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Culture.

How much that is written for the young on culture leaves the reader in the same relation to it as before he read it, possessed, to be sure, of a vague sense of its value and his duty to acquire it, but with no exact idea as to how he shall go about it. “Culture Made Easy ” has never been printed. A trip to Concord, spending unimproved hours in a library, surrounded by books, dilly-dallying with the niceties of life, are even inadequate for the veneer of culture. What the young in our profession need is something exact upon which they can depend either as a guide or stimulus to the much-to-be-desired condition. One will tell you, “Read the lives and study the works of the old masters”; another, “Keep abreast of modern thought and activity in the literary and scientific world”; another, “Cultivate the emotional nature or the artistic temperament, or both.” You will be advised to follow models in religion, art, science, and society; and while any or all of these have a bearing on the subject, the probability of there being satisfactory progress is marred by the multiplicity of opinions as to what is most desirable, and the lack of system in their classification and presentation.

Culture stands as a synonym for the best there is in life. The material evidences of it, while always unobtrusive, are eloquent in their tribute to its existence. The homes you may enter can not be disguised as to its influence therein. The books, the habits, the apparel, the demeanor—all combine to reveal the potency or the lack of culture in a family or society. But, above all, the mind, and its mirror, the face, reveal with unerring certainty one’s attitude to culture. In its presence, boldness, coarseness, or rude display is discomfited, and the strength of culture remains ever unchallenged. Culture can not be counterfeited; its ring is so genuine that an attempt at imitation only serves to emphasize its value. This is not less true in the general routine of living than in special fields. In art the touch which perpetuates is vouchsafed only to the cultured few. The picture which outlives its painter has had blended with it the atmosphere of thought. It was done by a hand steadied by discipline, guided by hope and ambition, and inspired by lofty ideals. Such, then, may justly be said to constitute the cardinal points of culture in its relation to art—discipline, ambition, and ideal.

Music, which in our midst, among our own people, has lifted up its head and taken a proud and worthy position as one of the handmaidens of culture, is too frequently approached in a manner and spirit sadly wanting in an understanding of its dignity. Especially among singers is this true. It is so easily our nature to sing, that we embrace its privileges and yield to its fascinations without considering our obligations to it. It is this tendency to commonness, this easy familiarity with an art which probes nature most deeply, which bleeds when touched with a rude hand, that we deplore; and we urge you to give some consideration to the matter. It is thoughtlessness, not purpose, that keeps the singer, and therefore his audience, too much upon the level of daily and hourly living. To sing well one must needs be healthy, hearty, happy. One may be all that, and sincere besides, and yet not reveal the whole truth of an ideal musical life. So much may and should enter into the thought and experience of the singer to make perfect the character through culture. So let us establish, as nearly as possible, a line of thought which, while not intended to be either accurate or comprehensive, may be a first step toward relief from that unhappy condition of indefiniteness which exists from a surplus of indiscriminate advice, rather than from a lack of it.

We spoke first of discipline—how much it comprehends! The voice: its response to discipline is limitless; how few realize it! how many ignore it!

Repeated effort and the close attention to effect in tone-study afford in themselves distinct mental balance. The theory—a favorite one with pianists—that “mental output is reinforced by its physical response” may or may not hold, but the habit of concentration, which must ever accompany fruitful vocal practice, is invaluable and exerts an influence in all other directions. Discipline is or should not be confined to vocal practice, but is extended to the mind and habit of daily life; just as surely as thought and physical well-being affect the singer, so sure it is that they must come in for a share of discipline, which is the fundamental quality of culture.

We next spoke of ambition—a quality in the singer without which all other virtues and gifts were in vain. Ambition is worthy only when its object is to elevate. It thus identifies naturally with the arts, prominent, if not first, among which, it must be acknowledged, is music. If one pursues the study only for the love of it, he can not escape the consciousness that to some extent his acquisition will be shared in and enjoyed by others. It is not possible that the study can avail much that is worthy if it has not at least the impetus of some approval beyond the pleasure of acquiring it. This is sufficient as a basis for ambition. It is this pride of attainment and a shrinking from treating a noble subject ignobly before those who share a knowledge of its power that often stimulate the votaries of music to extraordinary effort. It is not the highest motive, but it can not be ignored. The response of the public to intelligent effort is not less worthy as a motive for ambition,—the emoluments of the profession come in for a share,—but the most commendable, if not the first considered, spring of a worthy ambition is that quality of appreciation which selects the best in music and passes by the commonplace. In short, we are led to consider ideal as the crowning requisite of culture. One’s ideals are not the result of accident, but of purpose; they ever keep at a distance, and invite progress; they multiply their promises as they disburse their favors, and when they are stirred by ambition and balanced by discipline, the circle of influences which promote culture and invite growth is completed.

Music is so closely allied to dramatic and romantic literature; so fraught with the burden of kindred arts; so clearly an outlet for the passions and emotions of mankind, that the person who is empowered through his discipline, his ambition, and the purity of his ideals to read and understand its meaning may truthfully be said, not only musically, but in a broad and general sense, to be cultured. Why rest content in the valley while hills and mountains are at hand which will be ours for the climbing?

 

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