The road to success

The road to success

by Douglas Yeo

The new year is upon us, 2018. Resolutions have been made and probably broken already. Such is our human condition: lots of good intentions but difficulty in being disciplined enough to follow through with them.

Most people I know want to be successful, and my son-in-law, John Freeman, recently shared an old cartoon with me titled “The Road to Success.” It dates from 1913, and I thought it was so interesting that I sought out an original copy. The Etude magazine, a long time publication of the Theodore Presser Company, printed it in its October 1913 issue.  Presser modified a cartoon put out by National Cash Register company that was about the road to business success – you can view the original by clicking HERE – and Presser’s creative changes that point to the road to musical success are really quite clever. Here is Presser’s version of the cartoon. To download a high-resolution copy from my website, click HERE.


If you follow the road to success, you see there are many pitfalls along the way. You need to keep your eyes open. Many people rush over the threshold of Opportunity but fall into the dark holes of Illiteracy or Conceit. Hotel Know It All has many rooms. So does the Mutual Admiration Society, from which the balloon Hot Air floats. And the Always Right Club has plenty of members. Vices lead immediately to the river of Failure; the same is true for The Faker. Bad Habits lead quickly to Oblivion – as does a Bad Reputation. Jealousy and the desire to Do It Tomorrow are portrayed as spiders with webs that trap many.  Weak morals appear to be an elevator to the top of the mountain but actually send you down a chute right back to the beginning. Have a look at this view of “The Road to Success.” Over one hundred years after it first appeared, it is still fresh.

This was a theme of my trombone teacher, Edward Kleinhammer, who played bass trombone in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1940-1985. In his introduction to the book we wrote together, Mastering the Trombone (Ithaca: Ensemble Publications, 2000, fourth edition, 2012, p. 9), he wrote:

World class players do not just happen — their talents are forged in the dual furnaces of determination and diligence.

In this, Mr. Kleinhammer was mirroring a theme that comes from a memorable passage in the Bible, where the writer turns to one of the smallest animals as a model for discipline and hard work (Proverbs 6:6-11):

Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways and be wise.

Without having any chief, officer or ruler,

She prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.

How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?

A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest,

And poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.

The desire for shortcuts is always with us. A few weeks ago, I was at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, where I gave a trombone masterclass and performed a concerto with the Northwest Iowa Symphony Orchestra. As I was walking around the college’s music building, I spotted this cartoon on a bulletin board. It made me laugh, and shake my head. You’ll probably laugh, too, and then sadly recall the many friends, colleagues, students, and others – including ourselves! – who want to find the quick fix to avoid the hard work required to succeed. “The Road to Success” reminds us that there are no shortcuts. That’s a New Year’s resolution worth keeping.

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