I waited until my lips were thoroughly healed of their soreness caused by inadvertent contact with a frosted cornet mouthpiece (this happened, you will remember, when playing for my first time out-of-doors in a twenty-degree below zero temperature), and then resumed practice, only now in a different way from that which heretofore, I had been following. I established for myself a rule of regular routine, and ceased trying to acquire in a short time what I really sensed could be accomplished only through a more or less extended period. Experience obtained from constant attendance of the band rehearsals had taught me that nothing was to be gained by trying to play when my lips were tired, for they not only would swell but fail to vibrate and respond as they ought. So, in order to overcome this trouble, I would practice for only ten minutes at one time, and then rest a few minutes to allow the blood in the lips to again flow normally. The entire time of these ten-minute periods was devoted to practicing the same elementary study many times over very carefully. This not only served to make me become more accurate in my general playing, but gave me greater self-confidence.
After completing this regular daily routine, my next move would be to take the march book of the band and try to play an entire piece through without stopping. Of course I succeeded in accomplishing this after a while, as I was playing only the third cornet part which was confined wholly to the middle registers. Nevertheless, so many of the notes were what are known as the "after beats" that my practice-playing must have sounded rather strange to anyone hearing me. Then I became anxious to develop myself in the first cornet parts which of course contained the melody, but such wished-for consummation proved itself to be very far distant, and this for the simple reason that my embouchure being weak and underdeveloped, I could not play the high tones and keep it up for any length of time.
A BIT OF BOYISH POPULARITY
As the one boy in school who belonged to a regimental band and this regiment being the "crack" military organization of Canada at the time, I grew to be quite popular among the other boys, many of whom harbored aspirations themselves of some day becoming members of the same regiment. Away back in the "eighties" all the public schools of Toronto included in their regular course drilling and the manual of arms. These drill exercises were considered as important as were mathematics, history or grammar. One hour each day was given up to the drilling, and once a week we were inspected by an officer in the regular service, who also taught us marching and how to handle arms - possibly a sort of "preparedness" in case of war! Under such a regime, it is hardly necessary to say that when the boys had graduated and become eligible to join a regiment, they did not remain long in the "awkward squad," having learned military tactics while in school.
It was about this time that I began to play cornet in Sunday school, leading the singing, and naturally had to learn how to transpose and play the hymns a tone higher than the keys in which they were written. This at first was something very difficult for me, as when a hymn was written in, say the key of C, I had to play in D (two sharps), and so on. To gain confidence in transposing, I took the hymn book home and commenced the study of transposition by writing out the various hymns a tone higher. This was wonderful help, but I very soon discovered that it would be necessary for me to play in many more keys than were only in two sharps or two flats, I commenced playing them in three, four, five and even six sharps and flats. At the start this was extremely difficult. I was obliged to play everything very slowly, thinking carefully of each note and interval while pressing my fingers down on the valves with determination. And thus it was that in due time I mastered nearly all the keys by thoroughly practicing their scales.
AN EMBOUCHURE EXPERIENCE
I hold very vivid recollection of the first time I played for the Sunday singing. The opening hymn was Jesus, Lover of My Soul written in the key of G and this I had to play on my B-flat cornet in the key of A (three sharps) in order to be with the singers. You can imagine that it took some mighty keen thinking on my part not to make any mistakes, which not only would have sounded horribly raucous and out of tune, but might easily have thrown the singers off the key. There were four verses to the hymn. The first and second verses went along all right, but as the accompanist did not play an interlude between the successive verses and each verse came right along after the other, there was not the ghost of a chance for me to rest between verses or even wipe my lips for a fresh start.
What made matters worse was that I had started the hymn with a fine big tone played in full strength. After the second verse was played I felt that by the time the end of the third one was reached my lips would be all in and - they were! Nevertheless, I had enough grit to stick it out and made up my mind to go through with the fourth verse or "bust." Of course I did not do that last named thing, but playing the hymn through to its finish required more stamina and greater physical exertion than would have been needed to break the running record for a fast mile. It certainly was an awkward situation in which I found myself, my face was the color of a beet from the exertion and enforced strain I was enduring, and I seemed to feel that my eyes were fairly popping from their sockets. I could not stop playing, however, for inasmuch as I was sitting on the platform in full view of the people and doing my first church playing, it would have been most embarrassing and humiliating if I had been forced to quit, and so - I stuck! I sincerely hoped that the next hymn would have only two verses at the most, and then began to worry whether, after all, I would be able to play through another tune. No one ever can know my intense relief when for the second hymn the superintendent of the school announced: "We will next sing two verses of Pull for the Shore, Sailor." That indeed was a blessing for me, and as this hymn was taken at a much quicker tempo than the first it did not tire my lips so badly. It surely was some embouchure experience for me, and playing through that opening hymn was the first time I ever was obliged to exert all my power of will to combat physical exhaustion. Pride, however, forced me into doing what I would have believed then impossible; it also taught me a man's lesson.
As a passing thought - I wonder how many of my readers ever have experienced their "first time" of playing in church, and perhaps passed through a similar trial of mental suffering and physical strain induced by trying to play four verses of a slow hymn? The experience proved of excellent service to me, nevertheless, for it started me trying to play through as many verses of the different hymns as was possible without a stop. Strange to tell, this practice not only helped in building up my embouchure, but enabled me to play everything better and easier than any practice I ever before had tried.
There is no better experience for a young cornetist, after he has made a certain degree of advancement on his instrument, than church or Sunday playing. The very knowledge that he is playing before an audience (congregation) gives him a new confidence in himself, besides inspiring him to the endurance necessary for finishing in good condition. As regards myself, I stuck to the Sunday school playing during that entire winter, which greatly improved my band work. At home too, I began to practice, playing "softly" to keep my lips from tiring so easily, and that purified my tone to the extent that I no longer had to use a mute when playing in the orchestra.
MERCANTILE VERSUS THE MUSICAL
When school closed for the summer, I became obsessed with an idea of securing some kind of work and earning money thereby, perhaps gathering in a few dollars wherewith to obtain music and methods for the cornet, with possibly a few solos for practice work. To further this end my mother permitted me to answer an advertisement in one of the morning papers, which called for a boy to work in a large printing house. I made my application in person, and from out of some twenty-odd boys (likewise looking for a job) the firm selected me for the place, starting me in as "proof-reader", "errand-boy" or some such responsible position at a salary of $1.50 a week. To meet the requirements of the place it became necessary for me to get out of bed at 5:30 o'clock in the morning that I might make connections with my "office" promptly at 7:30A.M. Then came an hour for lunch at 12 P.M. and at 6:00 P.M. I graciously was permitted to call it a day and start for home. All this being a new experience for me, I rather liked it at first - or did until it began to dawn upon my mind that merchandise and music were not meeting on even grounds.
It soon became only too apparent that after starting the day at 5:30 A.M. and working steadily until 6:00 P.M. I was in no condition for cornet practice. After I had reached home, eaten my supper, and then begun on the evening music routine, I had found myself getting so sleepy that it was impossible to keep awake and practice; thus my cornet gradually began to be sadly neglected. This worried me, and I commenced to reason matters out with myself. I reasoned that by continuing work at the printing house my practice eventually would lose ground, and with this thought came action. I had started working on a Thursday morning, and I quit on the succeeding Saturday night without stopping to ask for any pay: neither did I show upon the following Monday, nor send any notice that I had quit. The sum total of my reasoning had been - if business interfered with cornet playing, give up the business! When I did not get out of bed Monday on the usual 5:30 schedule mother said nothing. She knew!
Having thrown over the mercantile, I again picked up the musical and now resumed my cornet practice with greater enthusiasm than ever, if such were possible. Nor did I entirely lose out on the financial by making the sudden shift, for during all that summer I played with the Regimental Band, at Hanlan's Point on the island for $1.00 a concert once a week. With the coming of September I started going to school as usual and when autumn arrived, became greatly interested in football. Being a husky fellow for my age, I was made fullback on a crackerjack boys' football team, but that proved my physical undoing, as from it, there resulted a long hiatus in all playing.
I would work very hard at practicing football after school hours and, when overheated and perspiring profusely, had a habit of lying down on the cold ground to cool off. As a result of such carelessness, I contracted a very heavy cold that quickly turned into congestion of the lungs, terminating in a serious illness which confined me to the house from early December to the following April. No more cornet or any other kind of playing were to be mine for five long, weary months! Even the doctor finally lost hope, stating that I was a pretty sick boy with one lung gone and the other seriously affected. My sickness quite naturally interfered with all school progress for a time, but when convalescing my studies were all brought home to me by boy friends, so that, in a way, I kept up with school work, although not allowed out of doors for three months.
I omitted to mention that while I was sick the band called in its cornet, thus leaving me without any instrument. One day after I had begun to sit up, thinking that my brother Ed would let me use his cornet occasionally, I asked the doctor if I might be allowed to play a little. His reply was that it would be better to wait until he felt sure that I was well on the way too complete recovery, However, it was only a short time later (I had so greatly gained in strength) that he allowed me to practice on an old alto horn we had in the house. At first, my practicing was restricted to only ten minutes a day, but extended itself gradually to half an hour, and then still longer periods.
Heaven bless that good doctor! He attributed the gradual restoration of my health to the easy blowing on that old alto horn, and stopped giving me drugs, saying that this quiet playing was the best medicine of all! I firmly believe that it was his sound advice which really cured me, for this easy playing required taking a full breath upon beginning to play, then breathing deeply and without strain. In later years I developed an unlimited breath control, and today have a most excellent pair of lungs.