In The Etude the teachers apparently do the greater part of contributing, whereupon it has dawned upon me—why not take the floor from the pupil’s standpoint? hoping that some forlorn and shipwrecked student may take heart again, as he realizes that his woes and tribulations are not peculiarly his own, but a universal heritage.
My first teacher, after frequent calls upon my mother, succeeded in obtaining her consent that I should begin piano lessons. I well remember overhearing my innocent mother inquire, “How long a time will it be necessary for her to study?” “Oh! only a term or two—that is all I ever had,” replied the lady—and the deluded parent concluded that was not very formidable, so arrangements were consummated and I was duly installed for the “term or two” with the inevitable instruction book, which weighed nearly as many pounds as I. After a few months this teacher married, and my mother discovering that I had not learned everything in the allotted time, it was suggested that I be sent to Professor D., “who went to the city for lessons.” The inevitable conclusion was that the Professor must be something remarkable, and I became his pupil. Such mountains of music heaped upon my devoted head!—a new composition about every alternate lesson. After studying for several years, the gentleman remarked I now knew all about music, but I had better remain with him one more term in order to finish me. I finished. Having an uneasy feeling that some things might be rotten in Denmark, I concluded to soar above my native town—I, too, would have lessons in the great city. How well I remember the timid note written to one of the great ones, and my astonishment upon receiving a kindly courteous reply, arranging an hour to suit my convenience. As long as reason holds its seat shall I remember that first lesson. Of all the sad and wise girls who ever crept out of a studio, I was the saddest and wisest. Nothing right, no thought, bad habits of work. I never told my kind teacher how I usually traveled up and down the keyboard, calling it scale practice, reading a story book, which I kept upon the piano exclusively for that purpose. Well, the teacher was encouraging and patient, and I, for the first, began to have some conception of the meaning of music study. It was my good fortune to remain many years with this man, who is now the highest authority upon piano teaching in America. His praise was very rare, so rare that I knew if my work was not entirely taken to pieces that it was creditable. But one sweet day I played the Chopin G major nocturne, and was permitted to play to the end, and then came the remark, “That was given charmingly. I have another pupil who does not interpret it as clearly as you.” The rapture with which I reflected that there was some one lower in the scale if, only a minor second, was great indeed. The natural result of my vanity was that the succeeding lesson was carelessly prepared, and I was promptly relegated to my normal position. The last year was given to the study of Beethoven, and under such guidance proved one of great benefit. I never knew a teacher so facile in illustration. In an episode of one of the sonatas is a succession of notes marked sfortzando. Out they came, with all the vigor I possessed, whereupon the mild inquiry, “Why play those so heavily?” I pointed to the sfz, and, with a funny twitch of the lips, he remarked, “You would not build a cage for a canary bird and elephant the same size, would you?” All too soon, the last lesson came, as the overworked teacher was too ill—nervous prostration, I was told. I have often reflected, to what extent was I responsible?
By this time the study of music bad become a necessity, and circumstances made me the pupil of a pianist widely known. I had begun to feel quite confident, and with much complacency imagined the delight of my teacher in having so interesting a pupil. At the first lesson, after playing a Schumann novelette, I turned my eyes expectantly toward the gentleman, who coolly remarked, “You have no power—no brilliancy—and I want you to get Cramer’s Studies.” I nearly shrieked. As I had pictured the lesson, I saw the Professor beaming and commending me, asking, “What should the young lady be pleased to study?” and my modest reply all ready, “Some of the Chopin études.” In one year I added to the gentleman’s happiness by bidding him an everlasting farewell. A friend who played musically induced me to study with one of the shining lights of the city. After the usual preliminaries, and I was getting under full sail, a voice said wearily, “What you need is Bach“—and Bach I had, and only Bach, and nothing more. Upon removing to another city, I found there a teacher who was of the greatest assistance imaginable. I had prided myself upon what I now see was a most slavish adherence to the text. Mr. C____ insisted upon my using my own judgment—to listen—to experiment. One day, after playing, he calmly remarked, “Your pedaling is awful.” “It is so marked,” I ventured to reply. Mr. C____ went to the piano and brought out such wonderful effects, in the same composition, through judicious pedal work, that then and there I most fervently hoped to use my ears and brains more liberally and the eyes less.
Many things come before me as I look back upon my student days—hours of discouragement, almost despair—and I now realize the unwearied patience and cheerful perseverance of those lives which most nearly touch our own in art. Surely the life of a teacher is not spent in vain.
A. H. S.