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Editorials

The tendency in the musical world to demand that musicians shall be “specialists” in what they profess to do is becoming more marked every year, and many musicians have fallen by the wayside in their attempts to do too much. The time has gone by in any but the very smallest cities when a single teacher who attempts to teach piano, organ, voice culture, violin, ‘cello, cornet, and other band instruments can meet with success. Instead of being impressed by such versatility, as was the case in the early days of music in this country, the public now avoids such teachers, rightly concluding that the teacher who has dispensed his time and abilities in trying to learn half a dozen different branches of the profession cannot have succeeded in mastering any one of them in a superlative degree.

In certain individual cases it must be admitted that the public goes a little too far in this matter, as there are, no doubt, instances of teachers who have mastered three or four instruments with sufficient success to be able to teach them intelligently and successfully. The refusal of the public, in the larger cities at least, to patronize any but musical specialists has resulted in the fact that musicians of the better class, even where they are able to do so, seldom care to be known as teachers of too many branches.

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There is such a thing as a benumbing accuracy in piano playing. The other day we overheard a young lady, who is a well-established teacher, say to a friend: “To-day in reciting my lesson to my professor I only made one mistake.” The thought arose: perhaps the whole lesson was one elaborate and consistent mistake. Certainly finical extremes of accuracy in delivering notes cannot be laid at the door of the majority of students, yet there is also this danger: that, in thinking too intently of getting through just what is prescribed by the printed page, all thought of the soul hidden behind the notes may be lost. The question is not were there any dropped or wrong notes, but was there any real comprehension of the work in hand, and did the performance convey the emotional message of the composer’s heart?

For example, to make this cardinal principle more obvious, suppose you are reciting the wonderful opening grave movement which stands like a solemn portico at the beginning of the familiar, but immortally-beautiful, “Sonata Pathetique” by Beethoven. Now, even though you actually hit every note there set down, absolutely every note, still, if you so far fail to re-echo in the deepest and remotest chambers of your own heart the tragic and passionate emotion uttered by these tones, and cast the feeling out through your finger-ends so powerfully and unmistakably that anyone sitting and listening shall be stirred with the same feelings, at least in some measure, your playing has had no value at all, none whatsoever, let the note-perfection be equal to that of a music-box. Get your notes right, but most of all utter the heart. Understand the composer, and force people to do the same.

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There are not wanting students who more or less consciously entertain the idea that all matters of expression may safely be left to hap-hazard, or, as they word it, the inspiration of the moment. This is nearly as great a fallacy as if the student should leave any of the more definite and technical elements of the art to chance,—say, for example, the fingering. Everyone considers the happy selection of the particular fingers for a performance a matter for close and intelligent analysis and reflection, and so important is fingering held to be that some teachers, of whom the renowned Moscheles was one, nave been positive pedants in that matter, giving it undue attention. The fundamental elements of expression upon the piano are few and quite as definite as tone-lengths, note-reading, fingering, tempo, or any other matter. They ought to be made technically familiar to the mind, and the habit of determining their application to every piece should be fixed. Thus, it would be well to get the idea of changing rates and of changing weights even into the most elemental matters, such as the scales and arpeggios: these things which, to borrow a metaphor from biology, may be named the original albumin of organized music.

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Now and then a warning comes from Paris to American fathers and mothers anent the snares and pitfalls always surrounding the homeless and unattended young girl art-student in that capital. The demoralization from associating with the bohemian and morally degenerate of the Parisian art-circles is often complete.

Madam Marchesi, the celebrated teacher, in a signed message in the New York Sunday World, to American parents, discusses this question plainly.

She says, in part: “All do not fall in the same way, nor do I wish to be understood to say that all American girls who come here do fall. What has come to my immediate knowledge during long years of experience amply justifies all misgivings. So many dear, interesting girls have come to me with heart-breaking confidences! And I have wept on so many others who had so changed as to actually regard the most condemnable freedom as necessary to their full development and to their success; indeed, as a natural and, on the whole, enjoyable privilege of all artists.”

Coming, as this does, from so authoritive a source, it behooves American parents to see to it that their daughters are placed under proper and adequate chaperonage, or not sent abroad at all.

* * *

The director of a certain conservatory once said to the writer: “I’ll tell you what, G——, you put up two insignificant little pennies right in front of your eyes and thus obscure all the rest of the world.” And the rebuke was at that time (and perhaps since) well merited.

Young students and older ones are prone to commit this error. It practically consists in taking too narrow a view of the matter in question,—of letting the cents in the foreground obscure the dollars in the background; of letting the small advantage of the present obtrude itself in such proportions as to overshadow the far greater interests of the future; of permitting present gain at the expense of future loss; of saving a dollar or an hour now and as a consequence losing many dollars or days in future years.

So much for the generalities. Now, from the abstract to the concrete. What do we mean. Simply this: studying with a poor or cheap teacher to save a few dollars; buying a cheap grade of piano; using cheap editions of music; hastening to acquire a few trashy tunes rather than put more time and better effort on those of standard value; electing to study some such instrument as the guitar or mandolin instead of the violin, ‘cello, piano, or other instrument that is really the vehicle of musical thought; working too many hours per day, thus reducing the intensity of practice and, what is more serious, laying the foundation of physical trouble for the future; saving time and money by not studying harmony and other divisions of musical theory.

These are some of the pennies we may, and perhaps are, putting over our eyes, blinding us to our best interests. Let us throw them aside and look into the future with a wider understanding and clearer vision.

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The study of music is as productive of mental strength as so much study of other subjects, not more, not less. To do as good work in music, one must apply himself as carefully, thoroughly, and earnestly as in other lines of mental work. The study of the master-works is as productive of culture as equivalent application in the matters of literature or science—a different kind of culture, to be sure, but none the less real culture, for all that. Perhaps no kind of performance or production requires more alertness, more accuracy, more concentration of thought and action, than the proper performance of the great works of the musical repertory. Added to this, there is continually exercised the executant’s powers of discrimination in the matters of tone-color, shading, nuance, and general musical feeling.

The performer must grasp the most complex harmonies; he must interpret the most elusive points of emotional expression. Be he a great performer producing a great work, he must rise to the greatest heights of human expressiveness. He must interpret to others all the depth of feeling, all the passion, all the yearning, all the joy, all the pain, that human heart can feel. For this is music in its highest form.

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The teacher of music who encounters seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and in consequence feels himself almost at a stand-still in his work, is apt to look in all directions but the right one for the occasion of his difficulties, and is thus often led to some other mode of procedure than the wisest in his endeavor to change conditions of his life. Finding the community in which he labors unresponsive to his efforts, his pupils negligent, indifferent, and his outlook in all particulars trying and unpromising, he feels his environment to be at fault, making the mistake to which so many are prone, of looking without instead of within for the cause of annoyances and the source of ill success. He knows himself competent, and in this assumption may be correct, so far as thorough educational ability and equipment are concerned; but competence is a qualitative word, and in the consideration of its broader significance may be found the solution of the teacher’s problem. For it is a problem, and waxes interesting, while assuming a new phase, when we turn to the consideration of apparently more fortunate individuals.

A competent instructor enters a new field. The outlook, promising, is inspiring; but speedily annoyances arise and increase. After years of arriving at nothing, not even receipt of thanks from the flock for whose welfare, as a conscientious shepherd, there has been ceaseless striving, the teacher seeks a yet broader outlook—only to repeat with variations the self-same experiences. While regarding with pity the successor in the field vacated, to this hapless one conies the tidings of successes won, of pleasant recitals, of obdurate patrons induced by heaven knows what power to invest in new instruments, to provide warm rooms for the practice and lesson hours, and the climax reached when the wheezy church organ is replaced with a brilliant-toned specimen of the king of instruments, and the teacher, who is also organist, revels in recitals and additional pupils galore.

“I have known people,” once said a prominent teacher, “for whom I should expect to hear of the wilderness blossoming, were they to be landed in Sahara.”

But a solving is inevitable, and will be found to comprehend closer study of individual methods, if not recognition of the “fit survival.” “Deserve success, and you shall command it!” says the old proverb, which let us revise: “Command success, and you shall attain it.” “A justified consciousness of personal worth” must be supplemented by a mental attitude of determination, which, if sufficiently steadfast, will attract to itself success.

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Doubtless many concert-goers have noticed the reappearances of such pieces as Weber’s “Invitation to the Waltz,” Mendelssohn’s “Rondo Capriccioso,” and Chopin’s “Scherzo in B-flat Minor” on the programs of recent piano-virtuosi. These pieces are considered by some to be hackneyed, and are supposed to have been played to such an extent by departed generations that the present one does not care to listen to them. Experience proves, however, that this is not the case. The above-mentioned pieces seem to please today as much as they ever did. Their performance is greeted with signs of undisguised pleasure. To be sure, one occasionally hears a murmur of dissent, which, when translated into the vernacular, forms the word “chestnuts.” But these signs of disapproval are few and far between. The hold which this sort of music has retained upon popular esteem proves one thing. It proves that this music is made of the tissue that resists the ravages of time. Its beauty is not for yesterday nor to-day—it is for a long time to come. Its charm is so great that the present generation, like the past and perhaps the future, delights and will continue to delight in it.

The present status of pianoforte literature, on the whole, is not a very encouraging one. Technically speaking, since the death of Liszt there has been absolutely no advance. Piano-music has come to a stand-still. The originality, boldness of treatment, and inventive faculty of the wonderful Weimar magician have caused everything, since his exit from the world’s stage, to appear vapid and flat.

From a musical view-point, the greatness claimed by admirers and followers of Brahms for that master remains to be proved. His death is still too recent to admit of the “staying” qualities of his music.

In the case of music like that mentioned above by Weber, Mendelssohn, and Chopin, the final word, however, has been spoken. Its popularity with musicians as well as with the public alike denotes that, while it may disappear occasionally from the public gaze, it reappears with its former brilliancy. Thus revival means also survival.

 

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