Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Daily Lesson with Ernest Williams

Who was Ernest Williams, and why do we hear so little about him today? His Modern Method is sadly becoming a lost treasure. Some have preferred it to the Arbans Method. He was one of the greats in the trumpet and cornet playing world way back in the 20th century. Mr. Williams was as competent a teacher as he was a performer. He also was Director of the Ernest Williams School of Music, conductor of his University Symphonic Band, teacher at Juilliard, principal trumpet under Stokowski in the Philadelphia Orchestra, and renowned cornet soloist with the Goldman Band under Goldman himself.

My first teacher, a pupil of his, lectured us kids about the great Mr. Williams at every lesson. We were respectful of course, but what did we know? We did benefit however from strict adherence to his well-organized approach to technique-building. We were forbidden from practicing solos until the daily regimen of scales was completed. I'm sure my parents knew well every page of his book, and when I graduated from high school they must have been relieved that all of those scales, arps, and chroms would finally be leaving our N.J. home.

I like his repeated instruction between each chromatic line on page 155. "Do not attempt to play the following line until the preceding line sounds pure and free." Today it could be said many ways. "Do not even think about continuing until you go back and fix what you just messed up." Or, "Dude, NO!" Mr. Williams' effective one-sentence lesson can still stop us in our messy tracks. Repeated furious and out-of-control attempts are never useful. Being the gentleman that he was, I can imagine him calmly saying: "Slow down. Listen, and control what you are doing, one note at a time. It must sound pure and free."

Let's listen in as he might have given instruction for a student beginning work on the Honegger Intrada. I can imagine him demanding that the first two notes be connected and clear before climbing up to the F at the top of the phrase. "Play just the first four notes cleanly, connected and in tune. Good. Add two more. You may now attempt four more notes and continue only if you can maintain control and quality." As soon as the notes begin to come faster than they can be controlled, he suddenly interrupts, "Do not proceed until the preceding notes sound pure and free!"

What great advice! Mr. Williams' one sentence can be our daily lesson. Enough said.

No comments: