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Editorials

 

We wonder sometimes at the eccentricities of great musicians, and the frequency with which they give evidence of mental aberration. Many of the great composers have been thought partially insane; and almost any one who has visited various parts of this country will recall small towns where the most accomplished violinist, pianist, or other musician was a person quite at sea upon any subject except that nearest his heart. Perhaps to a greater extent than in the pursuance of any other theme, the composition of music takes the master into sub-conscious states, for music comes from the unfathomable world of silence. “Eye hath not seen nor ear heard” the incomparable felicities of the realm that lies beyond the region of mortal sense. So much does the master remain in the subjective mind that when he finally descends to earthly objects he is like a stranger in a strange land.

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When music has a proper appreciation from the people, then, and then only, will the musician have his proper place. In a community where the musical interest is weak and shallow the musician will naturally have no standing; where the music is on a high plane the musician will receive equal respect with the other professions. So long as people take their music no more seriously than their candy or their lemonade, simply to tickle the palate, they will have no more respect for the music-maker than for the candy-maker. But when the music becomes a serious matter—a study, an art—then will the musician share in the respect shown to the lawyer, the physician, the plastic artist. From this it is easy to see that the musician has to a large degree the making of his own status.

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The islands of the South Pacific, with scarcely an exception, are crowns of coral stone on the summits of submerged mountains. That curious creature, the coral polyp, often, though very erroneously, termed coral insect, must live in water, but in shallow water. It cannot exist in a depth of more than ten fathoms. These strange little creatures, linked together in countless myriads, extract minute particles of lime from the water, which they secrete into the beautiful, branching, and fantastic white stones which make the foundations of a summer-crowned island. The life of man and beast and bird becomes possible in these lovely circles redeemed from the blank oblivion of the ocean-depths.

This is a parable of encouragement for the small workers in art. Why should you be disheartened if you cannot create a symphony equal to those of Beethoven, or play the piano like Rubinstein, or the violin like Ysaye, or sing like Patti? There are hundreds of degrees of mental power exactly in kind with those we have mentioned, but less in quantity, which have a perfect right to exist—nay, more, which are needed quite as much. In God’s scheme of humanity and of society, for one mighty and original intellect, for one man with a volcanic heart, there are needed tens of thousands who possess minds and souls which are capable of receiving, transmuting, transmitting, his messages. Do not despise yourself if you cannot retain the whole literature of the piano as did Bülow; do not despise yourself if Liszt’s “Don Juan Fantaisie” and Tschaikowsky’s B-minor Concerto (sic) elude forever the grasp of your feeble fingers. There are thousands of compositions, nectarous fruits pendant on the boughs of the Tree of Life, which are within your reach, and you will find them bursting with sweet juices and nutritious pulp. Do what lies in your power to draw art into yourself, to mix it with your own being, and to give it out again for the happiness of others. Make the bee your great exemplar—it sucks the honey from the flowers, but the sweetness is transformed, and the framework of golden wax is built by the cunning insect. Be not ashamed of smallness in art, but be ashamed of—affectation. Nothing is so deadly to the Beautiful as pretense; no bulky, stuffed watch-cases washed with gold, if you please. That is a happy community which has in it many bright and intelligent persons, even if no one of them is conspicuous for dazzling brilliancy. A grass-blade is not so big as a reed, but a velvet sward, with its emerald smoothness, is delightful to the eye and the touch. But be alive—be sincere—try to understand and to love Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Chopin, and all the great and little composers, old and new, of this and every other land who were themselves sincere. Do not be either a stupid objector or a fussy promoter—be neither a stick nor a withered leaf, disfiguring the smooth sward of grass.

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Vacation is the music teacher’s time for making hay while the sun shines. Now that the children are out of school, and have time to think of something else, invite them to your studio for one hour a week and start a free theory class. No danger but that they will be interested, for where was there ever a child who did not want to know? And now is the chance to explain a few of the many things that had to be taken on faith during the busy work of the winter. The great difficulty with our pupils is that they have no chance to become intelligent. Summer affords the chance. Tell them the reason why for at least some of the many things that perplex every child in taking up the study of some instrument. Tell them the names of the degrees of the scale; give them drills in interval and chord building. Let them learn the correct names for the harmonies they meet in their pieces, and teach them how to write and connect smoothly a few of these harmonies. Give them some idea of simple musical form, and show them how composers build up their compositions. By this time the summer will be gone, and you will have enjoyed yourself and done something that will show in next winter’s work.

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From the 408 graduates this year at Harvard  University only one is to follow the musical profession. Of all the culture represented by the class in mental development and augmented intellectual caliber, this iota will be assigned to the ranks of the tonal art. Necessarily this is a case similar to Mahomet’s mountain. If education does not come to the majority, the majority must go to it. Society is turning toward music with questioning gaze, inquiring as to its philosophy—its part in scheme of general knowledge. Undoubtedly a rich harvest awaits the laborer in this field. Therefore timely advice would be, for those to whom in summer months comes relaxation from routine, not only to deepen their field of musical knowledge, but to broaden their area in general knowledge toward the outer world.

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The day of child prodigies has passed, one might almost say. A child who plays the violin or piano, sings or recites a poem, is not a rara avis, for the work of the school room and the multiplication of music teachers have combined to spread a disposition toward these accomplishments that has borne fruit. To be a genuine prodigy, a child must play extraordinarily well, and in most cases this precocity has never developed into abiding genius. In many cases the “Wunderkinder” have grown up into commonplace men and women, in nowise removed from mediocrity. Perhaps it is well that it is so. Genius should ever be rare, else it would cease to be genius.

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Is going to concerts a proof that a community is musical? It is doubtful, for the public attends concerts for a great variety of reasons, many of them founded on other basis than love for art. Household life in which music plays a part does more and tells more for musical culture than mere attendance upon concerts, which are too often naught but a social function.

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An English contemporary prints a letter from an organist who plays only from tonic sol-fa notation, and complains that so little music is printed in this form, and then goes on to say that he is compelled to translate from the ordinary notation in order to supply himself with music.

What a commentary on short-sightedness! Sticking to a theory, he will not learn the common notation, which would be less work in the end than to arrange all he plays. Consistency is more to be desired, evidently, than freedom from drudgery.

Another musical character who approaches the type just mentioned is that one who “never took any lessons, ” “plays beautifully,” and ”anything after one hearing.” Does it never occur to such people that if they really possess an extraordinary talent, as is their implied contention, they are just so much obligated to develop that talent by systematic study? Too many people allow themselves to be imposed on by such bombast.

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The student must sharply distinguish between the nature and essentials of practice and those of playing. For he who half plays when he should be practicing is apt to find himself forced to half practice when he should be playing.

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It has been a matter of surprise that there are not more charitable efforts made in behalf of needy musicians. It is gratifying to learn that a member of the musical profession, by the name of Antonio Saulino, has left $35,000 in trust to the Philadelphia Musical Association for the benefit of needy, deserving musicians. Mr. Saulino was a respected orchestral player of this city.

There is scarcely a profession or trade that does so little in the way of caring for needy members as the musical profession, and it is to be hoped that the example of Mr. Saulino will stimulate others in this direction. What is necessary in the way of charity for the musical profession is a home for superannuated musicians. Almost every country has an institution of this kind. Rossini has left a large sum for the establishment of an institution in the suburbs of Paris. Verdi in his will left several thousand dollars to be devoted to a home for needy musicians. Oliver Ditson left a fund that is available for charitable purposes of this kind. It is hoped that before long such an institution will be inaugurated in this country. There has been some discussion in the different State Associations, but nothing definite has yet been accomplished.

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The question that many musicians are asking themselves at this time is, What good is an Association like the M. T. N. A. to me? The answer is easy, No good if you choose to think so. In this world the absolute necessities are few. The savage lives on this principle. Civilization, culture, and education, on the contrary, have developed many wants that have no absolute value.

The music teacher needs an Association just as much as any other profession or calling. He has much to gain and nothing to lose in union with others of the same calling. A broad-minded, liberal musician will, of his own accord, seek contact with other minds, for it is thus that culture is increased. The anchorite of medieval times, shut up in his cave in a wilderness, apart from all fellow-beings, was a foe to progress. No advancement in human thought could come from such conditions. And the musician of to-day who holds himself apart, as many do, is as much of a musical hermit, so far as concerns progress and culture, as was the recluse of the desert or mountain in the days of the Church Fathers.

What can we do without society? We must live with other men, must even live for our fellowmen, and he who refuses to go out in the world and share the heat and burden of the day and its battles is a shirker of duty, slothful, a drone in the busy hive of humanity who needs to bestir himself and join the army of busy workers.

One man is not the summation of human knowledge and experience. He can always learn from his neighbor and needs to be with his neighbor. Interchange of thought and experience broadens as well as teaches. So we call upon the members of the musical profession to take the wider, the higher, view of altruism, which, losing sight of self, seeks the good of others. The good comes back again, for what improves the whole of society carries with it the individual.

It is the duty of the earnest, thoughtful teacher of music, who believes in his profession, its opportunities and responsibilities, to place himself shoulder to shoulder with his neighbor, to join hands in all that tends to uplift and strengthen, and then to work with a will.

An association can not exist without members, and the greater the number of the latter, the stronger the impression upon the general public, which is the support for all arts. Some may urge that they can not attend the meetings. This is true, and yet the small membership fee paid in is like the widow’s mite—it represents far more than mere intrinsic value. The interest of the member goes with it; he enters into the work of the association and identifies himself with its plans. He keeps in touch with new ideas which make for progress in his profession, for the leaders of the association are striving for that end. He hears and observes things which he would miss entirely were not his interest aroused by the fact of his connection with the organization. If he is ambitious, he has better opportunity to make a national reputation. If he is among those of the first rank, it is his duty to help the weaker. The association offers an opportunity to a man and it is a means for fulfilling an obligation which the constitution of society places on every member—that of doing his part, which no one else can do for him.

 

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You are reading Editorials from the July, 1898 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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