At this point of narrative I want to state that the Walter B. Rogers mentioned in the preceding chapter as a boy-wonder on the cornet, in later years became one of the most celebrated cornetists in the country, with the most remarkable technique of any cornet player ever heard. As we grew up into manhood our two lives became linked together, both of us later on occupying professional positions in America's great metropolis, New York City, Rogers became cornet soloist in Cappa's Seventh Regiment Band, and I served in a like solo capacity with Gilmore's famous Twenty-second Regiment Band. About ten years afterwards Rogers was my side-partner in John Philip Sousa's Band, at the time when it made its first European tour, playing at the big World's Fair in Paris, France, and throughout all Europe.
To my knowledge, there never has been any great cornet soloist who has not changed his method of playing several times before becoming successful. In other words, each has commenced playing the wrong way at first and then worked out his own salvation by finding the easiest way of playing for himself - adopting it, working with it and, having proved it, sticking to his own idea no matter as to how other players might advise him. When a cornetist can do his work musically and easily and prove results, he certainly must be on the right track, regardless of what the "Book" says. Remember, that every cornet method published is simply an explanation of the way in which its author himself played.
Quite a few fine authors contradict each other regarding the proper way of playing the cornet, i.e., position of the mouthpiece on the lips, holding the instrument, and tonguing correctly. In consequence of these various contradictions, with many struggling players of wind instruments who live in remote parts of the country and cannot have the advantage of personal instructions, the question arises in their minds: "What is the proper position of the lips when placed on the mouthpiece?"
Many beginners, even after purchasing an instrument and instruction book, when working on the theory of the author and finding they are not making the advancement expected, become so discouraged that after playing a year or so they give it all up. Some players have a protruding upper jaw, others an undershot lower jaw; some have thick lips, others thin lips, and yet the "Book" gives only one explanation of how to play. Now I do not mean to find fault with different methods, as all of them are good in many ways. I simply wish to point out that each individual player must reason a little with himself, and not take the text too literally. Remember, we are not all born alike and fashioned from the some mold!
CHANGING THE BASIC FOUNDATION
Well, here was I who had been playing the cornet a few years under hard and assiduous practicing, only to reach a point where I could not seem to improve, no matter how long and hard I worked each day! I had the ambition and plenty of time for practice, as well as the spirit to play many hours more, but one hour with swollen lips was enough. My poor lips would become so tired that I could hardly produce a tone, and was compelled to quit because they were "all in". However, watching someone else play with perfect ease all the time without any noticeable strain or facial contortions, hardly ever taking a rest, yet doing the most wonderful stunts as easily as playing marbles, started me thinking. Quite naturally I did a lot of that when I reflected on the way I was torturing myself, also a great deal of experimenting in seeking some way whereby to better conditions, with the result as stated in the chapter before this.
After succeeding in my efforts by changing my embouchure, I began practicing all the elementary studies in the first part of the "Book" and all the different scales both chromatic and diatonic. I was careful always to play softly, but surely, so as not to injure the sensitive nerves of my lips, and gained the satisfaction of noticing an improvement each week. My earnest efforts were finally rewarded by being able to last longer, produce a smoother tone, and reach the higher notes without any strain. This encouraged me greatly.
I always played before the mirror, which of course reflected every movement, in order to note if my playing caused any undue facial contortions. I noticed that sometimes when I tried to hold out a high note my face would become a little red, although there was no visible sign of strain. I did not attempt to hold these high notes very often at first, however, fully realizing that my muscular "foundation" had not become quite firm enough in the short time since I had made the change, and I did not want any set-back to further discourage me. You see I was growing older, getting more sense, and using thought.
A TORCHLIGHT TEST
I forgot to mention that my two brothers who went out with the Baker and Farron Company had finished their season's engagement, with Ed accepting a position in Boston as leader and Ern returning home. It was a presidential election year, with the campaign of 1884 just approaching.
Back in those times all bands were in great demand for torchlight processions in Indianapolis, the same as in other cities, and as brother Ern had become a pretty good trombone player from his years experience on the road, he began getting acquainted with the different musicians around town with an eye to business. One day he came home and told me he had an engagement for that night to play with Biessenhertz's Band in a Republican Club parade. To me it seemed fine that he should get a job so quickly after having been in town only so short a time. He had played for quite a number of these parades when one day he asked me: "Bert, wouldn't you like to do a parade tonight?" Well, wouldn't I just! It would be a fine chance to test my change in embouchure.
Ern took me to the band room with him to obtain a uniform, and when we arrived there the men were all ready to start out. He introduced me to the band leader, whom I found to be a dear old man and a fine musician - one of the old-timers. The leader spoke kindly to me, and asked whether I played first or second cornet. As I did not want to make a fiasco upon my first introduction to the band, I answered that I played second. He supplied me with a march book and then took me to his solo cornetist, who was none other than Walter B. Rogers! This was the first time for me to meet my "Model" personally, and I found him to be the most affable chap I had ever met in my whole musical career up to date. Rogers showed me the principal marches that would be used and made me feel quite at home. This was intensely gratifying, as I was beginning to feel a bit nervous at being only a strange boy among many experienced bandsmen.
I was mightily pleased to be playing in the same band with Walter Rogers, and thought that after we had become better acquainted I would apply to him for instructions on the cornet and learn his method of playing. I did not have the nerve to do it then on so short an acquaintance. We made the first parade and were immediately engaged by the Democratic contingent for the following night, after which we seemed to alternate every successive night between the two political parties. This kept the band business mighty good up to election day, as almost every night there was a rally of some sort.
I now had made such progress in my playing that I was advanced to first cornet. This of course placed me beside Rogers, and he being only two years my senior (the age of my brother Ern) we soon became quite intimately acquainted. By this time I also had come to know all the bandsmen, the most of whom were regular old-time professionals and old enough to have been my father. Association with these men seemed to so mature me that I soon began to feel like a regular "professional" myself, and being an unusually robust, chunky boy for a seventeen-year old did not detract from the feeling.
FROM TORCHLIGHTS TO FOOTLIGHTS
The band business, of course, fell off after the election was over, but the majority of the men played in the different theatres around town. Mr. Biessenhertz was leader of English's Opera House Orchestra, where Rogers played during the winter, and as some of the big shows that required an enlarged orchestra demanding two cornets not infrequently came to the house, Rogers put in a request that I should be engaged and play beside him.
This, of course, would give needed experience in the music game, but I think that what impressed me the most favorably was finding myself placed so unexpectedly in close playing juxtaposition with my ideal cornet player, whose ease in playing I was striving to imitate, and hear him play in such near proximity. This not only proved to be actually instructive, but afforded me a glorious chance to watch, listen and improve my own playing by example. Even though I now was playing one hundred per cent better than ever before, the situation inspired me to still further ambition, so I kept on practicing and working hard, improving wonderfully and devoting my whole time and thought to the study of music.
My brother Ed finished his Boston summer engagement and came home in the fall, and, being as ambitious as Ern and myself, he practiced all day long on his violin while we were doing the same with our instruments. Ed's coming home once more brought we three brothers together in home contact with our father, and living in a fairly large house each had his own room for practicing and playing - father at the piano, Ed on his violin, Ern on his trombone, and myself on the cornet. The neighbors on each side of us (it was a corner house, by the way, on Alabama and Michigan Streets) most certainly must have gained their full share of noise from four different instruments all going at the same time, for many were the unsigned notes dropped into our letter box calling us a "nuisance to the community." I guess they were right, but we were too deeply immersed in our music to pay any attention to anonymous letters, and cared little so long as the police didn't interfere and give us warning.
I often have wondered how our good mother ever stood for the frightful din we must have constantly created, but that's a way "good" mothers generally have. With the exception of our father none of us played any too musically, and the continual playing of scales and exercises could not have been very entertaining to a disinterested listener. Of course, we kept all our windows closed, but even so the anonymous missives kept coming, only in fewer numbers, some of the neighbors evidently becoming used to the racket, or else moving away from it.