Herbert L. Clarke & Timothy Gallway: The Inner Game of Cornet-Playing (Part I)

Hello and welcome to the Bájoc Brass Blog! In today’s blog post, we talk about how the classic guide to the mental side of peak performance offered by Timothy Gallwey can compare or relate to the life and career of the famous cornet virtuoso and teacher, Herbert L. Clarke.

The Inner Game — What Is It?

When it comes to fully mastering the art of the inner game, one must know of and master the elements that are tied to it.  Individuals must learn how to apply and execute the many mental factors, fundamentals, and techniques that are tied to what the player is specializing in—like playing the cornet, for example.  So…what is the inner game?

W. Timothy Gallwey

As Timothy Gallwey describes the inner game in his book, The Inner Game of Tennis, it is a game where one must achieve skill mastery and learn the fundamentals of their specialization while being aware of the mind and not allowing it to cause mental interference during a performance.  The inner game, being made up of two parts, can influence overall performance if there is an unbalance between the two mindsets.

The first mindset is called Self 1, or “the teller,” where it gives instructions and is a mindset filled with self-judgments and criticism; this mindset wants to over-control your performance. 

To illustrate, suppose during a practice session or let’s say even during a performance, a cornet player accidentally cracks a note in the middle of playing a simple phrase.  This mistake may or may not have happened on some occasion before, but the common reaction of the mind would be for it to voice something along these lines: “Ugh, c’mon…that articulation was so sloppy that I bet everyone from everywhere heard it and will now forever remember that muddled-up, melodic mishmash…you call that music?!…get it together.”  Or maybe even this: “Geez, this stupid mouthpiece isn’t working with my stupid lips…I’ve been playing for close to 5 hours now, and still my technique is way off…maybe I should buy another gold-plated $300-$400 mouthpiece?  That’ll solve all my cornet-playing problems…”

Hopefully, these [extreme] examples, whether they are or are not relevant to you in your life, have shed some light on the negative drawbacks of “the teller” and how Self 1 can affect you and your inner game.

The second mindset is called Self 2, or “the doer,” which is the best mindset for peak performance and allows the full expression of a player’s potential to perform, learn and enjoy; this mindset flourishes from being in a state of little interference and allows for natural capabilities and reactions to take part of the performance.

With attention to Self 2, we should be able to let ourselves freely react to all stimuli—that is, with no mental interferences or constraints being present during the time of performing—that our physical and mental parts of our body have trained and worked up for.

By practicing, it helps players work toward developing a good palette of specialized skills.  During practice, players should open their palette of specialized skills and seek to perfect their skills using the best of their abilities.  Stepping away from practice, players should then be able to perform and trust Self 2 to instinctively let the specialized skills “happen,” based on what the players have learned during their times of practice.

Now, let’s look at how the inner game ties into the life story of famous cornet virtuoso and teacher, Herbert L. Clarke, shall we?

Herbert L. Clarke — His Life Story

Herbert L. Clarke

In the early parts of his life, Herbert L. Clarke was educated to become an architect because, as Clarke mentions, “of certain talents displayed as a youngster.”  Clarke states further that the “application of [architecture] has helped me wonderfully as a guide in correcting my cornet playing.”

Many years later and now touching on the parts of his early career, Herbert joined the famous regiment located in Toronto called the Citizens’ Band—which was “virtually the Queen’s Own Regimental Band”—as the cornet soloist in the early part of September 1887. Not to mention that he is 20 years old at this point.

Because of his rising reputation in the local areas of Toronto, many cornet players sought Mr. Herbert to instruct them on the proper techniques of cornet playing.  He also took part in giving violin instruction at the Trinity College School at Port Hope, about 60 miles east of Toronto, during this time.  Besides cornet-playing in the Citizens’ Band and many other organizations, he also took on conducting a foundry wind band that was integrated into the J. & J. Taylor Safe Works Company.  During this time, Herbert realized that the “more pupils he had, the more he seemed to learn, even from them.”  From each pupil’s different manner of playing, he mentions that he “really learned from such experiences.”

As Herbert continued to grow in his reputation and his skill, he was also “continually learning, as well as gathering success in all [his] work.”   He admits that during this early time in his life, he was “always trying too hard to be as perfect as possible in everything that [he] undertook…and [he] began to work with more determination than ever, especially in correcting [his] faults…”.

Later in his career, Clarke’s focus on fault correction was encouraged by his determination on practicing the cornet.  He said that “by correcting our faults and conquering bad habits, our own efforts will certainly be rewarded and, after practicing faithfully for a year without making any noticeable advancement, turn back to some exercise which proved difficult before to see how much easier, and with what perfection, it can now be performed.”  Sought-after improvement was one of Clarke’s goals, as well as being centered on the fact that the pinnacle of his career has not yet been reached.

He did not tell himself and/or others that he was good, because he knew that his career had not reached its end.  He stated this because he still strived to learn more throughout his lifetime and to better his own playing.  “Whenever a player imagines he is ‘good,’ his career is ended,” he says.  “Remember that the more we learn, the less we seem to know, and the better we play, the more mistakes we discover in our efforts.  Consequently, perfection was never reached.”

Clarke continued to grow, improve, and perfect on his mistakes—whether in his playing or in his “inner game.”  Furthermore, he would begin establishing and applying effective life mottos and tips to his lifestyle and to his playing career.  He would emphasize that there is no such thing as luck or chance in cornet-playing and that no one should trust these things.  The other motto that he agreed was “splendid to follow” was “Through Difficulties to Triumph”, but he would articulate that the precedencies of this motto are ambition, being the first essential quality for musical success, and patience, being the greater virtue.

Lastly, what Clarke told his students in the 19th century and what he tells us readers today is that we must always be thinking.  We must: think of the first note produced; think of the quality of the tone; think of the attack; think after each note is played; think ahead; and think with sureness and positivity.  All the above leads to a solid, mental foundation of self-assurance, determination, and being very well prepared for what lies ahead.

All of this now transitions to the inner game and how it is applied to the art of cornet-playing.

See Part Two of this short blog series on Herbert L. Clarke & Timothy Gallwey: The Inner Game of Cornet-Playing!

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)

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