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Colonel Jason K. Fettig, Director
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Marine Band Cornet/Trumpet Section Celebrates Herbert L. Clarke Sesquicentennial

By Master Sgt. Michael Mergen | United States Marine Band | September 12, 2017

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Marine Barracks Washington DC -- The Marine Band cornet/trumpet section celebrates Herbert L. Clarke on the occasion of his 150th birthday! Clarke set high standards as a dedicated performer, a star soloist, and a committed educator, and whether it is performing on tour, soloing in front of the Marine Band, or mentoring young performers, Marine Band cornet and trumpet players are proud to carry on his legacy of artistic excellence.

Clarke, a largely self-taught virtuoso, gained international fame as a solo cornet player in John Philip Sousa’s civilian Sousa Band. Audiences all over the world enjoyed his performances of orchestral transcriptions, stirring marches, and patriotic melodies. The Marine Band preserves the cornet’s unique role in the concert band. Frequently tasked with the melody, cornet players must provide strong artistic leadership but also know when to blend with other sections of the band. Though somewhat rare in modern times, the Marine Band utilizes cornets when called for rather than performing cornet parts on a trumpet. Using cornets adds warmth and blend to the overall sound, something for which Sousa’s band was well known.  

Clarke wrote many of his own solos. Frequently soloing multiple times in a day, his technique and tone are legendary. Current Marine Band Solo Cornet Player Master Gunnery Sgt. Matthew Harding states, “To this day, Clarke’s solos set the standard for what is expected from a cornet/trumpet player both technically and musically.” 

Clarke’s music is still performed by the Marine Band and it’s current roster of cornet soloists, who grew up playing his music and studying his pedagogical works. Always looking to improve and nurture the next generation of cornet players, Clarke wrote, “One cannot expect to attain the highest point of excellence without hard work and perseverance.” Continuing this work, the current Marine Band cornet/trumpet section coaches young soloists in the annual Marine Band Concerto Competition and provides master classes to students while on tour.  

Marine Band Principal Trumpet Master Gunnery Sgt. Kurt Dupuis added: “I was introduced to the Clarke Characteristic Studies while in high school studying with Dr. Robert Stibler, the trumpet professor at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. Little did I know how important these studies would become to my growth as a trumpeter and that I would still be relying on these exercises today. When I first started with these studies I was coming at it from a raw and innocent standpoint. I was just trying to control my fingers while learning the fingering patterns, controlling my airstream and building endurance while playing with a good sound in all registers. Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty and we all have to start somewhere! I remember sitting in study hall at school or walking around with or without the horn slamming down my fingers to train them. My teacher instructed me to play them painstakingly slow at first with a metronome until perfect and only until then I was able to move the metronome marking up one click. I still have my book with the string of increasing tempo markings penciled in on the top of each exercise.”

As the Marine Band cornet/trumpet section prepares for the 2017 National Concert Tour, we celebrate Herbert L. Clarke’s lasting contributions to excellent cornet playing! 

Hear Master Sgt. Michael Mergen perform Clarke’s “Nereid”

Hear former Marine Band cornet soloist Robert deHart perform “Stars in a Velvety Sky”


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