In response to a request from "sanctum" headquarters to contribute to these columns an article that might interest the cornet clientele of this valuable magazine, I have chosen to submit a rewriting of an old series of articles entitled: "How I Became a Cornet Player." They appeared more than ten years ago in Fillmore's Musical Messenger, a publication that since then has been absorbed by the Jacobs' magazines. This choosing is also in the nature of a response to many requests from musicians in all parts of the English speaking and reading world, asking if a reprinting of that old series were possible.
There are many who at times have raised the question as to just what nationality I belong, although why I do not know. In reply to all such, I am proud to state that by birth and parentage it so happened that I am an American-"Yankee", if you like - as I was born in New England at Woburn, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, and this (at least to me) remarkably eventful happening occurred on September 12,1867. My parents were lineal descendants from the first settlers who came over from old England on the sailing vessel "Lion," which landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1634. And thus it is that I happen to be all American, with the same Revolutionary spirit coursing through my veins that stirred my forefathers to fight for their liberty and homes in order to make future provisions and protection for whoever came after them. I certainly am one of those who came afterwards - after all the toil and turbulence and suffering that has made this country what it is today. How little do we of the present generation really appreciate what has been done for us by the brave, thinking men and women of the past!
The happenstance of my nationality having been settled, as the second starting point in this series permit me to say that I am an enthusiast in music, especially in band music, always was and always shall be: and yet with all my long professional experience as a cornetist I am still an amateur - that is, one who loves the cornet and tries to improve himself in its playing each day. Even now I am as much interested in the instrument as I was at the beginning; I still believe that the cornet is "king" of all wind instruments, and that when properly played is the most brilliant and satisfactory of all solo instruments - not only to the player himself, but to his listeners as well. Understand, please that I do not mean to cast a slur on other wind instruments, such as the flute, clarinet, saxophone, trombone or baritone. These instruments are a musical delight when properly played, and all of us should raise our hats to the true virtuoso on any one of them, because each is just as necessary to the music profession as the cornetist.
We know that many celebrities in music have risen to distinction without having given much thought to the end in view. Such ones, however, probably possessed an instinctive feeling of fineness in doing things that led them to conquer self by overcoming wrong habits in their daily practice, together with a certain amount of natural ambition, and these, when combined with tenacity of purpose and carefulness in work, usually will bring results in any line of endeavor. Nevertheless, everyone who has made a sure and solid success in anything started from the bottom of the ladder and gradually worked up by their efforts, expecting perseverance and systematic application in overcoming obstacles at the very beginning. I often used to think and ponder over an old motto which has helped me greatly during my life - "Well Begun Is Half Done."
That old saying regarding poets does not hold good with cornetists, for there is no such thing as a "born" cornet player, each is "made" by and for himself, and each must actually work. The Almighty never had any special favorites upon whom to confer degrees, and even the celebrities all had to make a start. Many an aspiring young player is often told by his friends that he is a "born cornetist." This is a mistake, for after a while he really begins to believe it himself and stops his regular practice routine. As a result his career does not last very long, and after perhaps a few years of disappointment and discouragement he adopts some other line of work to make a living.
Natural aptitude and other qualifications of course count for a great deal if rightly utilized. Here is a little story of more or less "chestnutty' flavor that in a way seems to fit: Some ill advised friend once told an impressionable young man of about twenty that he (the young man) had a wonderful lip for the cornet (whatever that meant), and advised him to study the instrument. From that time on the young chap constantly broadcast to admiring friends and the world in general the remarkable fact of his "wonderful lip" and consulted several teachers, but that's as far as he got, for actual work began and ended with the "consulting". The wonder of his lip continued to the "burden of his song" for some sixty-odd years and his last dying words are said to have been: "I had a wonderful lip for the cornet. Strange that he never obtained a cornet and utilized that "lip"!
The most of us undoubtedly try to do the best that we can at all times, but sometimes fail because of conditions. If one definitely realizes just what line of work he intends to follow for a livelihood and makes music his objective, then he should give the music exactly the some attention and application that is given to his schooling - the grammar- and high-school or even college, according to the extent of his ambition. Quite mistakenly, and many times regardless of disclosed aptitude and pronounced inclination, parents all too often map out the lives of children according to their own ideas. Many parents have in this way compelled their children to enter into uncongenial occupations, laid down and mapped out as they willed and not as the children might wish. Unfortunately for the world, such arbitrary parental ruling has made many criminals, not to mention the failures. I believe that every child is born into this life for some definite and good purpose and that later on instinct will more surely map out his way than will the arbitrary "must" of the parents, if education and environment are right. It is a profound problem which demands the deepest study on the part of the parents.
During my boyhood I was educated to become an architect, because of certain talents displayed as a youngster. I studied it from the very bottom up, and the application of its teaching has helped me wonderfully as a guide in correcting my cornet playing. In the beginning it was necessary to overcome handicaps in the way of mathematical problems and mechanical drawing, and I well remember how hard I worked to correctly draw a perfectly straight line free-hand and without a rule. It required long practice, but in time I mastered it, and what seemed so difficult at first become easy after a while, through this I learned that it is being perfect in the elementary work that gives us a firm foundation upon which to base for final perfection.
My father, who, in my opinion, was one of the best men on earth, forbade me to practice the cornet. For one reason, he did not want me to play a wind instrument: for another, he was particularly against permitting me to belong to a band, as he thought that association with band musicians was too rough for a boy. And without intention of being disrespectful or disobedient, for I loved the cornet to such an extent that I could hardly keep myself away from it for a moment. Father did not realize the good side of my "musical 11 pals", while I was blind to everything but band music and could see only the bright and good side of a musician's life, striving to do my best and play my parts correctly. My mother once told me that "a thing worth doing at all is worth doing well," and after a time I was allowed to play the cornet under the provision that I behaved myself and kept my school work up to the mark.
In my practice I kept to the elementary, although I could play a lot of tunes when I first started and this even before a perfect scale was played - that is, played without making a mistake of any kind. How often do we think that our work is satisfactory when, after all, we merely blow into the cornet and make a noise without being perfect in every detail! One hundred percent alone is perfection. Ninety-nine percent only proves that one percent is missing in perfection, thus making the whole imperfect by just one per cent; therefore, when in his practice a player does not correct the slightest mistake immediately he logically is practicing to be imperfect.
I have heard many pupils play page after page of the instruction book, missing the notes here and there and making all manner of mistakes without correcting them, then say: - "well I played fifteen pages of exercises today." There was no realization that even if only one mistake was made they had not played the fifteen pages, but simply "played at them."