At the present day almost everybody is studying music, and optimists rub their hands gleefully and talk about æsthetic progress. It is so pleasant and consoling to look at the best side of things. I doubt, however, if we love music more than our ancestors loved it, and I am persuaded that a large amount of our love is affectation, or hypocritical yielding to fashion. We learn music because we are expected to learn it, because it is one of the distinguishing traits of the little sheep flock or coterie into which we are gathered. Music belongs to our attire and not to our hearts, we display it as we display our huge balloon sleeves, for the admiration of others, and not for our own satisfaction.
Now let me tell you that the study of art is useless if it does not assist in the developing of your nature; bring out, make wholesome and strengthen what is best in your soul, as exercise brings out what is best in your muscles. Would you practice with dumb-bells and Indian-clubs month after month and year after year with no other object than to astonish your friends with your skill? If you answer in the affirmative then I tell you that you have taken great pains to little purpose. The value of art is the self development of the student.
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Let me then express myself plainly. If you are interested in music as an art, study it as an art, and for the improvement which, as an art, it will bring about in your nature. For us art has two sides, the technical and what I will call the expressive. The technical part includes method, it teaches the proper use of the tools in trade. Are you studying the piano? Then the technical part of the business is to learn how to use your arms, hands and fingers, and this means the practicing of proper exercises, the moving of the fingers in a certain way with the right kind and degree of force, and so on. Are you a singer? How can you produce a given sound unless you know how to produce it? How can you sing yonder example on the blackboard unless you have learned how to manage your breath, carrying it smoothly and uninterruptedly through the phrase I have marked until you reach the proper breathing place? Have you heard people singing through their noses; have you heard them leave half mile intervals in their singing; have you heard that scooping up to a note that does such bad service in amateur singing? Well, this is due to faulty technic.
You must learn how to use your tools in art as in trades, whether you are an amateur or a professional, and there is no excuse why the amateur should not use the tools as well as does the professional, for it is simply a matter of time and of practice. Nowadays, technical proficiency is within the reach of everybody, and slovenliness is inexcusable. But while admitting so much, I wish to insist that technical excellence is not art, and that if you are nothing else but masters of technic, you are only automatons. You must be interpreters as well as performers, and interpretation is what I would impress on you as art, your part of it. Composers create, you interpret, and your technical skill allows you to interpret.
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I shall be happy if I can persuade you that art is something serious; something not to be mentioned in the same breath with caramels and diamonds. I find that at least nine-tenths of the pupils who are studying here have but the vaguest ideas about art. They are singers, piano players, violinists, if you like, but not artists. They are anxious to take the shortest road to the singing and playing of tunes, but their Valhalla is the next reception, where they hope to drink the blood of their enemies—their rivals—in the only way now accepted by civilization, that is metaphorically through successful singing or piano playing.
You may say I am overfond of repeating myself, but you must excuse me if I keep on insisting that you cannot use music as a ruching for your latest new gown; force a Chopin nocturne to match the color of your ribbons, or make a Beethoven sonata harmonize with the cut and tint of your bodice. Art is so long and vanity so fleeting, while wasted time is so abundant! I am so constituted that I prefer to hear a good mandolin player to a bad violinist, and I sometimes wonder why Miss Alto should have taken so much time to misunderstand the Faust song and the “Sweet Bird” of Händel, when she might have enchanted us with the manner in which she sings “Annie Laurie.” It seems so painful to laboriously toil up a high hill for the sake of laboriously toiling down it.—Leader.