June of 1991 held
the catalyst of my change from being an unaware and naïve cornetist
into one who has held some of the top positions in the brass-playing
world (Black Dyke, Travelsphere Holidays, Ascot Park Invercargill NZ
asst. principal; Matthews Norfolk Brass, Young Ambassadors Brass Band of
Great Britain, and Kew (Australia) as principal cornet; solo cornet
Brighouse & Rastrick, and Cambridge Co-op. I am also a Fellow and
Licentiate of Trinity College, London
I was involved in
an R.T.A. (road traffic accident). Because of a tractor pulling into my
path I broke three ribs, my thumb and lacerated my lower lip, putting my
top teeth through the lip and into the steering wheel. This is important
to state as it shows why I had some months off from playing and had to
re-think all aspects of embouchure, breathing, musculature, tonguing and
Prior to June 1991
I had had many teachers, not stuck to any one method. I had entered
myself for grade 8 (ABRSM) and gained distinction, won a few of solo
competitions and played solo cornet with Brighouse & Rastrick,
Cambridge Co-operative Band which was the top brass band in the area
also principal cornet with Matthews Norfolk Brass winning many
Playing took me as
far away as Australia where I played solo cornet in the top brass band
– Hawthorn. There I had lessons from Tom Paulin (former principal
cornet with Grimethorpe Colliery) and Ken Smith (ex-principal cornet
with Fairey Engineering, Sydney Conservatorium). Both of these experts
told me to change my embouchure.
Returning home to
the UK I attended Salford (now University) College and passed the first
year but my embouchure change was not supported and I left after two
Cornet tutor Mr. King every lesson sent me to get his lunch and
then said nothing whilst holding a small mirror to my right eye where I
had a nerve jumping. This still happens. I learnt nothing.
My next tutor Mr. Hudson answered, “Why should I give you my
playing secrets? It means less work for us who know” when I asked him
about the importance of the tongue!
Whilst playing solo
cornet with Brighouse & Rastrick I became friendly with and had
lessons from Roger Webster who was principal cornet. He of course is now
arguably the “top cornet player in the world” (and Principal cornet
with Black Dyke). Mr. Webster taught me many techniques and theories
about brass playing. Every minute in his lessons I learnt some trick or
method to play better and he made playing the cornet “fun”. I learnt
about embouchures, the tongue, breathing, repertoire, performing, and
relaxation. Why had I not had lessons from him earlier I asked myself? I
still have lessons with Mr. Webster occasionally.
He introduced me to
the teachings of Herbert L. Clarke – soloist with the Sousa Band,
Claude Gordon, Charles Collins, James Stamp, Cat Anderson, Carmine
Caruso, Saint Jacombe et al, all of which I still incorporate into my
teaching today and which I will refer to later.
Pre 1991 often I
would be told of my “lovely cornet sound” and could play technically
and melodically very well (if I say so myself!). But, whenever I needed
to play above G on top of the stave I would press harder with the
mouthpiece on to my lips and so push my top lip into my bottom lip and
close off any airflow often causing cuts and calluses to my lips either
at the back or on the surface.
I was told to
practise more to build up the muscles around the lips but that just
meant that the muscles would push inwards, making the aperture smaller
so that my lips would stop vibrating. Add to all of this the fact that
when I became nervous my top lip would start to shake and give me an
extremely fast vibrato, which would speed up towards the higher notes. I
became more nervous with more experience.
My playing was of a
good standard but I found that if I practised less that my lip was
better and concerts were easier (not for stamina but for the higher
notes at the end of pieces). I also experimented with many mouthpieces
– often lining them up on my stand in concerts.
I knew that I was
supposed to be able to play with less pressure and that my tongue was
meant to move inside my mouth as if I was whistling. I knew that if I
could buzz my notes first then I wouldn’t need so much pressure to get
the higher notes. Using so much pressure left little room for any tongue
manoeuvring inside my mouth.
Many times I
stopped playing for long periods of time and on return things would be
fine for a while, then my desire to become a better player would mean
more pressure and less results.