Submitted by Jeff Purtle on Fri, 06/10/2016 - 15:43

Beyond any question, boyhood associations and surroundings, particularly the closely intimate ones of home relationships, have a strong bearing upon the molding of a man the marking and making of his future career. Therefore, at this point of my autobiographical story it perhaps is as well to briefly outline my immediate family circle, for it had much to do with my career with my love of band music as a boy, and from the very beginning when I entered this world, placed me in a musical environment that played a large part in turning me to the musically artistic as a life profession.

My father was William Horatio Clarke, a celebrated organist, a writer, composer and genius, who could play almost every stringed and wind instrument. He was a very quiet man, yet nevertheless was full of fun, a fine entertainer, and very fond of his children. There were five boys in the family, I being the fourth, and as far back as I can remember, our father used to play all kinds of games with us every night before we retired. Four of us were closely connected in so far as ages were concerned; the eldest being my senior by only five years, with the other two falling in between. So we all had good times together as youngsters, but with no thoughts in those earlier years of ever following music professionally.


As my brothers will be brought into this story occasionally (all of us growing up in the musical atmosphere created by our good father), and as perhaps pointing out how the playing together of us four brothers for our own amusement and fun in the early days was a factor in shaping my career, I will make the readers acquainted with their individual identity.

The first son was Will, who later became a fine organist and pianist, but who did not make music a profession, as have the other three, and is now a successful business man.

The second son, Edwin, started music with the violin and later took up the cornet, but completed the study of the violin and has been an orchestra leader for years. He was bandmaster of the Twenty-first Infantry of the Regular Army and served in Cuba throughout the Spanish-American War. Later on he played cornet in Sousa's Band, and after giving up professional playing served for seven years as Mr. Sousa's general manager.

The third son, Ernest, is a trombone player of note. He was solo trombonist in Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore's great aggregation up to the time of that famous bandmasters death, and afterwards became associated with the late Victor Herbert. He entered into the orchestral field, and played in the New York Symphony Orchestra under Dr. Walter Damrosch for some fifteen years. My father, although a really fine organist and pianist, as I have said before, never ceased to be a devoted student of these instruments, practicing for hours daily. When only a mere child, I used to be awakened in the early hours of every morning by hearing him practice such music as the Bach Fugues and other organ and piano compositions, all of high standard and classical nature.

My father was so thorough in his study and work that he never was quite satisfied with himself, but was ever striving to become more perfect in his technique.


My mind reverts to the childhood days when we moved from my birthplace (Woburn, Massachusetts) to Dayton, Ohio, my father having accepted a position in the latter city as church organist and music director of the public schools. I was then between four and five years of age, and having shown a taste for band music was provided with a drum as my first band instrument, I played fairly well for a kid - walking up and down the yard while drumming, humming tunes to its playing and imagining myself a whole band. O, how I did love band of music! All my youthful dreams were filled with bands and uniforms!

It was about this time that our father became curious to learn how much musical talent we boys had, if any, and to try the thing out he purchased four small-sized violins for us. He began our teaching by showing us the proper way of holding the instrument, how to hold and use the bow and where to place the fingers; then he wrote some simple music in quartet form, giving each boy a part. Of course, we were extremely awkward at first in trying to hold the violin correctly, while at the same time holding the bow in the proper manner to produce a musical tone. However, father was very patient with us and explained so thoroughly, yet simply, how to "make sounds" that we managed to play our parts together somehow and heard the results. It must have been pretty crude as music, but to me it sounded like a regular orchestra and I was proud of being able to take part in a real ensemble.

When the music was placed before me and the notes explained, what each one meant, and I was shown where and how to properly place the fingers to reproduce in tone the

itten notes - although it was the first time I had ever noticed written music - its reading seemed to come quite naturally to me, for I at once grasped the sense of it, I was then only about five years old, and have read music ever since. It was only natural that, after we had rehearsed and could play his little composition, father was quite proud to see his experiment prove fruitful.

This apparently trivial and seemingly unimportant part of these reminiscences may not be of any great interest to the readers, yet it has been introduced with a definite purpose in view - the accentuation of the value in environment and atmosphere when beginning with music, I wish to impress upon my colleagues the point that, having been brought up within the best of musical environments, perhaps I have had more and greater opportunities than the average boy. Father never would allow us to play harshly or at all coarsely (i.e. vulgarly); he taught us that music was an ART, not a TRADE and being of an extremely sensitive nature himself he could not and would not endure "noise" in music.


It was this strictness of musical atmosphere which was the foundation of my success later on. I never was permitted to let the slightest mistakes pass uncorrected when practicing, but was taught to correct and conquer even the most simple one immediately, while still but a child, I was instructed in carefulness; carefulness in holding the violin properly, in drawing the bow straight across the strings in order to produce a pure tone, and in placing the fingers correctly and firmly on the strings. It is astounding how many beginners on musical instruments are allowed to become careless, they themselves not realizing what it means or how much work will have to be undone and done over later on in life.  To me this negligence in the case of a beginner in music is the same as that of a child who when beginning the study of the multiplication table is permitted to guess of results, such as two times two equals six, or seven times six equals sixteen, and so on.

The very first "guess" should be corrected and reasons explained; the child should be made to understand why twice two equals four. I classify all uncorrected errors as "microbes" which, although invisible to the naked eye, are deadly - even more deadly than an animal as big as an elephant.

One can run away or hide from or dodge an elephant, but not so with a microbe. These minute organisms multiply rapidly and in large number if not immediately driven out of the system.

That was the method of our father when instructing us boys in playing. He always was gentle; never harsh, but firm. He demonstrated exactly what he wanted us to do by playing it himself on the violin; showed us the artistic side of good, pure music, while making us realize that it was the same as the true sentiment in poetry and fine painting, thus constantly leading us to play in a refined manner as well as in an environment and atmosphere of music-refinement.


I did nothing much in music for some years afterwards. I never disclosed talent at all approaching that of the "prodigy" in music, and as I grew into the boy of eight or ten years my pleasures consisted of baseball and other healthy out-of-doors sports. However, my enthusiasm for bands and band music never diminished, and when ever one was heard playing I followed it. Many a mile have I walked beside a band, falling behind occasionally and then running ahead to catch up again, perfectly contented to keep it up all day long and never feeling tired until reaching home.

How many of my readers remember the Presidential Campaign of 1876? I recall the torchlight processions of both political parties prior to the election; the bugle corps, fife and drum corps and bands of all kinds marching with and playing for hundreds of men some carrying banners with campaign slogans; all bearing torches or wearing caps holding torches, and draped in multi-colored capes. I would lie awake nights listening to bands playing with them. In that same year of 1876 we all visited the great centenial Exposition at Philadelphia. We remained for several weeks, yet all that I can remember of that wonderful fair are the bands which I heard.

In the meantime father had moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, to start in the manufacturing of church organs and to assume the position of organist at the Roberts Park Church, building the organ upon which he played for several years there. I began my schooling in Indianapolis and brought to light a very bad habit of drumming on the desk with my fingers, for which I often was punished. However, I could not seem to check the habit and carried it home with me, to the sorrow of my parents who often scolded me in consequence.

It was a symptom of the band fever which l had had from a child, so it is no wonder that I drifted into band work later on in life, although against my parents wishes. But, boys, I just felt it all through me, and know that there are many of you who feel exactly the same yet don't quite know how to get it out of your system. I never dreamed of being a cornet player then, but simply loved music in every form. It was not until many years afterwards that I really took an interest in my chosen instrument, and realized that by devoting enough time and thought and with proper practice I could become a good player of the cornet. At that time baseball occupied all my spare time, and I really was a good player, too. I got hurt along with the others, once breaking the third finger of my right hand. Of course, boy-fashion, I was rather proud of my accident and never told my mother of the injury, in consequence of which it never received proper attention and bothers me in my technique even today.

Father left Indianapolis in 1878 to accept a call as organist at the Tremont Temple in Boston, Massachusetts and as usual we all went with him, taking up the family residence in Somerville just outside of Boston. We lived there two years, and then come a fresh outbreak of the band fever, all because of my brother Edwin. He organized a little school orchestra of eight or ten boys which used to meet and rehearse weekly at the homes of the different members, and when Ed's turn come to have the orchestra at our home I was allowed to remain up later than usual and listen to it play. I was proud of Ed because he was the leader and played the violin, but that did not help to check the fever.

Later on Ed purchased a cornet, took a few lessons, and shortly afterwards joined the Somerville Brass Band. His teacher, Mr. Boardman, was the bandmaster, and took quite an interest in Ed and his work. Well, perhaps now I was doubly proud of my brother and especially so when he was in full uniform. On the very first parade he made with the band I marched beside him over the entire route, gratuitously informing the public that "This is my BROTHER playing the cornet!"