There would seem, to the casual observer, a consuming thirst throughout the country for “classical” music. The programme of every musical entertainment must be “classical,” choirs must render it, and the amateur who would dare sing anything else would endanger her position as the leading vocalist and soloist of the community. Any music by a modern composer, possessing tune and rhythm that makes it intelligible and enjoyable, is “popular” music. To fail to go into ecstasies of delight on every occasion of this “classical” music, or to betray a fondness for popular music, is positive evidence of your lack of culture and taste, and society would never overlook a lacking in these essential qualifications.
This apparent admiration for classical music is simply a fad—a fashion born of cowardice, conceit, and ignorance. There is ignorance on the part of the public, many of whom do not know what really good music is, and they are too cowardly to express an honest opinion as to what pleases or displeases them. They attend entertainments as a matter of form, suffer in silence, and the more unintelligible a piece is the more heartily it is applauded. There is much of ignorance and cowardice to be found in the average critic; very few are capable of criticising a performance, and where one possesses the knowledge, the fear of offending some patron of his paper prevents an honest expression. The flattery with which they cover every performance fans the ignorance and conceit to be found in the singer or player, and makes them eager to embrace the next opportunity to do worse.
This lamentable state of affairs exists all over the country, and the greater portion of the blame can be laid at the door of conductors and teachers. It is not so much on account of conceit or ignorance with them, as it is of cowardice. They know we speak facts, and that the evil ought to be remedied, yet they hesitate to make the stand because they fear the ridicule of other teachers and conductors, and that the public may think they are incapable of higher things.
There are ten comedy companies on the road to one in tragedy. As these are supported by the public whose patronage is not influenced by local matters, they are a fair index of the public taste. People do not want all tragedy in music; they want some that is heavy, but much that is light. But this does not mean that they want some that is good and some that is bad, as many might believe. We have seen leaders drill their choirs for hours on an anthem that was beyond their abilities, and as a result was miserably butchered. Nearly all this hue and cry about the public not appreciating music is for the most part false. The trouble lies in the fact that they seldom hear any music deserving of genuine appreciation. A great difference will be noticed as soon as conductors will select their programmes with reference to the occasion and the ability of their singers.
No doubt some will feel their toes trampled upon in this article and say we admire “trash.” We are bold to confess we prefer the so-called popular “trash” to the “classical” trash with which the country is surfeited. Music is not good just because it is difficult; neither is it “trash” because it is simple. A singer who artistically presents a ballad by a living composer is far better than the conductor who murders an oratorio. “Home, Sweet Home,” is a simple piece, and yet the matchless manner in which Patti sings it has done more to make her popular than any aria she ever sang. —F. C., The Minstrel