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Why We Are Not More Musical.

At the recent public meeting of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, Horatio William Parker, head of the musical department of Yale University, spoke of the undeveloped state of musical composition in America. No art has yielded so few products for the honor of this country as music.

Mr. Parker thinks the musician is hampered by too many of the good things of this life, and that poverty in youthful artists is the most efficient aid toward stimulating the creative energy.

It is certain that the luxurious atmosphere of this country is conducive to the money-making spirit more than to the artistic. Music, among Americans, is not usually regarded seriously. The women have taken it up extensively lately, but their interest in it is still too new and superficial to make an impression on the general condition. How many men are really interested in music? So few that they hardly count.

It is not for lack of natural taste for music that this indifference exists, for every human being seems to feel naturally attracted toward it. To the untutored, musically uncultivated mind, the higher forms of music are not sympathetic because they are unintelligible, but every person has some sort of a singing voice and has at some time- in his life tried to sing, indicating a natural fondness for melody. But when a natural taste is not fostered it is inevitably and entirely crowded out by the many other interests that make up life.

The average American man is so absorbed in business and making money that he has little time for the cultivation of the arts. It is this striving after wealth that casts its shadow upon the musician as well as the businessman. It would be difficult to find a musician here hard at work in an attic, caring nothing for the comforts of life, and feeling happy in his work.

In Europe the artist is usually more ideal. He does not lose a bit of prestige by living modestly. He is honored for his abilities, and that atones for the economical life which he is forced to live. He feels that his work is appreciated, and that means more to him than good living. His surroundings are a constant incentive; his efforts are sympathetically received, but never credited with more credit than they deserve.

To make a musician of their son does not tempt American parents. They do not see wealth and position associated with that profession, unless, indeed, it be in the case of a great virtuoso or singer. In the few cases where young men receive a musical education, they pursue it with the idea of gaining great skill as executants. They spend hours upon hours at their instruments, paying little attention to the music in its deepest sense, content to use the compositions that have been given them without a thought of how they were created.

If they would devote half the time they give to the mechanical work to solid study of harmony and the various branches of study connected with composition, they could at least make attempts at new creations. Very much of the work they produced might be worthless, but where there is effort there is usually some result.

All American musicians of both sexes would profit much if they paused to contemplate in a comprehensive way the present position of musicians in this country. For those imbued with the commercial instinct, as well as for those in whom the ideal is uppermost, there would be much profit in this survey. They would then see that, with one or two exceptions, the strivings of American musicians have accomplished very little. How many American pianists, violinists, singers have risen above mediocrity?

It may be said that lack of encouragement on the part of a public disposed to undervalue the home product in art is in some degree responsible for this, but, nevertheless, no reasonable person can doubt that the really great artist would find appreciation in spite of such prejudice.

At all events, there are hundreds upon hundreds of musicians of both sexes who have devoted talent, money, time, and much labor to acquiring proficiency in various instruments with only indifferent success. Many young men, who dreamed of becoming virtuosos, are glad to earn their living by playing in orchestras, and will never have as much money ahead of them as was devoted to their education.

Where so many compete, and so few succeed, there is not much to be sought by the person of wise head. But composition is an almost untrodden field in America, and if as serious attention were devoted to this, the highest form of music, as has been given to the lesser branches of the art, there is every reason to believe that the talent undoubtedly possessed by native musicians would accomplish something more to the honor of the art in this country than has yet been achieved, and even pecuniary reward would probably not be lacking.

Possibly, too, the new note in music which the world has been awaiting since Wagner died might then be struck in this country.—L. D., in “New York Journal.”

 

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You are reading Why We Are Not More Musical. from the March, 1900 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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