Herbert L. Clarke

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Herbert L. Clarke


Herbert Lincoln Clarke (12 September 1867, Woburn, Mass. – 30 January 1045, Long Beach, Calif.) was an American composer, arranger, conductor and cornet virtuoso.

Clarke was the youngest of four boys, only one of whom did not follow a career in music. The Clarke family moved several times during Herbert’s youth, and his father, an organist at various churches, encouraged Herbert and his brothers to study musical instruments. Despite this urging, he did not wish them to enter music as a career.

While living in Toronto, Canada, Herbert attended a concert of the American Band of Providence (Rhode Island), conducted by D.W. Reeves. Clarke later wrote, “I was so moved by the cornet soloist that I knew in time that I too must play cornet.” His determination resulted in his being accepted, at the age of only 14, as a trumpet player in the Queen’s Own Rifle Regiment Band - even though the minimum age was 18.

One of the greatest influences in Clarke’s life was the famous cornet soloist Walter Rogers, who eventually became a close friend and side partner in Sousa’s Band. Clarke received tips from Rogers but never took formal lessons from him -- or anyone else. At age 24, he became cornet soloist with Gilmore’s Band. After the death of Gilmore in 1892, Clarke was soloist for a short period with the band of Ellis Brooks and then became soloist with Sousa’s Band in the spring of 1893.

It was another famous soloist, Arthur Pryor, who encouraged Clarke to compose his own cornet solos. Following the Sousa Band’s engagement at the Chicago Exposition in 1893, Clarke played with various groups, including the reorganized but short-lived Gilmore Band when it was directed by Victor Herbert. He returned to Sousa’s Band in 1900 and remained with it until 1917. He had often told Sousa that he would retire at age 50, since he believed that cornet soloists began to perform less effectively at that age. Sousa contended that he was playing better than ever, to which Clarke replied, “Then I’ll quit while I’m ahead.”

After retiring from Sousa’s Band, Clarke moved to Canada and served as conductor of the Anglo-Canadian Concert Band of Huntsville, Ontario, from 1918-1923. He then directed the Long Beach (California) Municipal Band from 1923-1943.

It is estimated that Clarke played over 15,000 solos during his long and active career. He traveled over 90, 000 miles with the bands of Gilmore, Sousa, Innes, Herbert, and others. He made 34 tours of the United States and Canada, four European tours, and one tour around the world.

Clarke has been declared the greatest cornetist of all time. A dedicated composer, author, conductor, cornetist, and teacher, Clarke believed that cornet playing should be pleasure rather than a chore. An example of his skill with the cornet is the fact that he could play a chromatic scale of three full octaves four times through in one breath. Among his many writings is a 12-chapter chronicle of the Sousa Band’s world tour of 1910-1911 (Musical Messenger, July, 1918, through May, 1919).

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