The Etude
Name the Composer . Etude Magazine Covers . Etude Magazine Ads & Images . Selected Etude Magazine Stories . About . Donate .


Science Or Art?

By Will Earhart.
 
(Abridged from a paper read before the Indiana State Music Teachers' Association.)
 
 
It is a common observation that educational advancement has been, in the last decad, rapid and extensive beyond all precedent. Never have reforms been so sweeping, so radical. Never have teachers, inspired by the knowledge of such a broadening in their field been so earnest and sanguine. Reform has been radical, but has it been radical enough ? The entire superstructure of the educational building has been remodeled, but is it not, perhaps, necessary now to strike down to the very foundations? While reformation has been deep, sound, and permanent, yet it has been altogether, or in a great measure, in the nature of improvements on old traditions and methods, has consisted rather in bettering old forms than in instituting new ones. Is not the whole talk to-day one of methods, and almost of methods alone ? The old ideals and aims in education have not been held up for any very searching inspection ; they have not been the subjects of any considerable reform. They are substantially what they were ages ago. In all our educational reforms we seem to have taken it for granted that the ideals maintained in an unenlightened, pedantic age are indubitably the true ones, and that the only possible subject for debate is as to how these ideals may be most certainly and quickly attained. Old methods have been demolished without compunction, but by one new path or another we all still struggle frantically to reach the same old goal. How to teach this, how to teach that, how best to secure this other one, are subjects eagerly discussed at every teachers' meeting. But as to whether the result in question is especially worth securing at all or not, is an unmooted question.
 
If we are to keep abreast of the foremost educational thought of the time, it will be only because we look farther than some and ask ourselves, first of all, not how we can secure certain conventional results, but what results are really, in the final consideration, best worth securing. Then are we warranted in turning our attention to methods. Then is it time to ask ourselves what are the wisest and most judicious means by which we can further this proper aim, what the plan by which these desired results, in their purest form and highest degree, may be secured.
 
At first glance an investigator, noting the numberless peculiarities of method exhibited by different teachers, might readily imagine that a great many different goals were held in prospect by these various educators. Broadly, though, these methods, different as they are, are based upon one or the other of two adverse assumptions. One class of teachers, seeing before them the goal of artistic culture, start directly, and with little attention to any preliminary steps, toward it, believing, we presume, that its blessings can and should be secured without delay. The other class start more deliberately and circuitously toward the same destination, believing that before the art can be appreciated or understood to any extent that would make it of value, much time and careful scientific preparation are neccessary. (sic) Teachers of the first class require more, and perhaps more careful, playing or singing, give more attention to drill, try to introduce the works of the great masters to the attention of the pupils, and so forth. Those of the second class rather place stress on theoretical knowledge, require more of original and less of imitative work, demand a more thorough knowledge of staff notation, elements of harmony, and such points.
 
We will consider only the first method, and what is implied by its adoption. It implies first, it would seem, that artistic appreciation is gained mainly by absorption. It implies that to appreciate a high art fully it is unnecessary to be well informed upon the technical features ; the aesthetic alone sufficing. It implies, finally, that this sentimental or artistic side can be comprehended and appreciated by young people, the great majority of whom are children. As to the first of these assumptions, that people will just grow into an intelligent appreciation of the art by merely listening, it will be sufficient to remark that music, like all the arts, is creative, original, and will be appreciated fully only as one has made independent effort, if not to create it, at least to interpret it. Self-activity, long continued, is essential. Again, the assumption that technical knowledge is an unimportant factor in artistic appreciation, flies in the face of all our ordinary experience and belief; for, as a usual thing, we expect, other things being equal, that people will appreciate the beauty of a composition directly in proportion to the extent of their scientific information. Certainly, not one of us expects to be an artist, or have artistic insight to any valuable degree, till long study of the technical groundwork has revealed to us the full meaning of compositions and the full extent of the genius of composers. Take from us, to-day, all but the most meager knowledge of the technic of our art, and how much of artistic insight would we consider remained to us? Then how much reason is there in supposing that children can grasp, ready-made, what we struggle for years to build up within ourselves?
 
Educators along other lines have long since learned that the child is not merely a miniature man, but a creature different, with laws, experiences, a whole field of consciousness all his own. We do not desire to make of a child a little man, a mannikin, but rather a complete, well-developed child. Children are not capable, to any considerable degree, of appreciating artistic perfection or truth, for such perfection is judged from its harmony with a sentimental, an ideal, an aesthetic life that is peculiar to persons of maturer years and wider and different experiences. They are capable, in a high degree, of appreciating perfection in the concrete, as a matter of scientific knowledge, for a child lives in this concrete, real world, and not in the intangible world of the ideal.
 
Children are largely absorbed in the things of sense; they are testing, with their senses and their growing reason, the nature of the concrete world about them. The knowledge they are gaining is therefore largely scientific. With the merging into the age of adolescence comes a change. The relations of life begin suddenly to occupy the mind; a sentimental nature starts up with a mushroom growth; imagination, an awakening to the dead, a susceptibility to intense emotions, become marked features. Now is the time to teach artistic significance, now can the youth be brought to a realization of the sentimental beauty of a great composition. But suppose, now, that throughout all the preceding years of life, when the child was eminently fitted for acquiring scientific information, and little else, when he had a marked capacity for judging of such things as rhythm, time, differences of pitch, shadings of power, etc., when he had an eager curiosity, if properly cared for, to know the meanings of the various queer figures and designs that make up staff notation, and a marked and wonderfully quick ability to translate these marks and figures into tones of proper length and pitch; suppose that through this period, instead of developing him on such lines, all the intricacies of staff notation have been neglected, while an effort was made to force on him what by nature he was incapable of understanding, namely: an appreciation of artistic excellence and an enjoyment of sentimental beauties— suppose all this to be the case, as it often is, and what sort of a product at this age of adolescence stands before us? A being, I say, weak and incompetent, musically, to a lamentable degree. Arrived at an age when newly- awakened sensibilities stir within him, and when the sentiment, the beauty of great music could be brought to awaken for always responsive echoes in his heart and bring to him enjoyment and culture unmeasured, he stands untutored, incapable of independent research, dependent for his musical enjoyment upon the efforts of more favored, better tutored musicians, and in danger of becoming musically—if he becomes anything musically—a mere emotional enthusiast, enjoying only strong contrasts and bizarre effects, and insensible to the higher and purer beauty that arises from art curbed and ennobled and made truer by scholarly scientific treatment. Wide information and knowledge are necessary to art. There is an age when this is easily gained, while at the same time anything further in art is only to be fictitiously gained and imperfectly gained, if at all. There is an age at which the ultimate meaning of art can be discerned, but at this age, as at any and every one, scientific knowledge is still necessary if we would attain to their final eminence. At any and every age, I repeat, the technical groundwork is necessary. Why, then, neglect what seems a God-given opportunity for instilling this in a weak, foolish attempt to shorten labor, anticipate its results, and forestall the slow process of natural development by an artificial forcing? Art is not gained by doing so, but sacrificed. Science does not dethrone art; it forms the lasting pedestal for the throne. In the question, then, whether to place the stress of attention upon the science or the art, let it be upon the science, not that art shall be ignored but fostered, not that a science of music shall be separately taught, but that the science and art shall go together, with joined hands, toward the highest musical development that the mind of man can attain.
 
 
 
 
 
—Musicians who wish to succeed in their art, and who desire strong memories, should make up their minds to place their entire thoughts on one object at a time only. In memorizing a composition, for instance, start in at a very deliberate pace; keep the mind fixed on the notes before you steadily; pay the strictest attention to the time, rhythm, phrasing, etc. Practice the piece over and over repeatedly, never getting discouraged, even for an instant; and when you have finished playing the piece straight through many times, commence again at various parts or strains, and keep this up until you find yourself dreaming over it, as it were. It is at this stage that the music is becoming photographed up to the brain. Mechanical work, you say. What of it? Monotonous, tiresome, uninteresting, you remark. Suppose it is. Don't forget the blacksmith and how perpetually he wields the hammer.
 
Remember that you are developing your memory, while he is bringing the piece of iron into shape. You are both illustrating, in a practical way, great truths and great lessons.
 
Practice every day, no matter how irksome it may first seem, and, our word for it, you will soon have full control of your memory and will be able to play many selections without confining yourself to the notes — "Metronome."

<< Method Versus Judgment     Thought and Effect >>

Monthly Archives

The Publisher of The Etude Will Supply Anything In Music