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Listen and Learn.

To treat this subject in the style of the “sermon- makers” of forty years ago: First: Why should the vocal student listen? Secondly: To whom should he listen? And Thirdly: How should he listen? As to the first topic: The vocal student should listen to others’ singing because such listening may be made one of the most effective means for his own improvement. Very much is to be gained for the music student by the process of absorption. That is what is in the mind of one who refers to the importance to the student of living and studying in a “musical atmosphere”—a community where genuine music is “in the air,” where many lovers of music are thinking, talking, and performing music. Beginners and advanced students are both influenced more or less by what they hear in the way of vocal performance. There may be no thought of learning anything of voice-production or the art of singing; nevertheless each performance has a subtle influence for good or ill upon the sensitive musical listener.

The second topic may be subdivided: The vocal student should listen, so far as possible, to (a) “good” performers and to (b) “good” music.

Taking the second division, in a certain way it may be said that music which is correctly written, according to the laws of musical grammar and form, is “good” music. Some of it, however, is not at all interesting, nor is it profitable for study. In London leading artists sometimes sing musical trash—for so much per song, paid by the publishers. In this country, however, the vocal student may be reasonably sure of hearing good and interesting music when artists of recognized merit are the performers. Occasionally, for the purpose of showing off a voice, or a special gift in delivery, a singer of wide reputation will place a musically unworthy composition upon a program. The majority of leading singers upon the concert platforms of the United States may be trusted to sing chiefly selections which have intrinsic musical merit, and show correct and interesting technical treatment. Very few of the so-called “popular songs” of the day have any genuine melodic worth, while the harmonic scheme used is usually crude and exasperatingly monotonous. The chords of the tonic, subdominant, and dominant follow each other with wearying persistency, and the rhythmical design shows about as little variety. These compositions are, for the most part, but the things of a day, and unworthy the hearing of a vocal student. A singer who is satisfied with such music may be likened to one who would be content with such literature as is to be found within the covers of the “First Reader.” The words, possibly, are spelled correctly, the grammar is without fault, but the vocabulary and range of expression is woefully limited. There are certain composers whose names are a guarantee of “good music.” There are others, not so well known, who are also writing good music. The best composers do not always write well for the voice. When writing for one of the “voices” of the orchestra,—the clarinet, for instance,—the capable composer is careful to consider the special powers and limitations of the instrument: its range, its tone-colors, its “best notes,” its facility in scales and ornamentation, and so on. Not so much care is exercised, at all times, in composing for the human voice. The vocal student may be sure that songs by E. A. MacDowell, Arthur Foote, George W. Chadwick, and Ethelbert Nevin are “good music” and worth hearing. Not everything these writers publish is equally grateful to the voice. Mrs. H. H. A. Beach, J. H. Rogers, H. A. Norris, John P. Marshall, William Arms Fisher, and Clayton Johns, all American composers, have written songs which are “good music” and “sing” well.—F. W. Wodell.

(To be continued.)

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You are reading Listen and Learn. from the March, 1900 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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