During the summer of 1886 the band (the "When Band" of Indianapolis mentioned last month) was quite busy, principally with the regular band concerts in the park, parades, and picnics. The pay for these engagements, averaging about fifteen dollars a week, paid my living expenses, and yielded some extra money with which I purchased more music for the cornet.
By this time I had a good-sized collection of methods, exercise books, and cornet solos, many printed in Europe, which I obtained through the music stores in town. I wanted to get every author's ideas on the method by which he learned to play the cornet, for, as I worked on, I began to realize that no two cornet players play exactly alike, any more than there are two faces exactly alike in the whole world. Consequently, I, myself, must work out the easiest and most natural way to play. To do this, I determined to observe the different cornetists I met, talk with them and get their ideas, read all the text material in the standard methods, and practice according to the instructions given in each book. Carrying all this out required much experimenting on my part, but I was always careful not to abuse my lips, nor to play harshly.
STRUGGLES TOWARD PERFECTION
I started to study music magazine advertising telling "how to become a good cornet player without any special practice" through the agency of a lip salve, embouchure ointment, or high C mouthpieces. Of course, I sent for each article, trying it out according to the directions that accompanied each package. You see, I was bound I would become a good player, and when I saw the testimonials from prominent cornetists endorsing these artificial "helps," I thought they might improve my playing. After using them a while my playing was no better, in fact, I seemed to go backwards, so I resumed my practice of elementary exercises, playing as before, slowly and correctly, carrying in my mind each note before sounding it. Building a firm foundation, strengthening my embouchure, as well as purifying my tone, were the results of such practice, which has proved to me to be the best and surest road to success. I discarded all artifice and adhered to the manner most natural for me, practicing for endurance and perfection.
To gain proper experience we must experiment with all kinds of suggestions offered by well meaning friends. To this end, I believe, I have tried every manner of playing the cornet that one could think of in order to find out which best suited me. I tried many different theories, such as playing with wet lips, dry lips, puckered lips, loose lips, or rigid lips - about everything I was told to do - and arrived at the point of almost complete discouragement. Yet I kept right on because I loved the instrument.
When looking back upon those days I feel glad that I tried all these different ways, for I could not have had better training in learning to think, to reason out by myself just which style was best suited to me, and to prove that my own method of practice helped me most. Thereafter, no matter who criticized me, I adhered to that style, being perfectly content to be called a "rotten player" when I could feel an improvement in my playing each week. In certain ways I must have been obstinate, but it was this very youthful stubbornness combined with common sense, which helped me, more than anything else to reach success.
It is my advice to all interested readers that they listen to people who tell them how to play the cornet correctly, whether they think the adviser is right or wrong, as everyone has a new suggestion to offer. Sometimes it is amusing to ask a certain type of "know-it-all" to demonstrate himself, the brilliant performance to be obtained from the knowledge of his "secret", for it will generally be found that no "demonstration" will be forthcoming.
While the band was preparing for the big State Band Contest, which was to take place early in October, 1886, I was working hard on the solo that I was to play for the cornet competition, rehearsing it carefully with the band in order to become thoroughly used to the accompaniment. When alone in my room I worked faithfully on one phrase at a time, playing it over and over before trying the entire solo, and soon I could play the whole fairly well.
MY CAUSTIC CRITIC AGAIN
At this time I again heard from the man who had previously brought my many errors to my notice. One day he came into my room and listened to my rendition of the solo. When I had finished playing it, he again admonished me, "Why don't you play it in a brilliant style?" You play every note, but use only one quality of tone, as though you were a machine, and not as a soloist should play. Put some "ginger" into it! By the way, he was our drum major, Will Manson, a fine looking man with a military bearing. When the band played a concert, he was our third alto, but his knowledge of fingering on the alto and his musical education were rather limited. Knowing this, it made me angry to think that he had the audacity to criticize my playing so much, and yet his finding fault made me work twice as hard, just to show him some day that I would reach my goal. In that way I believed I could square all differences between us.
I tried his suggestions regarding brilliancy of tone, and found that it took so much effort and wind that when I came to the finish of the solo my lips just "petered out", and I could not make a proper climax. Here was another phase of cornet playing which I must work on. It seemed to me that there were so many angles to the study of the cornet, and so many different styles, that I must begin a regular routine of practice to cover them all. Although it appeared to me at times that I was not progressing, I really was gradually improving, and this gave me more confidence. I reasoned that I must practice for endurance, and not tire my lips with too constant playing. Alternating short rest periods with those of playing kept my lips fresh and pliable, and enabled me to finish a day's practice with more ease and comfort than ever before.
I PLAY UNDER A FAMOUS MAN
Prior to the band contest, our band was engaged as escort for a Knight's Templar Commandery bound for the Triennial Conclave held at St. Louis, Missouri. We were in fine condition when we arrived, and made a very good appearance. The band received congratulations from all over the country from citizens and bandsmen alike, when it wheeled about in its different formations while playing on parade. The engagement lasted a week and there was plenty of playing to be done; it seemed these Knights Templar never went to bed, because we were kept up all night, serenading other Commanderies. There were at least a hundred bands in the city that week. Hearing the different groups play and mixing with their members, I learned much. And it was here I first met Fred Weldon, who came down from Chicago with the Second Regiment Band, at the head of the Chicago Commandery.
Gilmore's famous band was then playing at the Exposition, and all my spare time was spent listening to his wonderful concerts, which were an education for me. I heard Ben Bent play several solos, which also gave me more food for thought. He was an excellent cornetist, with the most natural and musical tone I had ever heard. One morning Mr. Gilmore invited every band in town to report at the fair grounds for a massed band concert, and there must have been a thousand or more musicians playing under the direcion of the great bandmaster. It was a wonderful experience, and my enthusiasm for band music mounted higher and higher. My but I was proud to play under him! Perhaps some of my readers were present at this massed band concert, and remember the occasion.
This engagement was a great experience for us all, and we returned to Indianapolis with a wider scope of knowledge, and a much better band in every respect.