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Keeping Up With the Times.

BY ROBERT BRAINE.

There is one fact which the teachers of this country have got to look squarely in the face, and that is that the standard of music and of music teaching is steadily rising in the United States. The days of the old-time music teacher who knew how to play a limited number of “pieces” on the instrument he professed to teach, who had only a small smattering of musical knowledge, and to whom theory, harmony, thorough-bass, and counterpoint were as sealed books, has long since passed away in our larger cities, and his days are numbered even in the small towns and villages. These teachers, like Othello, are ”finding their occupations gone,” and are being superseded by the more or less perfectly educated musicians whom the conservatories and musical colleges of this country and Europe are steadily turning out in increasing numbers each year.

People will not employ poor amateur teachers when they can get good professional ones. It is the same as in the case of any other article outside of musical instruction: people will buy the best and most meritorious article which is offered. The result is that the amateur teachers will be obliged either to give up teaching altogether or to teach for nominal fees.

It is likely that the standard of musical performance and teaching in this country will rise steadily until it is on a par with that of Europe. There it is impossible for any teacher who has not studied the musical art thoroughly—having given it at least the same amount of study that a physician or lawyer gives his profession—to make even a decent livelihood.

A very large class of teachers in this country are either standing still in their art, or, what is worse, retrograding. Many of these teachers are middle-aged, and seem to be possessed of the idea that for them further improvement is impossible; many of them, again, are young and have the world before them, but have stopped studying. All the practice of this class of teachers was, as a general thing, done in their early youth, when they were taking lessons. Having embarked in the profession they have stopped studying and do no more practicing. They teach their pupils in the manner that was in vogue years ago, and they seem to be in blissful ignorance that the art of teaching music has been revolutionized within the past ten or fifteen years.

These teachers have a certain dreary round of exercises and pieces which every pupil is obliged to undergo, like a blind horse in a treadmill. Many of these teachers still inflict the huge eight-pound instructors with heavy board covers—those monstrous old specimens of the music publisher’s art which were supposed to last a pupil eight years.

This class of teachers has not grasped the idea of how interesting and fascinating modern piano study has become to young pupils through the means of books of studies containing a comparatively small amount of music, which can be mastered in three or four months, to be replaced by a fresh volume, thus giving the pupil a pleasing sense of progress.

As a rule, these non-progressive teachers have given up all public performance as well as personal study and practice. They are living on the reputation of what they are once supposed by the public to have been able to do. They are dwelling in the past, instead of in the present and the future. Most of them do not even take the trouble to read the leading music journals and thus keep up with what is being done in the world of music, nor do they investigate any of the new methods of teaching which are making such an amazing revolution in musical pedagogics. Mason’s “Touch and Technic” to them is a sealed book, because it did not come out when they were in their student days.

It is often sad to see some of these old-time music teachers and artists who had names and reputations to conjure with in the early days of music in this country, but who chose to rest on their oars and to relax their studies because they thought their reputations established for all time. Now they have been hopelessly distanced in the race for success, and they find themselves without pupils and without engagements. Every community has its examples. After years of success, and after being looked upon as musical oracles for years, suddenly they awake to the painful fact that they are old-fashioned and out of date.

If these teachers and artists had persistently kept up their practice and continued their public appearances, had made it a point to attend all the best concerts within their reach, and had, by reading and study, kept up with the latest compositions and literature of music, their powers would have gradually ripened, and, instead of being pushed from the stage of active musical life, they would have had a gradually widening sphere of influence and clientage.

Take the example of the world’s greatest composers and executive artists. As a general rule they toiled unremittingly until an advanced age, when their powers reached their highest development. The musical faculties of Beethoven showed a steady increase until he was beyond the age of fifty. The hand of death alone checked the development of Wagner, Spohr, Handel, Haydn, Meyerbeer, Brahms, and a host of the other great composers. The musical evolution of the minds of these men continued until the day of their death.

In the case of mechanical execution, we would expect the advance of age to check the development of the artist. It would seem as if the stiffening of the muscles and the dulling of the keen emotions of youth would set a limit to the successful public performance of the artist. As a matter of fact, however, musical biography is full of instances of musicians who have kept their executive powers to a surprising age. Look at Clara Schumann,—in the prime of her pianistic ability at the age of sixty. Take the example of Liszt, who maintained a marvelous technic when the snows of age had given him the appearance of a patriarch. Read the biography of Spohr, who tells of the sorrow a broken arm occasioned him, when he was between the ages of sixty and seventy, because it deprived him of the society of his beloved violin, on which he was accustomed to play daily. Joachim, who is by many considered the king of living violinists, is past the age of sixty.

There is no necessity for a musician to consider his career finished so long as the breath is in his body. I have no doubt that there are thousands of readers of this article who consider that any further progress in music for them is impossible, simply because they have reached middle age or are past it. This is a grievous mistake. Rarely does an executive artist reach the full zenith of his powers until the age of forty, although musical history, of course, teems with stories of the achievements of musical prodigies. As a general thing, however, when these musical prodigies develop into really great musicians their performances are infinitely more finished and satisfying at the age of forty than they were at the age of fifteen or twenty.

I hear so many musicians say that they have given up all practice because they are getting old and their fingers are stiff. If the matter is investigated, it will be pretty generally found that their fingers are getting stiff through lack of regular, systematic practice, and not from advancing age at all. If thousands of musicians have succeeded in keeping their muscles tractable and their fingers supple and pliable, so that they have been able to follow careers as soloists on the public concert stage,—as has undoubtedly been the case, since every musician can remember scores of examples in his own experience,—why should not every musician be able to do it?

The fact is that this giving up of practice and retrograding on the part of our teachers comes, as a general thing, from pure laziness. Let us take the example of a young teacher starting out in the profession. At first the only way he can attract attention to himself and gain pupils is by playing in public. So he plays whenever he is asked. He practices several hours a day, and pushes his studies far into the night. He goes to hear every artist who comes in his path, and if he has an opportunity to study with a master, he avails himself of the opportunity. His name is in every one’s mouth and in every newspaper as a rising young artist. This soon begins to attract pupils, and by and by he gets a little class started. Instead of relaxing his efforts, he redoubles them, and soon finds himself at the head of a profitable teaching business. Now, if he is wise, he will continue to practice and concertize, just the same as he did when he was building up his class; if not, he will lie back and take a rest. If he can sell the time to pupils which he ought to reserve for his own practice, he will do it. If he makes this mistake, all these busy hours of teaching will soon begin to wear on him, and he finds that he has no inclination to practice, even if he has the time. By and by he finds himself degenerating into a simple teaching machine, without hope and without ambition. He has ceased practicing, stopped playing in public, and no longer keeps up with the times in music. The sure result of this course is that he will continue in one musical rut, with a constantly decreasing business and decreasing influence, until the end of his days, or else he will be completely superseded by other teachers with greater musical ambition and activity.

The wise way would have been to set aside a certain portion of the day to practice and study in music, this time to be guarded as sacredly as the time given to sleep and meals. In this way our teacher will steadily advance in usefulness and eminence, and, looking at it from a purely material standpoint, his income will follow a steadily rising scale. With the increasing attention given to musical affairs and study in the world to-day, there is literally no limit to the success which can be achieved by a musician of ambition.

There is another class of music teachers to whom a few words may be of interest on this subject, and that is the very large class of women who have taken up the music profession merely from necessity. Thousands of women who have been taught more or less music in their schoolgirl days find themselves obliged, through reverses, to earn their own livings, and turn to music as the only practicable way in which to do it. Unless they have received a thorough training in some good conservatory or college, probably they have a very limited knowledge of music. This class of teachers finds its harder and harder every year to make a living in music, owing to the keen competition of graduates from musical institutions, and to the steadily increasing number of professional teachers whom the competition of the larger cities is forcing to the smaller places, and also tending to reduce the price of instruction in the cities. Such teachers, of all others, should devote as much of their time as they possibly can to improving the weak places in their musical education. They should not be too proud to take lessons, even if they are teachers. Ignorance is the only disgrace in the musical profession. They ought to read the musical journals, and read something about the profession in which they have embarked, and, above all, should begin the study of theory and harmony, for without a knowledge of these no musician can do teaching or other musical work worthy the name.

You will no doubt tell me, my dear young lady, that it will be very hard to earn a living teaching music and educating yourself in the higher branches of the musical art at the same time. I am willing to grant that it is hard, but you will find that it is the only means which lies in your power of insuring your livelihood against the ever-increasing competition in music teaching in this country.

 

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