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The Problem.

“Now that I am a singer, how shall I advance myself?” said a young woman to her professor, not long after she had made an appearance, earned a bit of money, and scored a success. The tactful teacher knew better than even to smile at the assurance evidenced by the first half dozen words of her outburst. It was a critical moment in her career. She had given serious attention to her vocal studies and had tasted the first real pleasures of well doing, which to the young artist is sweeter than any subsequent demonstrations of approval can possibly be, and the fact that the success was emphasized by a money consideration was not without its influence on the young woman’s opinion of herself. The professor could never show his widom (sic) or exert his influence to better advantage than at this juncture. He could not say, “My dear child, you are not a singer.” She would certainly have placed against his verdict the money and the applause of her audience, and her confidence in him, for the moment, might be shaken. His duty clearly was so to direct her thoughts that she would say it of herself. This he attempted. After congratulating her without effusiveness, he said, “Which of your numbers did you think was best appreciated?”

“Oh, the waltz song, by far,” she replied.

“How about the German aria?”

“That went all right, especially the finale.”

“Were you encored on that number?”

“I was recalled, but not brought back for an encore.”

“Do you think the work you did in the body of the aria would have won you the recall without the brilliant effect of the finale?”

“Perhaps not, for I doubt if I had that kind of an audience.”

“What kind of an audience do you mean?” he inquired.

“Why, an audience that would wax enthusiastic over the rather stolid music of a German aria, even if it were not embellished with a brilliant finale.”

“Then you have the brilliancy of the climax to thank for your recall rather than the excellence of your rendering of the more demanding parts of the work?”

“Yes, that maybe,” she said thoughtfully, “but it was not a dull audience by any means.”

“Can you think of an artist who might have sung the work as a whole any more acceptably?”

“Why, you unsympathetic man, of course, hundreds of them.”

Her teacher smiled while she added, “I know perfectly well I am only a beginner, but are you not pleased at my success?”

“I am gratified that your appearance was not a failure,” he said kindly; “I most strongly urge your consideration of the following facts: First, it is not possible to conceal from any audience the fact of one’s inexperience which always arouses their sympathy and prompts them to encourage rather than censure,—then the fact of your arousing the strongest show of enthusiasm by appealing to their sense of rhythm in a waltz is hardly a tribute either to their musicianship or your own, and finally, after eliminating the florid element in your music and the impressionable quantum in your audience, what proportion remains that may be said to stand for art, pure and simple, and appreciation from that standpoint?”

The silence following these judicious, if not yet convincing, remarks by her teacher gave evidence that the right chord had been touched, and without further comment he proceeded with the lesson.

We can safely leave the young woman in the teacher’s hands, but the problem suggested by the remark with which this article begins is still before us. “How shall young artists advance themselves?” Nothing is more clear than that experience is the thing most needed. Theory and culture blended to the point of absolute excellence, furnish by no means all that is necessary or desirable in the way of equipment. The great finishing school is the audience. The most fruitful hours of a student’s life are the few which precede and follow an important appearance, especially so if they are able to place the two periods in their proper relation to each other, qualify conditions, and properly classify results. The question is, To what extremes should singers go to gain this experience? What means are they justified in employing, or under what conditions and terms could they accept opportunities without sacrificing their personal or artistic self-respect? While we are aware that no two experiences parallel, we offer a few general suggestions, which, when weighed by the pupil, with the added characteristic aspects of the case, may remove her doubts and help her to a quicker decision as to her duty.

First, no student should consider an offer or opportunity to sing publicly without consulting with the teacher, and following his advice to the letter.

Second, she should estimate an appearance before a respectable audience at its true value; it represents money. Not necessarily cash for every appearance, but an investment of time, preparation, and effort which is equivalent to a cash value or investment, the returns from which must be made to yield in future appearances. To put it more plainly, if an amateur should give her services on ten different occasions,—which she would be justified in doing,—those ten appearances must qualify her in numberless ways, and make it entirely reasonable that she should charge a moderate fee for her eleventh appearance. She must not overlook the fact that in these first ten appearances, besides gaining in experience she is accumulating what no amount of honest money will buy—press notices and a popular verdict as to her value as an entertainer. Therefore it is her duty to herself to let no opportunity to make a good appearance pass unimproved, and to persist in this until she has sufficient experience, together with evidence of public approval, to justify her in assuming that her services are in demand and that her presence represents, to whomsoever may seek her, a money value. Then she should not be too exacting in the matter of remuneration until her position is assured. Assuming that this stage has been reached, her next step must be the business of securing engagements. We will pass by the church choir opportunity with the single comment that we presuppose every young woman or man with an excellent voice and good training is not only eligible, but successful, if he or she desire it, and direct our attention to the broader field. The first step is to secure a manager and enter into competition with the world of artists as a public singer. This opportunity may present itself as a soloist or as a member of a quartet. However this may be, nothing is more absurd than for singers to attempt to do their own managing. Money paid to an impressario is well invested. The difficulty is always in finding such a person who will take the risk of putting a young artist before the public. Previous successes are certain, however, to wield an influence, and eventually, if success is in the aspirant for advancement, her claims will surely be recognized. As many hours a day as possible must be spent in more perfect preparation—enlarging the repertory and strengthening the weak places. One must not only sing well but appear well. Presence is a most portentous factor of success—and here we must stop, else we shall find ourselves confronted by a thousand topics incidental to the success of an artist which are  suggested by the demands of a promiscuous public. To succeed as an artist one must be an artist. The public pay their money and take their choice; they are rarely deceived. Once the artist accepts a fee for her services she has no right to ask or expect consideration. She is adjudged from the standpoint of a professional, and her standard must be the highest. Sympathy or favoritism can not enter into the question.

 

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