Submitted by Jeff Purtle on Fri, 06/10/2016 - 20:39

The trifling incident of my mishap on roller skates which closed the last installment may not be strictly in keeping with the theme of my article, but I have related it for a purpose. I wanted to explain that although confined to bed, I could sit up and carry on my practice and study just the same. Neither did the accident cool my ambition, but I did miss the Carnival and did not head the Grand March.

With the money I was now making by playing cornet I had an opportunity to buy many things necessary to my music, besides paying my board at home, which gave me a feeling of independence. My first savings went towards buying me a new cornet, something which I had wanted for a long time, as the instrument I had been using was a cheap French make that cost only twelve dollars. I had succeeded in getting this poor affair by shoveling the snow from sidewalks during the winter, for my father would never contribute a cent towards helping me in my career, as he did not wish to encourage me in any way that might lead to my becoming a musician.


I purchased a "Three Star" Boston cornet of which I was very proud. It was brass, but I kept it shining like gold. There were very few silver-plated cornets in those days, but after a time I took a notion that I wanted mine plated and took it to a jeweler who said that he could plate it. The plating was all right but the burnisher rubbed the bell so hard that it was badly flattened out in some places. As I had always been very careful not to dent or even scratch an instrument, this nearly broke my heart, but I could not get it repaired anywhere in town and I simply had to let it go as it was. I purchased all the cornet methods and exercises published, as well as a considerable quantity of cornet solos. Every week I bought something which I considered might help me to improve myself, and before long my music library contained every cornet solo that I could find published, either in America or Europe.

It always has been strange to me that so many cornet players seem to have such a strong antipathy against spending money for music, or anything which possibly might help them to improve their condition in music and so perhaps eventually bring in more money. Yet they smoke cigars, and never kick over spending at least a dollar a day for little extravagances that really count for nothing. If these same people would spend only a few dollars weekly for cornet methods and studies written by different authors, getting from these various writers their individual ideas as to playing the cornet correctly, and thereby gaining new suggestions to work out for themselves, in a short time their advancement would be noticeable.

In time, every dollar expended in the manner mentioned will bring in from ten to one hundred more. Even in the music profession money makes money, as well as in commercial life. When spent for a good instrument, good instruction, or good music of any sort, a dollar never is thrown away by a person who desires to make a success with the cornet.

My father always advised me to hear good music whenever possible, and to especially study the work of the different soloists, whether vocalists or instrumentalists, and acting on this advice I made it a point to be present every time a good concert company or fine musical organization appeared in town. This, of course, cost me money, as I had to hire a substitute for my evening work, besides paying admission fee into the concert, yet I never allowed myself to pass any opportunity that I thought might help me in my music education.

It was by taking advantage of these opportunities that I gained instruction which has helped me even more than as if I had placed myself under the guidance of academic tuition, for one can form a better idea as to how standard music should be interpreted by hearing great artists than can be gained from all the printed and verbal explanations in the world. Therefore, I considered my money well spent when listening to the best artists of the time, and simply sat and absorbed all the good in music that was possible. Nowadays, the phonograph and the radio make wonderful educators when the best in music is heard from them.

It seems strange to me now that I leaned so strongly towards singers principally, yet such was the case, I listened carefully to their renditions of songs and arias, hearing and noting the proper interpretation of the words when combined with music. I learned to judge the correct phrasing of the songs I loved the best, whether sentimental or dramatic, and tried to convey the same meaning of the text by my cornet when playing them. This was much more difficult than playing the regular published cornet solos,even though the latter required greater technique; and I also realized that it exacted more thought, concentration and even endurance than did the playing of ordinary brilliant solos.


But the strictly cornet work was not neglected because of the song playing, for it was by attending these various concerts that I became familiar with the playing of great celebrities, such as Jules Levy, pioneer of the cornet and most powerful and brilliant soloist of the age, Walter Emerson who was an exceptionally good soloist, Liberati the neatest and most dashing soloist I ever heard in those days; and the great trombonist, Fred Neil Innes, who, although not a cornetist, could execute on his trombone any cornet solo in Levy's repertoire with marvelous dexterity and fidelity to the original. There also were many lesser lights, all of whom were excellent in their individual line of work.

In later years it was my good fortune to meet and become intimately acquainted with the great players mentioned, as I found that merely exchanging ideas with them were lessons almost priceless, each one having a distinctive individuality in his playing which had made him renowned throughout the entire country. Boy-like, I tried to imitate their playing in my amateurish way when doing my daily practicing and naturally without any great degree of success, but I soon began to distinguish the more minute differences in their styles. I never once thought of criticizing their playing, as all were too great for me to try to find any flow or faults, and I didn't have the nerve to attempt it.

After an evening at a concert where I had listened to any one of the great ones play, I would go home and lie awake half the night thinking of all that I had heard, and as my memory was good (at least in music matters) I could follow mentally the solos they had played almost note for note. Of all these many concerts I attended, the most impressive was one in which I heard the inimitable Patti sing the simple little ballad of Home, Sweet Home. I sat entranced, and when she had finished, like the rest of the audience I had tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. Her singing of the old song was a revelation which induced me to try to imitate her on the cornet, although I realized it would be next to impossible. Nevertheless, it helped to purify my tone and taught me to play as softly as such a songstress must sing when rendering simple songs in a way to affect an entire audience as it had me.


This style of practice did not tire my lips as did playing the brilliant cornet solos but seemed to rest them, Still, I realized that the public demanded pyrotechnical demonstrations on the cornet, so each morning after my regular practice on the scales in all their different forms I would tackle some of the solos I had heard these great cornetists render, and the recollection of the pitch of enthusiasm to which they had aroused their audiences filled me with greater ambition than ever. I would play and play until my poor lips refused to vibrate and I was forced to rest, I would pickup some music magazine and read of their success until I was again fired with ambition and filled with aspirations to become as celebrated as were they, then pick up my cornet and go at it again with greater zest than before.

In those days I did not know how to govern or control my practice. There was no one to correct faults but myself, and in boyish ways I let many mistakes pass without rectifying them as I should have done. Everyone knows that as a rule boys are not blessed with much philosophy, not to mention common sense, yet they think they know a lot about almost everything. With us boys in those days daily practice meant that so many pages of exercises were necessary to build up a strong lip, instead of one exercise being practiced and played faultless before a whole page was attempted.

I remember a date when the famous Gilmore's Band was booked for a concert, and on the morning it arrived in town I was at the depot to have a look at these wonderful musicians who were supposed to be the greatest instrumental performers in the world. When the train pulled in and the men left the cars, I stood back in awe as they passed me, although I gladly would have helped "tote" their instruments to the hotel if I had had the nerve to approach any of them. I wanted to speak with the celebrated Ben Bent solo cornetist, and question him as to the correct way of practicing so that I might become a good player myself. But I could not muster enough courage to brazen it out and approach him, and so he too walked off with the rest of the bandsmen. I realized that with his going I had let an opportunity slip by, and for so doing never really quite forgave myself, as perhaps I might have learned more in a few minutes conversation with this solo cornet player, than so far, I had from all my studying. Anyway, I attended the concert and was enthralled beyond words by the playing of this magnificent aggregation, which then was the only traveling band in the United States. Oh, how to me our own town band sounded at our next rehearsal! For the first time I began to notice the mistakes we all made that were allowed to pass by the leader, and to observe how little he made of dynamic and expression marks, carrying everything through without trying to produce contrasts, and without paying any attention whatever to proper interpretation.

Right then and there I made up my mind that if I became a good cornet player I would make every endeavor to become a member of Gilmore's great band, which was the best in the world; and well it might be as it was made up of picked men from all countries, and comprised the best players that could be procured. My young friend, Walter Rogers, appealed to me as being a mighty good cornetist, he did everything so easily on the instrument, and really was my model. He could read anything at sight, and we used to play cornet duets together so frequently that gradually I learned more from him through observation than by hearing anyone else.

Sorry to say, I shortly lost both the companionship and playing of Rogers, for when the spring of 1885 was approaching he had a call from Cappa, the then celebrated bandmaster of the New York Seventh Regiment Band. Cappa had heard Walter play a few solos, and was surprised at his wonderful display of technique and style. He at once engaged him as the cornet soloist of the big band, and so Rogers left Indianapolis for bigger things in New York. I was so proud because of my friend securing one of the best cornet positions in the big metropolitan city that I could not have been more overjoyed had it been myself. We were all proud of him! This was amply testified when he left for New York, as all the musicians in Indianapolis gave him a grand "send-off"; for he not only was recognized as the best cornetist in the city, but was well liked because of his genial disposition. What was most gratifying to all, however, was to think that one of our town boys had been sought to fill one of the best cornet positions in the country. Rogers went to New York and made good.

The director of the theatre orchestra in which Rogers had been playing, engaged me to take his place. This of course was quite an advancement for me, but I knew it would be necessary to put in some mighty hard work even to try to fill the position the best I could. To make good on the job I started into practice with greater zest, always thinking of Rogers, and wondering if it were possible for me ever to become good enough as a cornetist to secure some sort of an engagement in the great American metropolis where I could hear the best in music at all times and perhaps be more or less associated with world renowned musicians. I argued it out with myself that, if one fellow from a country town was sufficiently good to compete with the best cornet players in New York City, possibly there might be a chance for another if he studied carefully, faithfully and sincerely!