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Five-Minute Talks With Girls.

BY HELENA M. MAGUIRE.

The People to Whom a Girl Plays.

Music has a two-fold influence: first upon the character of the girl who studies it; and, secondly, through her, upon those for whom she makes music. Music is to a girl an intimate, personal joy; but she also has a certain duty in her musical attitude towards others, and it is of this latter that we will talk this month.

* * *

It is true that there is in every girl a higher self than she ever shows to anyone, and that there is in every girl better music than she ever gives out; but there is another truth, more necessary for a girl’s consideration if she would become a true musician, and that is that there is in every person with whom she comes in contact a finer, higher personality than she is ever permitted to see, and a higher, truer perception of the good in music than she is apt to give others credit for.

Therefore, what I would ask of my girls is that they will not judge other people’s limits, that they will not make up their minds as to what music other people can appreciate, and that they will never think it necessary, at any time, to give to their listeners any but the very best music of which they are capable.

There is nothing unusual in your according to other people a musical perception inferior to that which you yourself enjoy; this sort of thing is being done constantly in the world; we are constantly making false estimates of one another, because there is a foolish kind of shame which keeps people from permitting their best thoughts and feelings to be visible. We know better than we do or say. As Emerson, speaking of our intercourse with one another, said: “Men descend to meet; in their habitual and mean services to the world, for which they forsake their native nobleness, they resemble those Arabian sheiks who dwell in mean houses and affect an exterior poverty to escape the rapacity of the pasha, and reserve all their display of wealth for their interior and guarded retirements .”

It is difficult to say why we are so ashamed of these fair “interiors,” or to let the best that is in us out to the common light of day. I suppose something of it is that, not seeing other people do so, one grows to consider one’s self the only person possessed of a beautiful inner life, and dares not display it for fear of being found a most singular creature. It is not so; your noblest sentiments are familiar to the humblest ones of earth. I can remember, in my early girlhood, having great ideals. I panted to display my brave thoughts, but, after getting into quite a tremor in the effort to make one sentiment face the multitude, I would find, to my astonishment, that no one was in the least impressed! And why? Just because everyone else thought quite as good, and better things, than I! It took me a long time to find out that everyone else thought as nobly as I, owing to the fact that the majority of people aired the beautiful side of their natures as seldom as did I. So it is. Almost everyone is capable of quite as high and fine musical thought as you are, so in playing remember this, and cater to the better nature which you know to be in everyone.

It rests largely with you young people who are studying now whether this rag-time wave which has swept over us is going to eclipse temporarily all good music or not. There has always been cheap music, but the very boldness, the effrontery, of this present fad makes it dangerous. It has entered into the most refined homes. People have come to consider it in the light of a “good joke,” and I know scarcely a girl who does not play it. Girls go on decorously with the study of their fugues, inventions, and sonatas, but they play cake-walks. Small wonder! Everyone demands them; the best musical magazines publish them; everyone else plays them, and, so, why not? Think a moment.

Which is better: rag-time music or those sweet, secret musical ideals which every girl of you possesses? If you were asked which you preferred, a poster daub or a Rembrandt, there would be no hesitation in your choice, and if you were asked to make a choice between rag-time music and music done in the old, true music form, I know you would make the higher choice. But then, if that is so, will you not extend to the people for whom you play the courtesy of believing their taste to be, at least, as fine as yours?

I saw this rather well exemplified one evening. A girl was being besieged by a throng of young people to play; they were demanding first one and then another of the popular things of the day, but she turned from them and sitting down, played—a Beethoven sonata! “Of all things!” I thought. But she was listened to in perfect silence, and when she had finished there was a low murmur of “Oh, thank you’s!” and one young man, who had been boldest in the clamor for “coon things,” said: “That was worth while. I don’t wonder now that you won’t play trash.”

“I knew you would all enjoy that better,” the girl replied, quietly.

Now it took some courage for a girl to do that. She ran the risk of being called a prude, and of being thought to set herself above others, a thing no right-minded girl could bear to do; but she ran the risk, and paid her friends the highest compliment of which she was capable, by ministering to the refined good taste which she believed to be in them, and ignoring the ruder, commoner elements of their natures.

That is how men and women grow to be great musicians, by striving, at the risk of chaffing and scorn, to give to their fellows generously of the very best of which they are capable, and forcing them to accept it, too noble to consider it a throwing of pearls before swine, but always holding themselves up to their very highest ideals by a firm belief in the fineness and appreciativeness of humankind. I think that every girl is born with this belief in humanity, and possibly it is still strong within you, but do not grow discouraged if you do not see enough of nobleness in every-day life to keep your faith warm, or if, when you reach out for it, people hide it behind a brusque or frivolous exterior. It is there, though people may think it necessary to mask it; so play to it. By music you will discover it as surely as in any other way, and if, in your music you will always appeal to the higher nature of those about you, you will never yourself be tempted to descend into triviality.

You have played cheap music much as you have used slang, without really thinking anything about it, simply because everyone else does, and because it is a general way of expressing a certain camaraderie.

But there is a better camaraderie to be found among those higher selves which we keep so closely tucked away out of sight, and people will feel much more kindly toward you if you let them see that you believe them possessed of a cultured musical taste, and capable of appreciating the best, than if you, by playing them “just anything,” make them feel that you think them incapable of enjoying music above the average.

If people ask you to play common things, it is very easy to say: “Why, yes, if you wish; but I think you will enjoy this much better,” and then play for them, in your very sweetest and most correct manner, some of the lovely music which your teacher has selected for you, and see if you will not have given them a more complete pleasure than they had asked of you.

I am so used to hearing girls say: “What is the use of my studying classical music? My folks don’t like it and no one wants to hear me play it.” But do not make that as too final a statement. I remember coaxing one girl who had made this complaint to persevere in trying to help her people to enjoy good music, and she pleased me very, very much by telling me one day that at home they like the “Songs Without Words” ever so much, and would ask for them when she sat down to play.

In a way, you girls are really pioneers of music in this country, for music has only just now become general with us, and a good many of you are the first of your family to receive a thorough musical education, so that you have a pleasant work to do in making good music an intimate and beloved factor in every American home.

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You are reading Five-Minute Talks With Girls. from the March, 1900 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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