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Music Study Abroad

In an article in a recent number of “The Musical Record” Mr. Ward Stephens says, among other interesting things:

“I believe in study abroad, and when one intends to follow the career of a professional musician, the sooner he goes to Europe the better for him. Not that we have no good teachers in America,—for I have received pianoforte instruction in America from a man who conveyed to me more musical ideas, who was more of a helper than any teacher with whom I studied in Europe (and he was an American),—but because of the musical atmosphere.

“I hear some of you say, ‘Bosh! musical atmosphere was an exploded idea long ago!’ I do not agree with those people, and I am inclined to think that many of them have never studied abroad for any length of time; or for pecuniary reasons they wish to discourage American students from leaving their own country. The argument against going is that all of the best artists visit this country now, and you can get just as good instruction on this side as you can on the other; you can hear a good concert almost every day, and therefore the musical atmosphere is just as good at home as abroad. Now, in the first place, all of the best artists do not visit this country. To those who have not lived some time in Europe I beg to say this: One year abroad would open your eyes to the surprisingly great number of fine artists there are in the world. There are many who are too timid to come to this country, for they are afraid of the voyage; and many who can not come, for they are bound in their respective countries; and many who don’t want to come.

“Those who have lived in Berlin or Vienna know that a very large number of the best artists in the world visit these cities once a year for one or a series of concerts, generally a series. One has more opportunities of hearing the best in music performed in the most satisfactory way. German cities are melodious by day and night with military and orchestral bands in gardens, with great indoor concerts, chamber music, and choral work. You are not only surrounded by good music, but your associates are most of them, if not all, students of music, and therefore the incentive to work is more keenly felt. Students are congenial companions, as a rule, abroad; this ‘student life’ does not exist in America. While you are young the ear should become acquainted with the works of the masters. As a rule, American students begin the study of Bach and Beethoven after they are well along in their teens, and they approach these masters in fear and trembling; and I do not think that they ever feel as much at home with them as a foreigner does, who gets on a friendly footing with these great masters at a very early age, and by the time he is sixteen or twenty is familiar with most of their works. I speak from personal experience. I was given ‘music lessons’ when a mere child, and for ten years I continued with the same teacher, and in all that time my acquaintance with the masters was limited to a Haydn ‘Rondo,’ a Clementi ‘Sonatina,’ a Chopin ‘Mazurka,’ and a ‘Romance’ of Schumann. The balance of my repertory was made up of books of Heller’s, Kohler’s, and Czerny’s études, and of compositions by Wollenhaupt, Jungmann, Gottschalk, Mason, Moszkowski, and a few others, along with ‘method work,’ the fruit of a Hoboken crank. There are others who have had a similar experience, and I say again that the ‘musical atmosphere’ abroad is better than it is here in America.

“After you have made your selection of a teacher you should not continue trustfully on faith—the evidence of things unseen—when it becomes apparent that the instructor is doing little or nothing for you. The Americans especially are capable of thinking that if they continue long enough with a certain celebrity it will be all right with them in the end. Get all the ideas you can from your teacher, then leave him. Change often enough to be getting continually fresh ideas; then, when the time comes, give up teachers and develop your own individuality. Continual imitation will not make an artist. On the other hand,—I ought to say it,—this individuality can not be well developed by the isolated student without constant opportunities of hearing good music well rendered and without his inwardly comparing his work with the work of others.”

 

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You are reading Music Study Abroad from the July, 1898 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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