all. I had been like a man trying to walk with his legs bound firmly together!
Starting for the third time with the high C, I began to run down the scale and watch for results. At first a few tones sounded, then there was no further response. Slightly relaxing my lower lip, I repeated this for a few times until I was able to reach down to middle G on the second line of the staff, but not a tone lower! I laughed at myself and thought: "Well, if it is so difficult for me to play low tones then I must practice low tones, which I proceeded to do. It did not tire me at all, but I took good care not to keep it up for too long at a time. Think! I had journeyed all the way from Toronto to Indianapolis to stumble against this easier way of playing through, seeing it marvelously demonstrated by Walter B. Rogers, a young player not much older than myself!
I now started in earnest to begin the mastery of what to me was a new art. I began to relax my lips when playing, instead of pinching them together and pressing the mouthpiece against them with force, and very shortly I could produce C on the ledger line below the staff easily. After that I kept on working hard, but in a sensible way, reasoning out each problem as it came up, and before another month had passed could play fairly well again, and so much easier! The lesson involved in this is: if you find you have the right idea according to your own characteristics, work on it from the very beginning and build up slowly from the foundation.