The Art of Cornet-Playing
Herbert L. Clarke expresses during the early parts of his career about “trying” to find different ways to accomplish certain goals in his cornet-playing. In one instance, he mentions “trying to give a good performance” in order to reinforce a positive opinion about his reputation from the public. However, for Timothy Gallwey and others, developing the inner skills is not established on a “try” basis, but rather on a “do” basis. Well, how does one “do” well on certain techniques or exercises?
For Clarke, he developed his inner skills by hard work and learning proper instruction of techniques from his teachers and fellow associates—such as in cornet, violin, viola, or even conducting. He learned from his willingness to experiment and make mistakes, in which perseverance and determination advanced him even further towards his greatest abilities on the cornet. Herbert learned best later in his career by studying many different teachers’ methods, works of literature, and musical studies relating to cornet performance. All of this led him to the discovery of his own technique—one that was more personally and perfectly fit for him.
Many decades later, hundreds if not thousands of high-brass players today now use his techniques and studies to build up their own skills. While he may have called his technique ”trying”, he was actually ”doing”, based on the writings of Timothy Gallwey. Herbert intuitively realized that “trying” rather than “doing” could potentially be a less effective mindset for playing well consistently. Therefore, it led him towards a key realization in his playing later on: that relaxed concentration is the true basis for self-confidence, and the secret to winning in his performances is, ironically, obtained by not trying too hard.
Herbert L. Clarke was able to perform effortlessly, expressively, and is well-renowned for his virtuosity and musical eloquence by brass players all around the world. Clarke did work hard, and he reaped the rewards for his labors. His students back in the 19th century had the opportunity to see his technique and grow from that. Today, brass players can still grow from his teachings by reading his studies and having the right mental image of the technique and stance. By him having the right mindset (i.e. doing rather than trying) during his practices and performances, he was able to teach future players about the “inner game of cornet-playing”—even when it wasn’t coined back then as the “inner game.”
The Applications of the Inner Game
The inner game of music can influence or inspire psychological aspects pertaining to one’s performance on whatever music-related task they seek to perform—such as being able to play music fluently with a proper amount of expression, emotion, and technique during a performance or even during a time of rehearsal or self-preparation. The inner game for a musician can entail achieving musicianship to its fullest potential and being able to freely express said music without lapses in concentration, nervousness, self-doubt, and self-condemnation.
For Herbert L. Clarke, we have observed that he went through many development stages of his inner game and career, which ultimately led him to be the world-renowned cornet virtuoso that he was and is still to this today.
Looking back at Timothy Gallwey’s book, The Inner Game of Tennis, Timothy illustrates to his readers the “reflections on the mental side” of tennis (we can replace tennis with music for now). He emphasizes the importance of how properly developing inner skills (by understanding how to properly execute the achievement of high performance) can allow folks to win at the inner game of…well, any matter at hand. For this matter, we focus our attention on music and cornet-playing.
Readers can take away from Gallwey’s work the importance of the two composed parts of every “game”—the outer game and the inner game. The outer game consists of playing against external opponents to overcome external obstacles and to reach an external goal. The inner game takes place in the mind of the player and is played against obstacles such as lapses in concentration, nervousness, self-doubt, and self-condemnation (or to overcome all habits of mind which inhibit excellence in performance).
When relating these two parts to the life of Herbert L. Clarke, we can observe that Herbert’s external game was tied to the factors of winning over his audience in order to obtain his hard-earned recognition and reputation. Clarke’s inner game may have comprised of moments where he would balance “trying” versus “doing” when bettering his skills on the cornet. Additionally, as mentioned in the first part of this blog series, Clarke did not tell himself and/or others that “he was good” because he knew that his career had not reached its end; he still strived to learn more throughout his lifetime and to better his own playing.
Let’s expand on this concept of ”doing” by looking at an example, shall we? Clarke also strived to visually demonstrate to his students rather than just verbally teach his methods and proper playing techniques. We may not have direct, face-to-face instruction from Mr. Clarke himself today, but because he taught many individuals during his lifetime, we have the opportunity to see and hear from many of his past students that are still among us.
To tie in Gallwey’s work of the inner game to Clarke’s teaching methods, we can see that sometimes “images are better than words, showing is better than telling, [and] too much instruction is worse than none…”. Visual demonstration more easily leads to “doing” because it’s purely physical, removing the mental feedback, while less tangible verbal demonstration will encourage “trying” because verbal explanations of a visual action are less clear, creating more uncertainty and therefore disruptive self-talk. We have access to lots of written and verbal resources and information in today’s society, but seeing the instruction and its application to our lives is crucial and can benefit us in the long term. The ultimatum of this is to have access to both sources—that is, the teaching and the teacher—and to develop a personal palette of specialized skills.
Coming off from this, we as brass players can then discover good techniques and effective approaches on how to perform, or even practice, with elegance and good musicianship all throughout. Quoting Timothy Gallwey on this, “knowledge of technique learned by one person can give another an advantage in discovering what technique works best.” By furthering our knowledge and understanding of Herbert L. Clarke’s life and Timothy Gallwey’s work, we may further achieve the inner game of cornet-playing by “doing” rather than “trying”.
Gallwey, T. (2008). The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance (Paperback ed.). New York City, NY: Random House, Inc.. (Original work published 1974)
Clarke, H. L. (1970). The Cornet and the Cornetist: A Historical Series of Cornet Talks (pp. 5-8). Detroit, MI: Glenn D. Bridges. (Original work published 1923)
Clarke, H. L. (1970). How I Became A Cornetist: The Autobiography of a Cornet-Playing Pilgrim’s Progress (pp. 64-68). Kenosha, WI: G. LeBlanc Corporation. (Original work published 1934)