There was a good deal of business for the band that summer, and I had quite a few extra jobs, playing cornet in one church Sunday mornings, and in another afternoons, both of which paid me about five dollars each Sunday. Playing the hymn tunes and leading the congregation in singing gave me excellent opportunity for practice, and I began to develop endurance without straining. I was able to play four consecutive verses of the different hymns without stopping, keeping up a powerful tone all the time. It was difficult at first, but with practice it became quite easy. I would argue with myself to this effect while playing: "If I make work of it and struggle along, then cornet playing will become a torture instead of a pleasure." By playing easily and carefully for the first two verses, I could finish the other two without fatigue. The only feature of this church playing I did not like was sitting in the choir and facing the congregation all the time, because if I should make the least break in my playing, someone would "snicker" and this would "get my goat." To eliminate such unpleasantness, I used to practice in my room, trying to play these Gospel Hymns ten times through without stopping; then it would become a joke to play only four verses in church. I always used a B flat cornet, and transposed all the music, playing one tone higher, which was far more satisfactory than using a C cornet.
During this period my viola practice was being sadly neglected, as I had little use for a string instrument, except on a few jobs where we had to double for dancing at picnics, after parading to the grounds. Consequently, all my spare time was taken up with the cornet. I stuck to it like a leech, working hard at my practice, even in hot weather, Our band was also practicing hard on one special program, getting in shape for the big State Band Competition that was held annually at Evansville, Indiana. There the principal bands throughout the State met to try out their musicianship and win money. This year there was also to be a contest for the championship of the State, which I was secretly planning to enter. I wanted to try for the first prize and also to see if I could control myself and not get nervous when standing up and playing alone before an audience. I certainly did practice and practice, striving to build up a proper embouchure in order to be able to finish a difficult solo with as much ease as I had started, and to be prepared for the encore.
There was one member of the band who was always finding fault with my playing. He often used to listen while I practiced, and afterwards would tell me how "rotten" I played. After he had kept this up for a few weeks I became angry, and told him to go away and not bother me. He paid no attention to what I said, but persisted in telling me the same thing, until one day I asked him just why he thought I was a "rotten player." After he listened to me play a few exercises, mighty difficult ones, too, I looked up at him and said, "Well, how did I play them?" He looked me squarely in the eye and calmly answered, "Why don't you play those exercises correctly? You made many slips and mistakes in each one, even if you did finish without becoming fatigued." Naturally, I had wanted him to compliment me. However, although I really thought I had played them fairly well, way down in the bottom of my heart I did realize that he spoke the truth. I had never given much attention to correcting the little slips that occurred so often in my practice, as my idea then was to play twenty-five or thirty pages daily, never considering whether mistakes were made, as long as I could play the desired number of pages without fatigue.
Then my friend-in-disguise left me all alone. I put down my cornet, and began to think. Yes, he was right! I did make a great many mistakes, most of them simple ones, but mistakes nevertheless. By not correcting these slips immediately, I was practicing for hours to play imperfectly, instead of practicing to play perfectly! I also found out that I was taking a breath whenever I felt like it, leaving out a note or two, and stopping rhythm to breathe, which, of course, was quite unnecessary. This habit also made it impossible for me to use a metronome while playing.