About that Letter from Clarke to Benge

One of the most famous – and equally tragic – letters ever written as it pertains to the trumpet and cornet is from the great soloist and bandleader Herbert L. Clarke to Eldon Benge, who was to become one of the great trumpeters of the 20th Century.

Benge had written to Clarke asking for his advice on switching from the cornet to a career on the trumpet.

Let me share the letter with you so you know what exactly Clarke had to say about this idea.

Can we all agree that Clarke, as great a cornetist as he was, was flat out wrong on this?

Look at all the great trumpet players that were famous in the 20th Century: Harry James, Doc Severinsen, Miles Davis, Bud Herseth, etc.

Thank goodness Benge went with his gut and didn’t listen to Clarke!

What I find interesting about this is that here in 2017 – almost 100 years after this letter was written – we see almost the exact opposite has occurred.

What would be the response of a college professor if one of his students told him she was considering switching from the trumpet to the cornet?

Perhaps something like, “Don’t do that, young starling! There are no jobs as a cornetist! It’s best to focus on the trumpet and play the cornet on the side if you want to be taken seriously as a musician.”

A revolution indeed, comrade.

The encouraging thing about this is that we can learn from history.

Just as Clarke was flat out WRONG about the trumpet, so is anyone who says that you can’t have a career as a cornetist.

If anything, you and I have an advantage over the Trumpet Players.

There is no Guild laying out a plan (college, debt, job to pay off the debt, etc.) for us to follow.

There is no Union to arbitrarily determine our wages.

If it is to be, it is up to you and me, comrade.

We can’t change what Clarke said 100 years ago.

If the Trumpet Players want to use that as fuel for their own delusions of grandeur, so be it.

I choose to look at it differently.

If the Trumpet became as popular as it did in the 20th Century, I see no reason the Cornet can’t have the same success and greater in the 21st.

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